MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the disco-era dresses with precariously plunging necklines worn by Amy Adams’s character in American Hustle.
Many have wondered how Adams was able to keep her decolletage contained within the sternum-deep disco frocks without the benefit of tape or other tricks. Now we know the answer.
“Me, me, me, me, me,” says Honah Lee Milne, the 39-year-old who worked as key costumer on the film. “There was a little slippage during shooting, of course, but it was minimal. It was my job to make sure that it didn’t happen.”
Adams even thanked Milne on February 22 at the Costume Designers Guild Awards, as she accepted the Lacoste Spotlight Award. Milne, Adams said, “helped me keep my dignity when, at the end of the day, there wasn’t a shred of it left.”
Dorchester-based Milne has quickly made a name for herself on the booming Massachusetts film scene. As key costumer, she works with both the costume designer and the director, helping to maintain their vision during filming. It’s her job to make wrinkles disappear or ensure a character looks sufficiently rumpled. If Wes Anderson asks for white slippers, Milne figures out how to find them in rural Rhode Island.
“If you’re on the set for 18 hours a day, there are going to be emergencies,” she says over a hot toddy at The Franklin Cafe in South Boston. “Zippers are going to give. Clothes are going to get stretched and stained. Those things happen, which means I have to get them to the tailor immediately or rebuilt or any number of scenarios.” Milne has found herself taking costumes home to wash when they need to be cleaned, and dyeing costumes in her bathtub.
She has volumes of entertaining tales about working with celebrities. When she mentioned she was pregnant on the set of Moonrise Kingdom, Tilda Swinton gave her what she describes as a “bone-crushing” hug. When she brought her infant daughter, Strummer, to the set of The Heat, she says, Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock took turns doting on the girl.
Milne has worked on some of the biggest Massachusetts productions over the past five years, beginning with the Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway film Bride Wars in 2009 and the Martin Scorsese-directed Shutter Island the next year. Her start “was not that long ago,” she says. “I feel like I’ve had about 600 lives.”
The Vermont native came to Boston to study at Emerson College, graduating in 1996 with a degree in writing, poetry, and children’s literature. She earned her master’s in education from Johnson State College in Vermont in 2002.
While working as a teacher, she started an events company called The Honah Lee and staged regular ladies’ nights in Boston at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, where local craftswomen could sell their wares in a party atmosphere with a soundtrack of bands and DJs.
She also worked at the late Motley Home store and styled photo shoots on the side. She got her first taste of film when My Best Friend’s Girl came to Boston, and buyers looking for bedding and accessories stopped in at Motley Home. They noted Milne’s eye for detail and told her she should get involved.
After that there was no looking back. She watched Wes Anderson in action on the set of Moonrise Kingdom, worked on Larry David’s TV movie Clear History, and helped ensure costume continuity on Captain Phillips.
She loved the excitement of working on Hustle, with its hundreds of costumes, and also the challenge of keeping Jennifer Lawrence’s wardrobe stain-free. “She likes chicken wings, and she likes Doritos and meatball subs,” Milne says. “She’s fun and awesome, but sometimes forgot about the costume. It was a challenge to keep her clean.”
Christopher Muther is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to email@example.com.