Interview with Steffi Bruhn

We all know how important the costume design is for a movie. Especially if you want to tell a true story and the costumes have to represent an era. For Rupert Grint’s movie Into The White the producers and Petter Næss decided to work with German costume designer Steffi Bruhn. She was kind enough to take her time and sat down with us to talk about her work on and off set. We found out more about Petter Næss‘ Teletubby style, how immense the whole preperations were and she gave us an exclusive look behind the scenes. What was the Specific of your Costume Design for INTO THE WHITE?
Steffi: The challenge with this movie was to follow the strict line of uniform dress code and at the same time define the individuality of the five soldiers. My job was to give the guys little private things, like a handmade slipover, or show their difference with subtle colours, watches, jewelry, a hand stitched handkerchief… To give a glimpse of their character.
Steffi: Exactly. We managed pretty well, I presume. What helped me a lot was to meet the real Horst Schopis. Florian told us about the meeting. He was really impressed.
Steffi: Yes it was impressive. He was adorable. Sadly, he died this summer. He was a real charmer. He was 98 when I met him and he came to me saying: “The two of us, aren’t we fortunate to meet… (flirty tone)” And I just thought: “Hello? How old are you?” (laughing) He told us a lot about the uniform. For example I always thought that those uniforms with the breeches were hardcore-Nazi-uniforms, but Horst told me that his heart belonged to horses and those breeches were the pants for horse guards. He joined the cavalry and did a qualifying examination, which he had to do, but didn’t want to, because they needed pilots. He did basic training and those breeches just came up. You could say that the pilots were the riders of the air. All that I didn’t know at all.
And Horst was a bit vain, which is one of the reasons many young people joined the war. The uniforms were simply really chic. The young guys wanted to look as smart as possible, presumably in a way like trendsetters. Certainly that is a strange way of putting it with hindsight and I hadn’t thought about this aspect before.
Horst always carried this bag with his riding boots with him because the flying boots in the Heinkel airplane that came with the heavy Flyingsuits weren’t chic at all. We had many discussions with Horst about whether movie-Horst should run back into the burning Heinkel to save his bag with the boots, or not. We said that we couldn’t do that. It would give you a wrong impression of Horst and nobody would understand why Horst had to save these boots in the middle of icy Norway.The real Horst did. He walked through the snow with his handmade riding boots on his back. He wanted to be able look as smart as possible and to impress the beautiful Norwegian nurses, for example. He has pictures he showed me and you can see him wearing those fabulous boots in Canada, while he was a prisoner of war. Sadly, in his book there aren’t any pictures. So Horst told you what you needed to know about the uniforms?
Steffi: With the knowledge that he had his own tailored breeches, the jacket and the pants don’t fit perfectly together. They are a different material and a different colour. I didn’t want a hermetic costume. Button up and strict. I wanted a human military look. That was really important for me. Most of the time, Nazi-movies are very artificial, because the strictness of the Nazi-Characters is transported in the costumes. Our Story argues that war was not only black and white, that there are a lot of greenish, brownish, blueish greys in between. The soldiers are humans and that’s what it’s all about. People meeting each other and how they act together, how they become friends in some way. Seems like an immense preparation. I mean, you couldn’t have done it all right there in Norway, could you?
Steffi: No, for example we took my assistant’s husband as a double for Stig Henrik Hoff, because he couldn’t come to Berlin. We sent Stig to the best tailor in Oslo to get his measurements and Daniela’s husband did the fitting sessions. He took it very seriously and said things like: “Yeah, this chemise feels nice.” (laughing) And we took Stig’s footprints and with them the shoes were made. And all of that happened in Berlin?
Steffi: The shoes were made near Munich. There is a company that does things like that. It was complicated. We needed a model-shoe and asked collectors of war relics. There are a lot of “crazy” ones, who collect everything but they don’t want to share, because they are afraid of something happening to their items. So they collect, look at them at home and that’s it.
We knew a former colonel and he opened some doors for us. But not before speaking personally with Horst. For example, we needed some information about the dog tags. It was very important to me to have get this detail as realistic as possible and to have the spirit of the four original men with their original numbers in our movie. So I wanted to use the real registration numbers and birthdates. This colonel wrote to us immediately and we had all the registration numbers and birthdates of the people in the Heinkel. And I thought: “You don’t want to know where he got them from.“ (laughing) We had to change some things for the movie, because the family of one soldier doesn’t want him to be named, so we changed his name and role. Actually, Horst Schopis is the only character who has kept his full real name.
The difficulty with Rupert’s role was, that his character did not exist in reality like the others, we had to find a solution for his rank.
The Original Gunner in the Skua was a member of the Royal Navy, belonging to the aircraft-carriers, were the fighters were positioned. If you think of Ruperts role it would have ment, that he had to be in that Norwegan shed in a Navydress. Blue with white collar. Nobody would have understood that , so we decided, he should be dressed in a Uniform of the Royal Air Force. There will many people watching the movie who know a lot about that stuff, we decided for some changings. Did you tell Rupert that?
Steffi: Yeah, in the beginning. I met him in London the first time and that is the reason why I really was looking forward to giving this interview. Because I just have to say that Rupert is TERRIFIC! I’ve never met an actor like him before. Unbelievable! He is a professional man in the most positive way. He has discipline, such a natural discipline. He dressed up in his costume every morning and in the evening undressed exactly the same. Nevertheless if outside or inside, hot or cold, he paid perfectly attention to his precious original Costume-Details.
Rupert was perfect, just perfect! Like I said, I met him in London and I have to admit I read the Harry potter books, but watched only one movie with my godchildren, who are big Potter fans. They were like: “Oh, you have to get me an autograph!”, which he was willing to do, but I was unprejudiced when I first met him. Not like, you know, as if it had been someone like… …George Clooney(laughing)
Steffi: Yeah, exactly. Rupert came in, with Sarah, who is amazing by the way. He put on his costume and everything fit. He had a thick white polo neck, made out of wool, which scratches, and I asked: “Rupert, is this ok?”
And he said: “Yeah, yeah. Everything is fine.”
“If anything isn’t right, now is the time to mention it. I can change it. If something is uncomfortable in Norway on a glacier it will be a bit more difficult. You can be honest.”
“Nah, everything is fine.”
He put on the socks, pants… everything was fine. We pulled on the boots, he had original flying boots, which we found in the stock at Angels, he pulled them on and I asked:
“It’s perfect!” – they weren’t lined, nothing –
“Eh, are you sure?”
“Yeah, yeah.”
Oh my god, he was the most uncomplicated of them all. He pulled them on, they fit, boom, finished, thank you! Totally thankful for everything, he was happy. No complaining, no grouching, fantastic. Just fantastic. You chose someone really special, to give your attention to. It was amazing to see how he is in when concentrated, very subtle. The scene begins and he IS there! Amazing! We’ve noticed this in his movies and just hope it is the same off the set.
Steffi: It is! Definitely. We had the hotel in Norway all to ourselves so he could be just himself there. It was different in Sweden. There were eighty or hundred girls and he was so open and thankful. He came out so many times, saying: „I get so much love from my fans, I don’t want anyone to be sad, because I can’t return it.” I thought that was admirable. He never was like: “Oh my god, not again!“ Awesome! Maybe, that’s the British politeness? (winking)
Steffi: No, not only. I believe it is especially Rupert. How did you handle it with the individuality?
Steffi: Eh, should I show you some pictures? That would be awesome. We thought it was easier for Kitty [make-up designer]. She made different haircuts or put some freckles on Rupert. It’s hard to imagine how you do it with uniforms.
Steffi: For Petter it was important, he always said: „I want them Teletubby-style! “ Everyone with his own aerial?
Steffi: (Laughing) Yeah, like that. Well, they had to put on warm clothes, a lot of warm clothes…and well… you are getting a little round. [Searching for the pics on her laptop]

Pictures from their first meeting with Horst: And that’s the real Horst with Are (the Norwegian owner of Hotel Grottli left side). It’s the apartment of a friend of Horsts family where we were invited for dinner. That was in January, I think. During this first meeting Horst showed us his photos and I copied them.

Showing many of Horst’s original photos.
As you can see, he is wearing his riding boots. He didn’t care about icing his feet.

This was the main picture to work with. You can see the beautiful cuttings and the folds, the uniforms are alive. (Horst is the second one from the right)
I loved this picture with Melitta, the love of his live. He married her while was in war captivity. That was the marriage via post. (In his book “Als wir vom Himmel fielen”, Schopis describes how he married Melitta while captured in Canada. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last long.)
Steffi: Yeah, that’s her. I thought about giving him this ring (pointing on a ring on Horst’s hand), but Horst said he didn’t wear it in Norway. But it’s little things like these, which can make it personal. David for example wore a Ring with an eagle and a swastika. Because he is playing an assured Nazi.
Steffi: Yes. We got the ring from a collector in Munich.

Here you can see Horst in the middle with his elegant riding boots and on the left his Comrade with the uniform and warm comfortable flying boots.

We also got the original Flying-wrist watches. A collector gave them to us. With these things we could work out differences. Different pictures of her Studio: We tailored all the flying suits for the 3 Germans two times. (One for normal and one for artificial Ice-facing.) It was big luck to find one original in a military antique store. We copied the cut with all the details. The fabric was dyed several times until it had that colour spectrum of greenish grey brown.
The buttons for example… we got them here in Berlin. They are the Originals, made of horse hooves. My assistant went to a store and the owner said: “Well, I have a whole box of these in stock.” And those are the moments when you think. “YES! I am on the right track!“

This is Horst with the Flying Goggles Model Auer 295 and these are the original flying goggles.
We got one from Canada, two from the Netherlands. We had to replace the soft rubber all around the goggle. It was impossible to find somebody able to do this delicate work in Berlin, because all of the brilliant special effect guys were involved in a big Hollywood -production. So I had to activate my contacts in Munich.
This is the original suit from the antique store on the left. It was difficult to get the sheep fur. To save money we used teddy-bear cloth, which the English soldiers used for real. All the Fabric, lining, leather, zippers are dyed several times before being cut and tailored. And dyed again after having been tailored.

Right: Fabric samples, Left: Tailor Egon with the first suit.
So it’s an enormously long process until a fabric comes to life and captures the deepness of the original.

The last finish I did myself in the Udo’s workshop in Grottli. The Heinkel was build there and painted to get that oily sticky look, I used the same materials that Udo used for the Heinkel. Flying suits and airplanes belong together, so I could give them the finishing touch.
The three Guys in the workshop of Ben (Textile Artist) in Berlin. One of the most exciting challenges was to see how the ice-suits worked. We had to be prepared for shooting the inside of the hut in springtime in Sweden, without any real snow. So we had to create the Artificial Iced Suits.

Left one without, right with artificial Ice-Facing. I was very relieved to see that it worked so well. So, David and Florian came into your studio and you met Rupert and Lachlan in London…
Steffi: Yeah. That’s right.

Ok, this is the fitting in London at Angels. This is Rupert’s whole outfit lying on the sofa. So Lachlan wore some leather pants and a sheepfur jacket. Rupert wore an overall…
Steffi: Yes, first thing is the underwear. The underwear was a way to show their social background and their character because it is private. Florian, for example, has some nice silk underwear, which shows his rank. Horst told me about his silk underwear, so it was important for me to give it to our Comrade Schopis. Do we even see their underwear in the movie?
Steffi: Yes! I hope so… even if we don’t see, the right underwear is essential for Period Costume design. Above the underwear you have the uniform. Shirt and tie, then they wear pants, knitted sweaters, jackets and finally their warm clothes. Smitty, Rupert’s role, wears a Royal Airforce Uniform. Ordinary pants, a light blue shirt with on buttoned collar, which matches beautifully with his eyes, the off-white sheep wool polo-neck jumper and this jacket. The English pilots were hunter pilots. The Hunters are much smaller than the big Heinkel 111 bomb airplane. The hunter guys looked very stylish, they made themselves very cool-looking outfits. The way their socks were rolled over the boots… really casual! We have pictures that are stunning. You just take a look at the guys thinking: “Wow guys, you look so smart!”

Showing a picture of Rupert with his polo-neck jumper, which looks really tight: Rupert at his fitting. As you can see the polo-neck is really tight, so I said:
“Rupert, it’s a little tight, isn’t it?”
„Eh, a little bit, maybe.“
And I just thought: „He can’t breathe anymore!“ (laughing)

A picture of Rupert in his entire outfit: The Teletubby-style! Rupert’s overall wasn’t lined. The other ones were and the guys almost sweated all the time, but Rupert’s wasn’t and he just kept saying: „Yeah, yeah. Everything’s fine.” Even in the iciest cold. Daniela [Steffi’s assistant] once asked Sarah caringly: „Will he say anything before his frozen feet fall off?“ Sarah was just laughing: “Yeah, he will notice it.”

Daniela and Nell (wardrobe department) on their way to set and these are the Norwegian overalls, which we collected all around Norway. They are very old ones from a museum in the northern Norway, made of bed sheets. What was it like to work with an international cast?
Steffi: Super! It was so much fun. I am totally in love with Scandinavia. How they live and behave with each other. They have a very different attitude towards life. Like the working hours… (laughing) Florian [Lukas] told us about it.
Steffi: It is like that. I learned that there are other ways of working and the quality isn’t worse. It was one of the first things he [Florian Lukas] mentioned: „It is nice to finish on schedule.”
Steffi: Totally. They are very familiar, during the weekends their families come for a visit. They are open, very heartfelt. The food has a high quality. And I don’t mean high class food, the basics are great. I like the relationship between men and women. It seems to be quite equal. You get the feeling the Norwegian woman can shoot an elk or chop wood and the men stay at home and look after the kids. You are open for everything and learn from each other. What did you take from the shooting for yourself?
Steffi: Definitely the great gift to work with an international cast and crew. To have been to this country. Petter was sitting exactly on your spot and said: “I am really looking forward to showing you my beautiful country.” The photos Calle posted looked amazing…
Steffi: They were. It was exciting. You start with mailing to the people and one day I sent a photo to the producer titled: “The German costume department”, so they got an impression of who we are. And after a while you meet the people and you are thinking: “Yeah of course. That fits.”

Simone, Ulrike, Egon, Nathalie, Dorothea and Daniela

Calle was one of the first ones I met. I landed with my big boxes in Oslo and there he was. I mailed a lot with him. He was always my last hope if something went wrong. Very reliable. Just great. So he was there at the airport… and he is really slim… with Valerie’s son Vincent to pick me up. Vincent helped on the set. Like in the scene where Florian opens the door in the trailer saying: “May I introduce you to the beautiful Norwegian countryside!“ and you see that big mass of snow coming in, I think: “Ok, that were Calle and Vincent.” (laughing)
So these two guys were there at the airport with this little truck and I first thought: “Are you kidding me? Am I supposed to sit with you in this truck for eight hours on our way to Grotli?” Well, we packed the truck and I sat between the guys. It was a great beginning… the sun went down… we listened to Bob Dylan and I just thought: “Aww, to be twenty one more time.” (laughing) It was great and so was the whole experience. What are you looking forward to the most, when you watch the movie?
Steffi: The moment you forget everything you’ve done. Without thinking: “That doesn’t look right, I wish I had… the collar is aslope… Oh my god, what did I do?” But if everything fits and looks right, this moment of being overwhelmed, the enchantment, I can’t wait for it. Can you find one word to describe the whole experience?
Steffi: Oh god. No chance. It was so overwhelming… We can still see your enthusiasm.
Steffi: It feels that way. It is my whole passion. It is something special, if it works that way. It isn’t always like that, but it fit so perfectly. I made other experiences, where the communication was really wrong, it wasn’t fun at all and you just thought: “Never again!” Did Rupert tell you he learned German in school?
Steffi: (laughing) No he didn‘t. Great, so maybe he understood everything around him. Well, I don’t think so. It’s more the basics, but it would have been interesting if he had tried.
Steffi: Maybe he was too shy. (laughing) Anyway, I wish him from the bottom of my heart, that he will get the opportunity to show his natural talent. Because I really believe in it.

Thank you so much Steffi for taking your time.

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