Tag Archives: Higgins

Murdoch Mysteries: Costume designer Joanna Syrokomla discusses the show’s stunning clothes

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the “My Big Fat Mimico Wedding” episode of Murdoch Mysteries.

Joanna Syrokomla has one of the best jobs in television and film. Yes, being a costume designer is a lot of work, but the opportunity to spend someone else’s money to research, create, make and/or rent the clothes worn by characters sounds incredible.

Syrokomla—who has been the costume designer on such series as The L.A. Complex, Bitten, Backstage and Chateau Laurier (for which she recently won an International Academy of Web Television Award)—joined the Murdoch Mysteries crew for Season 12 and has, in my mind, made an immediate impact. That was never more evident in the stunning clothes worn by Ruth Newsome, Henry Higgins and their guests during Monday’s nuptials. How did Syrokomla design Ruth’s dress? What’s different about Julia’s look? And what items in his wardrobe does Yannick Bisson refuse to change? Read on to find out!

What does the title of costume designer mean, specifically when we’re talking about Murdoch Mysteries?
Joanna Syrokomla: I’m ultimately responsible for every article of clothing that goes on-camera. Obviously, we do the research required for Murdoch. I watched previous seasons of Murdoch—I was already a fan—and the wonderful thing about that is you can see what really works on the characters. I could watch what was really great on Hélène Joy, what made her glow and was successful on her. I’ve tried to update Julia’s look. She’s starting to lean towards 1910 even though it’s 1906 to give it a freshness to the look of Murdoch and to her and to, frankly, accent some of the stock because there are only so many costumes in Canada to rent to all of those day players.

I have a crew that ranges between eight and 15 people, depending on the day. I have a workshop where we build and sew costumes. We make things from scratch for our leads. And if there are any specialty stunts … we’ve been making Ruth Newsome a bunch of stuff because she is amazing. Siobhan Murphy can pull off anything. She can pull off big sleeves, she can pull off a train, she can pull off crazy colours and I’ve really made quite an effort to realize her character more visually. I feel like I’ve been trying to do that with a few of the characters. We know Murdoch is not realistic. So, for me, it’s about making things that the audience is really going to love.

It’s interesting to hear to say that you do keep the fans in mind when you’re designing something.
JS: We also use more modern things. I’ve been buying things are Zara and Forever 21. Violet and Ogden are wearing things that we’ve bought from Forever 21 and just recut and adapted them. At the end of the day, there is a fan base that wants to see pretty clothes. And as long as they don’t distract from the action, we want to bring some colour, texture and warmth. Again, it’s not high realism. High realism at that time was all very brown, cream and tan and hot wool. That’s what I love about Murdoch Mysteries over some other period series. There is a fun element to Murdoch Mysteries. We say, ‘Is it period, or is it Murdoch period?’

What was the inspiration behind Ruth’s gorgeous wedding dress?
JS: Ruth, obviously, is over the top. The style of her dress is a little modern for the period. It’s leaning more towards a 1908-1910 silhouette. The character takes up a lot of space visually and I love that about her. And Siobhan is a stunning creature. The dress started off as a dress we found in a Montreal costume house. We redid the sleeves and changed the train. We ended up changing it so much I’m not even sure you would recognize the original dress. It’s now in two pieces and the costume house loved it so much they said, ‘Don’t change it,’ because sometimes we have to change things back. There was so much action going on we had to make sure she didn’t have a really long train. At first, I wanted her to have this really ridiculous, long train and veil but there so much action that you can’t have that stuff be in the way.

You mentioned Montreal. So, you’re going all over the country for rentals and inspiration?
JS: Absolutely. Toronto does have some really exceptional costume rental houses but we were sent to Montreal for about a week because Montreal has an excellent period stock. I think they might just do more period movies in Montreal. We spent a couple of days in costume houses there and bought a bunch of fabric there. But things to get rented from Vancouver and we do [use items from] Los Angeles a little bit. We’ve also been going to the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival, hitting places that Murdoch hadn’t really hit before just for some new stock.

Let’s talk about what the men were wearing during the wedding. What can you tell me about their tuxes?
JS: It’s officially called morning wear. They wouldn’t be tuxedoes. They would be morning coats for an afternoon wedding. It was a lot of fun to put everyone in morning wear. It’s always wonderful when the guys come in in their sneakers and shorts and just the way they stand when they start putting on all this formal gear is beautiful. We even had some pieces sent in from Winnipeg, which has the oldest costume house in Canada. It was the original Malabar costumes and then branched to Toronto and Montreal. We had some pieces from there because we have gunshot wounds in the episode. There is a whole jacket switch that has to happen between Henry and George. In reality, the two of them are not the same size, so we had to find jackets that we were allowed to put gunshot wounds in.

One thing I’m not sure if you noticed and I’m curious if you did. The pyjamas. In the story, everyone goes to the wedding, and everyone has to stay overnight. No one had intended to stay overnight so everyone is wearing pyjamas. And we’re not sure if they were Roger’s pyjamas or Rupert’s pyjamas. It was a way we could put Hélène in those beautiful, silky, pyjamas and Crabtree in the yellow paisley pyjamas and, of course, Murdoch wore some serious ones. That was something that came up. We were in a meeting and I asked what everyone was wearing. I don’t know who it was, it might even have been me, who said, ‘What if it was Rupert’s pyjamas?’

How far in advance are you brought in to discuss clothing?
JS: It’s during the first draft period. I had a little more time for the wedding episode. It was actually one of the first episodes we shot so we had a little bit more time. But it’s basically two weeks.

You’ve already spoken about Julia’s look changing. What about William’s? I don’t imagine his clothing has been altered too much style-wise.
JS: Everybody is very, very happy with his look over the years. And Yannick himself doesn’t want to change it. He wears the same shoes and the same cufflinks from the very first movie and refuses to change them. He wears the same shoes, we just get the refurbished every year. I got him some new cufflinks and he said, ‘No, no, I’ve been wearing the same cufflinks.’ We just made more of the same. He does have some looks this year which are new, but nothing drastic. I even tried to get him a new hat. They don’t make that one anymore. I got it from a vintage seller on eBay in his size and everything. He picked it up and said, ‘Yeah, it’s good as a backup hat.’

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


Preview: Do Higgins and Ruth marry in Murdoch Mysteries’ “My Big Fat Mimico Wedding”?

Fans of Henry Higgins and Ruth Newsome, your day has arrived! At long last, Higgins is joining the storied Mimico Newsomes in Monday’s Murdoch Mysteries episode, aptly titled “My Big Fat Mimico Wedding.” At least, that’s the plan.

Written by Simon McNabb—who has penned some of the funniest scripts on Murdoch Mysteries—and directed by Gary Harvey, here’s what the CBC has revealed in their official synopsis:

When Murdoch, Ogden, Crabtree and Brackenreid attend Higgins’ and Ruth Newsome’s wedding, a guest repeatedly tries to kill the groom. 

And here are more morsels I can reveal after watching a screener.

Guess who is part of the ceremony?
You can’t have a Newsome storyline, especially a wedding involving one of them, without Rupert Newsome (Cyrus Lane). Lane, as usual, steals every scene he’s in from his co-stars. There are so many giggle-worthy moments that I lost track.

Will Higgins return to Station House No. 4?
It doesn’t appear so when the episode starts and Brackenreid is just fine with it.

George doesn’t attend the wedding solo
That’s all I’ll say about that … other than the journey he takes to get to that state is wonderful.

Speaking of wonderful…
Gary Harvey’s direction is just that. What he does with his large cast of main and supporting characters during key witness testimony is well-executed, fun and really adds to the storytelling.

This is not your typical episode of Murdoch Mysteries
And, because of that, it’s one of my favourites. I can’t wait for fans to see it. Please let me know what you think.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


Murdoch Mysteries: Mary Pedersen breaks down “Operation: Murder”

Murdoch Mysteries showrunner Peter Mitchell promised several Season 12 episodes would focus on other members of the series. He wasn’t kidding. Monday’s latest, “Operation: Murder,” saw Julia step into the spotlight as she investigated a series of deaths at the University of Toronto’s School of Medicine.

Meanwhile, George was smitten by a young Florence Nightingale Graham (Kathryn Alexandre) before she left town in favour of a career in New York City. As for William? Well, his latest creation seemed intent on gobbling him up. We spoke to the writer of “Operation: Murder,” Mary Pedersen, all about what went on inside and outside Station No. 4.

I had no idea Florence Nightingale Graham was Canadian. How did she come up in the Murdoch Mysteries research?
Mary Pedersen: Every season we like to feature real historical figures, so we’re always keeping an eye on what important Canadians were doing around our time, and what famous international people might have been in Toronto then. Elizabeth Arden was on that list, and since she had actually attended nursing school in Toronto, it happened to dovetail nicely with the idea of a mystery set at the hospital where Ogden is completing her training to be a surgeon.

Were there other facts about Florence/Elizabeth that didn’t make it into the episode?
MP: What I find really fascinating about her is that she was the daughter of immigrants in small-town Ontario, her mother died when she was in her teens, and she went to nursing school to help support her family. So for her to go to New York City and go on to build her own cosmetics empire—really one of the first such businesses, with her name on the products—strikes me as a story of such bravery and determination. I would love to have been able to get into more of that, but of course we’re dealing with just a small moment in her life, really before she knew what she would become. I hope we were able to depict a little bit of what was to come through George’s enthusiasm for her dreams. He has a special skill for giving talented women a nudge in the right direction and I love that about him.

Peter told me that other characters would get more screen time this season. That started tonight with Julia doing the investigating. How refreshing was it for you to write a mystery where William took more of a back seat?
MP: I’ll tell you, I loved it. I got a little cocky writing the first draft; I was telling everyone I could totally write a medical drama if I had to! That’s from years of being a devoted fan of ER and Grey’s Anatomy. Of course, you wouldn’t actually want me doing a tracheotomy! Luckily, I have friends and family in health care who coached me through the medical stuff, and we have a terrific consultant to make the medical stuff look and sound good. So that was fun, to bring us into a different world, get to know Julia’s new workplace and the people there, and make her the primary detective on the case. I’ve always appreciated that Murdoch Mysteries has that latitude to make room for the actors to do what they do best, to explore different worlds and tones, and we hope that quality will help keep things fresh in Season 12 and beyond!

Yet another woman enters George’s life ever so briefly. Will he ever find love?
MP: He really comes up against his essential problem in this episode, doesn’t he? He loves ambitious, complicated women. He’s such a special character and I think he deserves someone who’s one in a million like him. But if he finds his true match, will she accept that he’s ‘just’ a constable, and will she want the same life that he does?

I was so glad to see the incredible set for William and Julia’s house has stuck around for another episode. Is it as impressive in person as it is on-screen?
MP: It is. Bob Sher and the art department did such an amazing job on it, really making it feel like a home that expresses who Murdoch and Ogden are. It’s become my favourite set to visit, and it’s much cozier than the morgue, so there have been a few times this season when I’ve snuck down and put my feet up on one of those built-in sofas to read a script. And there have been a few more great scenes shot in the house already this year.

Next week Higgins and Ruth are scheduled to marry. [Preview picture above.] What can fans expect from the episode?
MP: The Newsome family episode has become really one of the highlights of every season for the writers, and you can imagine that with a wedding, the extended Newsome family coming to stay, Ruth determined to find George a girlfriend, and of course a murderer on the loose, that Murdoch, Brackenreid, Crabtree and Higgins will really have their hands full next week.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.