Cameron Diaz may be best known for her sweet and sugary film roles — Charlie's Angels, There's Something About Mary, etc. — but her latest role as Malkina in Ridley Scott's The Counselor is a far cry from her usual MO. (Not just because she has sex with a car. And yes, that really does happen.)
Paula Thomas, the designer behind the label Thomas Wylde who was given the opportunity to dress Diaz for The Counselor, was initially surprised by the casting choice. "When Ridley [Scott] told me it was Cameron, I think I probably had the same reaction that a lot of people would have," she said. "Which is, I'm so used to seeing Cameron as this beautiful, funny, charming, sexy, amazing woman — which is exactly what she is in real life. And then I'm reading Malkina, who is a vicious, vindictive hunter, and I'm going, 'OK, how is this going to work?'"
That contradiction, though, appears to work. In the opening scene of The Counselor, we meet Malkina, and she is one of a kind, to say the least. She's got model looks, two pet cheetahs, and zero empathy for anyone around her. She's cold and calculating, with warning signs bubbling just up to the surface, but the people closest to her seem to miss that side of her completely.
"Malkina's character uses the wardrobe as a disguise, in a way, to throw you off the scent of what she's really doing, and what her real aim is. But I think that Thomas Wylde has a flavor of what Malkina is, as much as I really don't want to say that," Paula said with a laugh. "Because it's quite a dark, cold, and manipulating character, but it just worked."
Paula Thomas' sketches for Malkina.
If you haven't heard of Thomas Wylde as a label, that's not exactly a huge surprise. And it's probably how Paula would prefer things. "I tend to keep Thomas Wylde a little more of a secret than most designers," she said. "I don't do fashion shows, and I very rarely do advertising."
But she let BuzzFeed into her showroom in Los Angeles, which is tucked away in an unassuming row of warehouse-like spaces off of La Cienega. Racks of clothing from past seasons hang in one room, another room functions as a work space for designers, and directly in front of Paula's office is the inspiration wall, with various draped fabrics and the hint of looks for an upcoming collection. The Thomas Wylde offices, much like the character of Malkina, are sophisticated, with rock n' roll inspired black and steel gray finishes.
"Thomas Wylde is definitely for a woman who wants to stand out in the crowd. She doesn't want to be a wallflower," Paula said of her label. "So I think that's part of Malkina's character. I mean, a woman who has two cheetahs as pets is not exactly a wallflower."
As for how someone like Paula, who likes to fly under the radar, got looped into a project of The Counselor's scale, she said, "I've known Ridley and the Scott family for quite a few years now. Tony, who passed, was the godfather of my daughter. And Jake, who's Ridley's son, was my old sparring partner in London when we were 19 or 20. So we kind of grew up together. But still, to receive a phone call from Ridley in the afternoon, asking me if I'd be prepared to dress Cameron Diaz for his new film was such a blindside for me. When you consider who he's worked with in the past, from a designer aspect, you've got Armani and Gucci basically. So to be aligned with those power houses was a huge honor to me."
Inside the Thomas Wylde studios.
The mannequin and black gown inside Paula Thomas' personal office.
Rather than having to dress the entire cast of The Counselor, Paula was tasked with dressing Diaz. A few weeks after reading the script, which is the first original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy, Diaz was in the studio with her. "We were supposed to have three hours with her," Paula said, "She ended up staying the day ... She's seasoned. She's an actress who's been doing this for awhile, and she's very good at what she does. She's very detailed. She knew who Malkina was. She knew more about Malkina than I did. And I was allowing her to find things within my prior collections that would only enhance her being able to get deeper into the character."
"The way she presents herself to the world is as important to Malkina as her words and actions," Diaz said. "When I saw the Thomas Wylde wardrobe Paula created for the film, my immediate reaction was that it was as fierce as Malkina herself. It was a fantastic collaboration that really helped bring the character's inner being to life."
Per Scott's request, one look was designed from scratch and specifically for Diaz's character — a pair of brown leather pants with gold studs running down the sides, which is seen in the film's opening sequence. Otherwise, all of Malkina's wardrobe was combed from seven years of archived Thomas Wylde collections. In fact, part of the process included Diaz walking through those archives and hand-picking looks that she thought would help her get into character as Malkina. It was a move that was done for a couple of reasons: Paula was in the midst of designing a collection, and they only had four months before the film started shooting.
"My ultimate goal was to make sure that, A) Malkina was truly Malkina, B) That Ridley was satisfied with the work that I did, and C) That Cameron felt comfortable being Malkina," Paula said.
The clothes for Malkina are showstoppers in the film, but it's also more than just the fashion that makes the character pop. She has an enormous cheetah tattoo running down her back, edgy streaked hair, and nails that shine like chrome. And Paula had a hand in those details as well.
"We did have a lot of discussions over the phone, Ridley and I, about how the hair may want to go," she said. "Most women don't want to cut their hair; they want to be beautiful and pretty and all these things, whereas [Malkina] already is that. So she takes on a completely different idea of what beauty is to her. And she has no problem showing it. It is quite a statement. Everything about what she's doing is a statement."
Paula said the most nerve-wracking part of the process was when she took the initial call from Scott. But as for why she decided to proceed, she said, "I always try to choose very special projects. I don't want to do something just for the sake of projects. I wouldn't normally do it, in all honesty, because I don't have time. But it's Ridley, and you don't turn him down. And it's also Cameron. Amazing. And then there's this incredible film with this incredible cast, so that will stand the test of time."
And if you're looking to get that badass Malkina look for yourself, Paula has a few tips.
"Malkina will definitely be drawn to things that show her attributes, as it were," Paula said with a smile, picking up a vibrant long-sleeved feather-print dress from her last autumn/winter collection. "On the hanger, it doesn't look that body conscious, but once you actually wear it, it sits and it fits you in the right little areas," she explained.
"The stretch leather, for example, would be something else that she'd be drawn to," the designer said, pointing to an olive green skirt with gold zipper detail. "This, in a way, is modern, and it's got that sophisticated vibe to it. But then it's got this kind of edgy details with the zippers. Again, very tight fitting, and also, the colors of olive green with gold zippers — it's not the norm. But it would work for her, because she's far from normal."
While breezing by a rack of pink looks from a prior season's collection, Paula said, laughing, "She would definitely not go anywhere near pink." Then, she stopped in front of a row of black, right back to Malkina style. "She'd definitely love this, the biker leather dress," Paula said, holding up a long-sleeved look with a cinched waist. It's sleek leather and body conscious cut scream Malkina.
"The clothing for both Cameron and Javier [Bardem] were very important," Paula added. "Malkina, this powerful entity, this cold, dark person, becomes a reality and it's a really powerful reality that you suddenly go, 'Wow, she's hardcore, beautiful, and sophisticated.'" Much like the Thomas Wylde line itself.