Oscars 2012 Behind the Scenes: 'Jane Eyre' costume designer Michael O'Connor on keeping Michael Fassbender clothed

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Image Credit: Laurie Sparham

Each year, the Oscars recognize A-list talent we regularly see on screen, on the red carpet, and in tabloids. But the Academy Awards also reward those who work behind the scenes: the writers, editors, costume designers, and others who help create trophy-worthy movie magic. This Oscars season, we’ll be toasting those off-screen artists by delving into the hidden secrets that helped create the on-screen magic that we — and the Academy — fell in love with. For more access backstage during this Oscars season, click here for EW.com’s Oscars Behind the Scenes coverage.

In a year all about getting Michael Fassbender naked (thank you, Shame, and numerous magazine photo shoots), he couldn’t have been more buttoned up in Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre. Oscar-nominated costume designer Michael O’Connor, who already has an Academy Award for 2008’s The Duchess, spoke to EW about Mr. Rochester’s signature day look and smoldering sleepwear — and the myth that clothing a man in a period film is easier than dressing a woman.

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YOUR SEX IS ON FIRE

It’s a pivotal, intimate moment in the film when Jane (Mia Wasikowska) wakes a sleeping Rochester to save him from the flames in his bedroom. “I think there was talk of Michael doing the scene in the nude. But we didn’t know about Shame, at the time,” O’Connor laughs. “I imagine he could have been persuaded.”

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Though it looks like Rochester is wearing a male nightgown, it’s actually one of his handmade linen day shirts, which was based on an original Victorian design. “Sometimes gentlemen did sleep in their shirts. The shirts were quite long in those times for specific purposes, to fill out the shapes of their trousers and because they didn’t have underwear,”  O’Connor says. Prepare for the best history lesson ever! “It starts coming in. There are linen shorts that some men wore. But most didn’t. The shirt is down nearly to the knee. So before they put their trousers on, they’d tuck their shirt in the front between their legs and in the back between their legs, and fold it in, rather like a diaper or a nappy, and then pull the trousers on top,” he explains. “It helps when you’re looking at old paintings and photographs [to understand why] the men are depicted quite smooth, because they have the length in the shirt that fills out the top and the bottom, so it’s almost like a slight padding, if you like, or another layer of material between the trousers and the skin.”

This is part of the conversation that takes place in an actor’s wardrobe fitting, O’Connor says. “You say, ‘The trousers are high like that because it reveals more of the body, and the shirt fits long because the trousers are bigger, and you’ll see why when you put the shirt on and tuck the shirt in like this, and pull the trousers on like that. Now you see, that’s the shape. And then the coat’s waisted this way to give that flair. They are clever people, those Victorians.’”

But not gratuitous: Was there talk of Fassbender showing more heavage? “The shirts don’t open all the way down. They only open to just under the chest. That’s as low as it could have ever gone,”  O’Connor says. “I think those shirts are quite sexy anyway.”

Next: Mr. Rochester’s frock coat — also quite sexy


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