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Behind the Scenes of "Alexander" - The Costumes and Sets

The Epic Film From Oliver Stone Starring Colin Farrell



The courtyard palace in Pella, dressed for the feast celebrating King Philip’s betrothal to Eurydice

© Warner Bros. Pictures
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures in support of "Alexander," starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, and Rosario Dawson:

Oliver Stone’s "Alexander" is based on the true story of Alexander the Great, one of history’s most luminous and influential leaders – a man who had conquered 90% of the known world by the age of 25, and by the time of his death at 32 had forged an empire unlike any the world had ever seen. Set in Alexander’s pre-Christian world of social customs and morals far different from today’s, the film explores a time of unmatched beauty and unbelievable brutality, of soaring ideals and staggering betrayals.

"Alexander" director/screenwriter Oliver Stone demanded the highest level of historical accuracy be achieved in every detail of the film. Each prop, weapon, piece of furniture and set dressing was designed and created expressly for the production. Workshops for the art and wardrobe departments roiled with tremendous activity months before the cameras rolled, producing some of the most detailed re-creations of the ancient world in motion picture history.

The story of Alexander the Great encompasses many incredibly diverse ancient civilizations portrayed over several decades and Academy Award-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan was charged with creating more than 20,000 items of historically accurate dress. The costume designer consulted with historian Robin Lane Fox and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Doctor of Ancient History at Exeter University, who specializes in ancient costume. “There are an enormous number of vase paintings left from Greek civilization,” notes Beavan, “and a certain amount of written material, so we knew how they wove their fabrics.” Exquisite materials from the world over were fashioned to match the carefully researched styles of ancient Macedonia, Greece, Persia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Scythia and India.

Scenes shot in a grand Macedonian amphitheatre feature one of Beavan’s most striking creations, a red dress boldly worn by Angelina Jolie as Olympias, Alexander’s mother, as she sits in an ocean of white linen worn by hundreds of other actors and extras. “The red dress indicates how much Olympias stood out both in Macedonian society and in Alexander’s mind and heart,” notes Beavan.

Beavan and her crew were also responsible for the voluminous amounts of armor required to outfit Alexander’s army. “We researched the different wardrobe categories of the Macedonian army, with excellent input from [Alexander military consultant] Captain Dale Dye,” says Beavan. “We constructed our initial armor in leather and brass, which were then replicated in lighter and more supple plastic.” Beavan paid particularly close attention to the various suits of armor worn by Alexander and his generals, some of which weighed as much as 30 pounds. One of the most emblematic wardrobe pieces is Alexander’s double-plumed lion’s head helmet, and upwards of 10 duplicates were on hand at all times during filming.

With the wardrobe department supplying the uniforms, it was up to armorer Richard Hooper to forge the vast array of weaponry utilized by the Macedonian, Persian, Indian and Scythian armies. Hooper and his crew would sometimes have to equip as many as 1,500 soldiers per day, necessitating the creation of 12,000 functional pieces of equipment: approximately 1,000 sarissas (14-foot-long lances), 2,000 shields, 2,000 swords, 750 bows and 9,000 arrows. Most of the weapons were tooled by Hooper of actual metal, with realistic plastic versions created for stunt and horse riding situations, although the spears and arrows were rubber-tipped for safety’s sake.

The pivotal Battle of Gaugamela was filmed on an 8-mile stretch of desert outside Marrakech, Morocco. It was there that the art department constructed Alexander’s magnificently decorated headquarters in his tented camp on the edges of the battlefield. Alexander was inestimably influenced by stories of Greek heroes from his youth, so the designers mounted the legendary Shield of Achilles above his throne and encased the scrolls of The Iliad and The Odyssey in an ivory box by the side of his bed.

Another of the film’s arresting visuals is the wedding of Alexander and the princess Roxane in a fortress in ancient Bactria – part of today’s Afghanistan. The elaborate set was constructed on a plateau in the Lower Atlas Mountains of Morocco. As nothing remains of ancient Bactria, the fortress was designed by production designer Jan Roelfs from a combination of research and imagination. As much of contemporary Afghanistani architecture is comprised of mud walls, the fort was created from mud, plaster and timber.

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