The film's costume designer dishes on Nudie suits, Jesus Lizard tees, and why it was hard to get Daniel Kaluuya to go to fittings. 

No detail went undiscussed when it came to the costumes in Nope, Jordan Peele's hit sci-fi horror film that centers on a ragtag group — siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), former child actor Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun) and retail worker Angel (Brandon Perea) — spooked by a UFO in the skies above their California desert town. We sat down with the film's costume designer Alex Bovaird (recently nominated for an Emmy for her work in The White Lotus) for the thoughts behind the threads. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Anyone who watches a Jordan Peele movie knows that there are no accidents, everything is intentional. I'm sure there were plenty of discussions about what each character was going to be wearing. What was Jordan's input, and what was your collaboration like in terms of the costumes?

COSTUME DESIGNER ALEX BOVAIRD: Jordan was highly collaborative — probably one of the most detail-oriented directors I've worked with. Every detail is thought about collaboratively. And definitely with costumes, [there was] a lot of back and forth. It wasn't like Wes Anderson, who comes up with all the ideas, basically. It was more like, I have ideas, and it was a constant conversation. And until camera rolled, maybe there were still things to think about. So it was very exhilarating. Every costume means many things, sometimes just to Jordan.

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Brandon Perea in 'Nope'
| Credit: Universal Pictures

There's such a shroud of secrecy over his films. How much did you know going into it, and how did that play out as you were figuring out the wardrobes?

I knew everything. I was sent a script in order to make a pitch to join him on the adventure. These days, you actually have to come up with quite a lot in the interview stage. So I had a pretty fully-fledged design concept for each world. 

There's a scene where OJ, Emerald, and Angel are all wearing different graphic tees. What was the meaning behind the T-shirts, and how did you find them?

So the idea was that they run away from the house, from the ranch, in the middle of a rainstorm. And it's a bit nebulous how much time passes. In the final edit, it seems like not too much time, but at one point there was maybe a little bit more time that they were hanging out at Angel's apartment. And if I remember rightly, originally there might have been a line where they talk [and] Keke and Daniel put on Angel's clothes. I think Jordan likes to leave things up to interpretation and imagination, get you thinking. 

They're Angel's band T-shirts. And the methodology of that was he wears his favorite band T-shirts now, but these were things he was listening to a couple years ago. His band T-shirts are either post-punk or proto-grunge. And again, there's a bit of personal stuff going on there, because Jordan and [producer] Ian [Cooper]... they're making a movie that they want to see, and so sometimes that pops into the costumes. As well as Angel's the kind of character who likes obscure bands.

Keke Palmer in Nope
| Credit: Universal Pictures

Definitely like The Jesus Lizard, and Wipers and Rage. I mean, they're all bands of Jordan's teenage years. So, I think it works on a lot of levels for Jordan. It was something that Angel would be into, but also meaningful for him, and me too. I'm exactly the same age as Jordan, so I'm the one that ran with some of those bands. I found the Jesus Lizard one on eBay, and I think it was an indulgence that I treated myself to as well. Because I always look at, like, Insecticide t-shirts and they're $800, and I'm like, "Well, I can't buy that for myself." I think the Jesus Lizard was a thousand dollars. But it was also such a beautiful, vibrant image. It goes with some of the other imagery. Jordan saw it and said, 'This gives me life.' 

Well since we're talking about Angel, what was the philosophy behind his clothes?

He was a dark, brooding, cynical character. We started with some brighter colors on him because we wanted a kind of pop-color theme for all the costumes. But we quickly realized, because Brandon is so just naturally upbeat, that it would help to play his character down in his clothes, and a bit more dark energy. He's going through a breakup and he's over it all, and so he wears cutoffs, and he's into music. 

Steven Yeun as Ricky 'Jupe' Park in 'Nope'
| Credit: Universal Pictures

Let's shift to Ricky (Steven Yeun). Were there UFOs on that red suit he wears in his final scene?

Yes, we embroidered UFOs and also alien heads onto [the suit]. The shape of the kids' costume alien heads is a specific shape. And so, those alien heads, and the spaceship are on the cuffs and on the back. I created it with a company in Texas that specializes in that kind of Nudie suit. It's always been big in the country music world. They have the best chain stitches. It's a dying art with these special machines that render the embroidery in a nice chunky fashion. It was a custom suit for Steven.

What was the idea behind his character's look?

The inspiration was slightly Willy Wonka, because you don't spend an awful lot of time in Jupiter's Claim. But we lent into this idea that he is this Willy Wonka character taking you into his world, that he's trying to be the star of his own world still, because he was this failed child star. We tried to play with the idea of this arch Americana, but subverted, because he's not a white guy. And then also tried to make some strong visuals when he's in the red suit. We were going in a totally different direction for a long time, and I pushed for something kind of crazy.

What was the other direction?

A hoodie.

Wow, really?

Well, there was just a different way around it, where he's not in the costume and he's not trying, and he's not presenting himself and it was sort of a run-through, and maybe when he's at Jupiter's Claim, he's not dressing up. There was a whole other direction, which was anti-what we did. I'm glad we came back around to doing something a little nuts.

It also gives some insight into his character longing for this Hollywood career that he used to have.

Exactly. Attention. I mean, it's flashy. We played right on the edge of him seeming a bit ridiculous. Steven very much wanted to go along the lines of putting on the armor and being the star of his own show. He's very thoughtful, but really responded in the fitting to having this sort of Willy Wonka aspect.

Daniel Kaluuya in 'Nope'
| Credit: Universal Pictures

What about OJ's clothes?

There's a sort of Compton Cowboys look where it's all hip-hop swag sitting on horses, and ranchers typically do wear cowboy hats and jeans and big belt buckles. So, we landed a bit in the middle. We tried to blend the more modern, urban aesthetic with a more traditional rancher look. So, he wears cowboy boots, he wears Wranglers, but he also wears hoodies, and he wears an Air Jordan T-shirt. We didn't want to go one way or the other because we wanted to be a bit more realistic, because you have to be practical when you're looking after a ranch.

We did a lot of hyper-specific swag. We do try and be in the zeitgeist. So T-shirts with your local pizzeria or whatever is very cool now to do. So we mixed a little bit of that too. And the idea that he just ended up with these T-shirts. So, he gets a hoodie from a trucking company and he wears a Mario's Catering T-shirt. He wears his branded ranch hat, Haywood Hollywood Horses. We did a lot of branding. There was a lot to say about corporations and money, and capitalization and the commodification of all this stuff. So having him branded was important.

Where did you find his Malcolm X hat?

It's from a costume designer I know, who has a son who has his own line of clothing, and it's called David and Goliath. So there's some little biblical echo going on, but very, very subtle. I don't know who's going to pick up on that necessarily, but it's just a cool hat. 

Did Daniel have any input into this? 

Not as much, because he's quite Method, so I felt, like in all the fittings, he was already OJ. He doesn't stay in character all the time, but he stays in a mode. I remember meeting him thinking he was going to be really cheeky and funny, and he was very OJ. He was very quiet and a bit shruggy. So I think even though he probably had more to say about the costumes, he, as OJ, was like, "You know, whatever." In fact it was hard to get him to do fittings. Just because I think OJ is not into trying on clothes.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer in Jordan Peele's 'Nope'
| Credit: Universal Pictures

Finally, can we talk about Emerald's look?

There's not so much of her backstory in the movie as it stands, I think, but she does have quite a big backstory in that she's kind of homeless, which is not so much explicit in the movie. And she ends up staying back at the ranch for a time, and that's why she's in that trailer. And there's this idea we had with Keke that everything she has is borrowed from Daniel, or stolen from somebody she slept with the night before. The Prince t-shirt is supposed to be something from her childhood. Or she wears a leather Western vest that's her mother's. And then, just little shiny objects. She has little shiny earrings and rings, like she's a magpie, just taking things and having things. Yeah, so that was the general idea. Random, accidentally cool.

And she also wears cowboy boots under her jeans, a nod to what her family job is.

Exactly. We wanted to make sure that we didn't lose sight of the fact that they grew up on a ranch, because if you go out into any country that's ranching country, everybody wears cowboy boots. 

Where are her jeans from?

They are men's jeans by Ripndip. Oh, they're great. They're what teenage stoner boys wear. So, the idea is they're old jeans of Angel's. But yeah, the cut and the way we styled it is also very trendy.

Want more movie news? Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free newsletter to get the latest trailers, celebrity interviews, film reviews, and more.

Related content: