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Oscars 2024 Q&A: Shona Heath, James Price share collaborative vision for ‘Poor Things’

James Price (left) and Shona Heath (right) smile while holding their Academy Awards. The two earned their first Oscars on Sunday for their work as production designers on the dark comedy “Poor Things.” (Courtesy of Michael Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

By Victoria Munck

March 11, 2024 9:53 p.m.

Post updated March 13 at 8:58 p.m.

By constructing a world of sugar and violence, “Poor Things” struck gold.

The dark comedy from director Yorgos Lanthimos earned four Oscars at Sunday’s 96th annual Academy Awards ceremony, including Best Production Design. Following the evolution of a resurrected woman (Emma Stone) within a fantastical sector of Victorian London, the vibrant absurdist film required cohesive work from designers James Price and Shona Heath, as well as set decorator Zsuzsa Mihalek – all three of whom shared the evening’s winning credits.

Following their victory, Price and Heath spoke to the Daily Bruin’s Victoria Munck and other journalists in the Loews Hollywood Hotel press room regarding their fruitful collaboration on the project.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Oscars 2024: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ wins Best Picture, night’s most awarded film]

Daily Bruin: “Poor Things” also just won the Oscar for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. How would you describe the relationship between your designs and the other visual elements in this film? How did you approach their alignment?

Shona Heath: We worked very closely together, and I think that’s why the continuity and the contrast and the colors work so well together. Holly (Best Costume Design winner Holly Waddington) came on board a bit later, after James and I had done the conceptualizing stage, and she just ran with the concept of this anatomy. We were looking at the textures of the body, the colors of the body. We were always communicating with each other, and I think that’s why it has a really lovely flow to it – because we were all working in tandem with each other.

James Price: It’s a fairytale, so we’d done a lot of thinking about who Bella was, who Baxter was, because the world is a construct of their imagination jointly. That was the starting point for everything that we did. Then, the other thing is, we all worked very closely, as Shona was saying. But also, Yorgos was like the conductor, the maestro, guiding us all through this journey to create what you see.

Interviewer from Lousã, Portugal: This movie has such a fresh look. Where did you draw your inspiration? What were the conversations that you had among yourselves and with Yorgos?

SH: We had to look through Bella’s eyes to make the world, so really understanding Bella from our fantastic script that Tony McNamara wrote was our first starting point. As we went along with the conceptualizing, Yorgos encouraged the biggest, most wildest things that we suggested. So from the seedlings of this design, it just grew and grew and grew.

The futuristic element of it that we wanted was to try to hit a note that wasn’t really an era that people could quite put their finger on. We looked to a French illustrator, Albert Robida, who did some illustrations in the 1890s of the future. It’s a fantastical future, and we really took from that life force, actually. And it gave us permission to do what we wanted.

[Related: Film review: A triumph of absurdist fantasy, ‘Poor Things’ delivers Emma Stone at her best]

ShortsTV: In an industry where creative collaboration is paramount, winning as co-production designers carries a significant meaning. Can you elaborate on the importance of this shared accomplishment?

SH: I think collaboration in this case, for me, was very surprising. I didn’t know it could be so wonderful and fulfilling, and we would not have achieved what we achieved without each other – I don’t think. And I think hopefully it should happen more for people.

JP: “Poor Things” had the space for there to be two of us. It’s not a clear-cut thing that every movie would need. Yorgos and (co-producer) Kasia Malipan, who persuaded us to do it, were very foresightful and clever to do that. I read a thing the other day that said, “Yorgos Lanthimos took two incredible people and made a superperson,” and then spoke about us as one entity. And that’s really what we were. I’m not sure that everyone can collaborate in that way.

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Victoria Munck | Theater | film | television editor
Munck is the 2023-2024 theater | film | television editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2022-2023. She is a second-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
Munck is the 2023-2024 theater | film | television editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2022-2023. She is a second-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
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