Eight Leading Men with Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Hollywood costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis has worked with some of the most famous actors and entertainers, creating for them iconic looks known the world over. She graciously agreed to play a game where I gave her the name of a performer she costumed, and she gave me the first thing that came to mind. Here it is.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis
Credit: Ben Wilson for Turner Classic Movies

John Belushi

Adorable. He was just like the Cookie Monster; he was so adorable. One of my favorite stories was of a time that he was flying in first class. My parents were in coach. He sat with my parents the entire trip to come to California from New York to listen to my father’s stories about being in a submarine in World War II. And they came off together. I was waiting for my parents, and they came off the flight with John. How could you not love that man?

Dan Ackroyd

The best. The Blues Brothers was all about Danny Ackroyd’s passion for the blues. It was Danny who really wanted to have James Brown and Aretha [Franklin] and Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker in that movie, and they hadn’t been seen on the screen. It was amazing. Danny is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.

Harrison Ford

It wouldn’t be Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford because he is reticent. Harrison was humble, an art collector and an intellectual. For years, he could walk in a crowd and not be recognized because he didn’t turn it on. He embodied the best of Indiana Jones. And I don’t think it would be Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford. When there’s a role that makes an actor a star, there’s some kind of elixir—there’s something that happens that’s an enchantment. He’s him and he’s not him, but he’s the best of him. They used to say about Clark Gable that women wanted to be with him, and men wanted to be him. And that’s what Indiana Jones is like. And that’s who Harrison Ford is.

Eddie Murphy

Incredible. One of the most talented people I have ever worked with—he’s naturally elegant, he’s incredibly serious and he’s incredibly funny. Once we were driving together and we stopped at the Improv in Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard. Very seriously, he just asked if he could get up on stage and do a set. And he knocked it out of the park. He’s just an incredible, incredible actor and talent.

James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones—I’ve seen him on Broadway, and I’ve worked with him. He’s incredibly quiet and he is also incredibly smart. I think the best actors are smart, because there is so much interpretive text to work through. And because of the nature of movies and performing, actors and performers have to be able to have really robust conversations with directors, with writers and with designers. Actors are really smart, and that’s how I’ve I felt about James Earl Jones.

Oh, and by the way, and he was at my house for Passover, and read from the Haggadah. What you want is James Earl Jones to be the voice of God after that.

Michael Jackson

I worked with Michael Jackson, who was the most talented person I’ve ever worked with or ever seen, over a period of about 10 years. We had a wonderful working relationship. He didn’t shine his light until he was performing. He was incredibly soft spoken and very small with maybe a 27-inch waist. I remember he looked like the wind would have blown him over. But then I saw him at Madison Square Garden, and I saw him at Dodger Stadium, and he was like a laser beam, a tractor beam. He just held every single person in his own control. I’ve never experienced anything like that. It didn’t matter how many people were on stage. All you wanted to look at was Michael. He was a charismatic. He was otherworldly.

Steve Martin

Oh, gosh, we’re such good friends. We were friends for years before we made The Three Amigos so we had a big comfort level with one another. Unlike my husband who is a real joke teller, and you can find this with a lot of comedians, he doesn’t tell jokes. He’s quite serious, and famously serious. And we made The Three Amigos and The Three Amigos was hilarious. It’s certainly one of the favorite movies that I worked on. Those costumes are in Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles—Martin Short’s, Chevy Chase’s, and Steve Martin’s entire costumes.

When somebody asks me what costumes of mine are in museums, I say Indiana Jones is at the Smithsonian, Michael Jackson’s jacket is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. And all the drawings and costume sketches for Coming to America are in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. But I always forget that they are also in a museum, but there they are. Those boys loved their red cummerbunds when they were in those three costumes; they never wanted to take them off. They thought they look so hot.

John Candy

We had a wonderful time making Nothing But Trouble. In it, John plays twins, and he plays his own sister. So, I put him in drag. He was hugely tall. His thighs were 36 inches. And he just did it and loved it. I remember walking onto the soundstage with John Candy and he’s in a wedding dress. The entire crew turned around and gave us a standing ovation. He was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man. Gone too soon.

4 thoughts on “Eight Leading Men with Deborah Nadoolman Landis

  1. I love this interview!
    Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ costumes are iconic. Her personal relationship with the actors brings each movie, actor and costume to life. Thank you for a fun and educational interview. The interview allows readers to delve deeper into her designing career with touching tributes to her relationships to the actors and their movie roles.

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