Recently, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko, the costume designer for season two of Disney+’s The Mysterious Benedict Society. You can catch our interview on The Cosmic Cafe below, or most places podcasts are hosted.
We chatted about her career – spanning live theater to episodic television, and about what it was like stepping into season two of a hit show. We also talked about what it was like to work and collaborate with actor Tony Hale. Karvonides-Dushenko even shared some of her work for the show.
About Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko and The Mysterious Benedict Society
Karvonides-Dushenko has had an incredibly impressive career, and you’ve probably already seen some of her carefully designed work. She won an Emmy for her work on American Dreams in 2003. She was nominated for work on Carnivale, From the Earth to the Moon, and American Horror Story – suffice it to say, she’s mega-talented. She’s also a professor at UCLA, teaching in the costume design program. And if that wasn’t enough, Karvonides-Dushenko is also involved with theater and Opera, designing for shows worldwide.
The Mysterious Benedict Society, now in its second season, is based on children’s adventure books by author Trenton Lee Stewart. They follow four gifted children working with the mysterious and sometimes strange Nicholas Benedict as he tries to protect the world from his evil twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain. There are henchmen, adventures, and exciting stakes in the series, along with a retro-ish time period. It’s not hard to see how the books were so successful.
While the show is inspired by the books, each book doesn’t line up precisely with each season that airs. That means there’s a lot of storytelling freedom for the creatives while still exploring the characters and their journey’s that fans love from the novels. There’s been no official word yet on a third season, but there are certainly a lot of stories left to explore in the show.
The show stars Tony Hale as both Benedict and his nefarious twin, LD Curtain. It also features the kids – Mystic Inscho, Seth Carr, Emmy DeOliveira, and Marta Kessler. In addition, Kristen Schaal is Number Two, and Gia Sandhu is Ms. Perumal.
Check out some highlights of our interview below, including beautiful renderings of the show’s costumes, or pop right over to the podcast and listen.
On the foundation set in The Mysterious Benedict Society season 1
When talking about the foundation set by the first season, Karvonides-Dushenko had a lot of praise for her predecessor Cate Adair.
“Season one was designed by Cate Adair. And what’s incredible is that she set the tone at a very high sophisticated level, where it’s got this beautiful color palette. It’s sort of heightened reality. Kind of like a whimsical, nostalgic nod to the 60s and 70s. But it’s what my students call schmeriod, you know, it’s kind of a mash-up…you can’t tell what period anything is in.”
Karvonides-Dushenko also credited the show’s writers and creative team, including director Craig Zisk for bringing the show to life.
On the differences between season 1 and season 2
Costumes help build the story’s world, and in season 2, Karvonides-Dushenko and her team used design to help bring Europe to Los Angeles.
“There was a big shift. Season one was filmed beautifully in Vancouver, and it’s foggy, and it’s misty, and then all your exteriors have sort of that gray tone, and then they saturated the buildings in the characters. So that as a whole… the cinematography is totally different because season two, we filmed in Los Angeles, which was great.”
“The story shifts… season one, they were at a school, and now the story is they’re going to be getting onto a ship to cross the Atlantic. So you’re not supposed to know we’re in Los Angeles. And then you go across the ship, and then we’re in Europe.”
On her real-life travel experience inspiring the show’s costumes
Karvonides-Dushenko described to me how her time in Portugal inspired some of the costumes.
“And fortunately, I had spent quite a bit of time in Portugal because I designed an opera there. So when they were talking about that port and coming in, I knew exactly what they were talking about, that’s kind of wonderful, and it’s like, oh, and the uniforms for the police are so different! And then, we created all the different uniforms for the customs brokers and the agriculture people and the local police. But Craig Zisk and the rest of the writers were like, but don’t make it threatening. So you know, we soften the tone of the authorities when you get to Portugal.”
On the design for Kristen Schaal’s Number Two
The costume designer spoke to me about the inspiration for Number Two, a character played by Kristen Schaal, from his FX series What We Do In The Shadows. She said it all started with a very specific color.
“But we had one given that Kristen Schaal’s character, Number Two, got her name because of her lineup with the kids, but it also referred to the Number Two pencil.”
“So all of her clothes are keyed off of yellow and a very specific yellow of a number two pencil. And then the accents are the color of the eraser …that kind of burnt orange. And then the green lettering on the classic old school Number Two, we also infused into her costume.”
On the Titanic inspiration for the costumes on the Short Cut
The costumes from Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, inspired some of the costumes from The Mysterious Benedict Society. And Karvonides-Dushenko got to see the actual Titanic costumes in preparation for The Mysterious Benedict Society.
“Because we spent so much time on the Short Cut ship. We created all of those uniforms for the Short Cut. And we actually went back, and we had access to the actual uniforms from the movie of Titanic.“
“We were constantly looking for what is the most nostalgic interpretation of each of these types of uniforms and characters. So that’s why we went back… like the most beautiful ship uniforms that audiences will sort of know or subliminally know, it’s the way that Deborah Scott designed those costumes for the Titanic.”
On Tony Hale transforming into his characters
Tony Hale plays the twin brothers on the show, Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain. Both have very distinct looks and mannerisms. Karvonides-Dushenko shared how that came to life, even in the costume fittings.
“But it’s amazing. In the fitting room, Tony, you watch him morph into Benedict, where he slouches, and he kind of puts up his face. And he kind of twists his neck a little bit. It’s amazing. And then that comes off, and he’s like Tony Hale. And then five minutes later, he’s in Curtain, and his shoulders are upright, and his head is upright, and trying to get height on his neck. It’s incredible. Just incredible to watch that.”
On the photo-realistic renderings of the costumes
Karvonides-Dushenko shared some of her designs for the costumes for The Mysterious Benedict Society. Ruoxuan Li, her co-creator for the renderings, helped bring them to life even before the first stitch was sewn with pre-concept photo realism illustrations. The illustrations were so realistic that the writers for the show thought the costumes had already been made.
“I normally do all of my drawings. But the show was so fast. And we needed so many renderings that I worked with Ruoxuan Li. And what it was is that most of the drawings are, they look like they are fitting photographs. They were all created before the costumes were made to have our writers/ producers approve the look of the show.”
“…but it’s really amazing when you see them. It looks like they are photographs. We even had moments where some of the producers were like, well, we have to move this scene up. And you’ve already got those coats ready, right? And we’re like, oh, no, we don’t even have the fabric finished.”
How to watch more of The Mysterious Benedict Society
Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko was a true delight to speak with about her work on the show. You can listen to the full interview on The Cosmic Cafe, available however you listen to your media. For more The Mysterious Benedict Society interviews, check out our chat with production designer Cynthia Charette.
You can watch new episodes of The Mysterious Benedict Society every Wednesday until the season finale on November 30th. And if you’ve already checked the show or the books out, please share your thoughts. Join the conversation with us on our Discord or Twitter @MyCosmicCircus.