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The Wind in the Willows

Production Notes

Locations | Costumes | The Cast Comments


Deciding how the cast of acclaimed actors should portray the animal characters in The Wind in the Willows was a major decision for director Rachel Talalay and the team.

"I didn't want the actors turning out like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," she explained. "We had to decide how much to make them like real animals. It was a real debate -- how much we could get away with? Then we decided on an impression of animals, partial make-up with a few warts. The kids saw the whole process and they told me when the animals looked too scary.

Producer Gub Neal agreed: "Rather than using heavy prosthetics, I think it was both appropriate and natural to play the characters as largely human. Costumes and make-up effect subtle transformations, but these are intended to inspire the audience's imagination into seeing how close the performances are to the characters' animal personae.

"The costumes are amazing but we are anthropomorphizing the characters and showing their real faces. It would be madness not to, as Kenneth Grahame invites us to see them as humans. When Lee Ingleby comes out of the tunnel for the first time, you are in no doubt that he is a mole.

"Marcello Magni, who has previously worked with the Theatre de Complicite, worked with the actors on developing animal gestures. He has studied animal photography and footage and transferred this to the choreography to help the actors adopt their particular animal's movement and gestures.

Award-winning costume designer Vinilla Burnham enjoyed creating the look of the animal creatures: "I've designed a lot of animal costumes -- Aslan the lion for the BBC's Narnia and the bat suit for Batman... I am not a conventional costume designer.

"Although The Wind in the Willows is set in the Edwardian period, my take was that the animals' clothes came from their ancestors. I really wanted the costumes to be lived in and to have the personality of their character. Getting every detail right is important, because, apart from Toad, they keep to more or less the same clothes throughout."

Burnham worked closely with the actors: "The one I found hardest was Rat, but he proved to be very elegant. We also needed double clothes as he would always be getting wet. His life revolves around boats and the river and he wouldn't worry about going in the water. So I made sure he always had a water line on his shoes and his trousers.

"For Mole, I started off taking reference quite literally from the Arthur Rackham pictures but when I met Lee Ingleby, it changed everything. His take on it was quite different and he was Mole almost as soon as he walked in the door. He wears a moleskin shirt and a coat that would have come from his grandfather.

"Bob Hoskins was wonderful too. Everything I put on him just molded to him and he became Badger immediately. He has this wonderful way of moving with his shoulders."

Toad required several changes of costume, including a washerwoman's clothes.

Says Burnham: "I first met Matt Lucas when he was on tour with Little Britain. He started doing the voice and making faces and becoming Toad very early on. We wanted to give him no neck so the costumes' shoulders start high up and then his neck slopes off. Everything looked good on him.

"Matt was very open to whatever I thought was going to work. But the one costume he hated was his long johns. They have to be thick cotton to get the effect and I know they were very hot. He's been incredibly patient, though, and they look wonderful."

Make-up and hair designer Penny Smith found that putting the whole look together was difficult: "We have to touch on the animal element so the audience can grasp who these people are and who they are trying to create.

"I looked at animal books to get a feeling for them and the cast also had a lot of input. To get that fine line between the animal and the human is tricky..."

Creating the look meant long sessions in make-up for the principal cast: "I tattooed Toad's head to resemble scales and put warts on his face. We also reconstructed the eyebrows; they had to be reapplied every day. It was quite simple but it has to be the same for continuity, which makes it a detailed job. When Toad is the washerwoman he has rouged cheeks, red lips and it's all a bit badly applied. It was great fun."

Badger's wig was made from human and animal hair, Penny explains: "Bob Hoskins has a nose shape and the badger wig and sideburns and his eyebrows are twisted up. The sideburns are flicked up to match the wig. Until he put the wig on with the white centre and dark sides, Bob said he wasn't sure where he was going with the character. But as soon as it went on, together with the eyebrows and dark sideburns, he was happy.

"Ratty is really a water rat so his hair is made of yak. It's quite wiry and has an animal feel to it. And Lee as Mole liked his look so much, including his prosthetic nose. He loved the claws -- because he is restricted by them it helped him with the character."

Prosthetic designer Erik Gosselin made all the teeth for the animals, including Ratty, Mole, the rabbits and weasels. All the weasels have crooked teeth, moles have gummy baby teeth and the rabbits have just two in the front. They all required prosthetic dentures.

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