Costume designer takes pride in look of ‘Proud Mary’ cast

Taraji P. Henson in the new movie “Proud Mary.”
Dana Starbard/Sony Pictures
Taraji P. Henson in the new movie “Proud Mary.”

In black knee-high boots, leather gloves, and a swipe of bright pink lipstick, Taraji P. Henson’s character in the new movie “Proud Mary” screams “badass.” She’s a fierce, independent hit woman, but her fashion sense is further evidence: This lady means business.

The task of styling the “Proud Mary” cast was entrusted to costume designer Deborah Newhall, a Rhode Island resident whose diverse credits include “American Hustle,” “The Golden Boys,” and “Prozac Nation,” to name a few. More recently, she’s worked on “Slenderman” and “Cadaver,” both of which were shot around Boston.

Newhall believes “Proud Mary,” which comes out Friday, is being released at just the right time — in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.


“Strong female portrayal is key and [Henson’s] a winner,” she said. “Her character comes out of what would be a #MeToo moment for her in a way. In the film, she rises above a situation that is untenable for her. . . . She rises above and ends up being a strong hero.”

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Dressing Henson was critical to making her character the powerful woman she is in the script: Being meticulous about wardrobe isn’t a choice for Newhall, it’s her job.

“You can tell a strong person as soon as they walk into a room,” she said. “It’s something about their physical character and how they hold themselves and dressing them is highlighting that. . . . It’s always a good feeling when they look exactly right. It’s affirmation of what they are and who they are, and then, when they begin to speak, hopefully what they’re saying matches the way that they look.”

It was important to get the male actors right, too, including Danny Glover, Billy Brown, and fresh-faced 13-year-old Jahi Di’Allo Winston.

“Men are just as fussy about their clothing as women and, in some cases, more so,” Newhall said. “Making sure we got Billy Brown’s workout stuff right was important; he’s very specific to his physicality. Danny Glover wore suits and they were very specific to him — the colors and customization. Even Jahi, who plays a homeless kid — everything about him was worked on and no piece of fabric was left untouched.”


Newhall has a few favorite ensembles in the film. The power outfit Henson sports in the trailer is one. And for the men, “anything you see Billy Brown in is looking darn good,” Newhall said.