Inside Anne Hathaway's Wickedly Awesome Wardrobe for The Witches

Costume designer Joanna Johnston exclusively revealed to E! News her inspiration for the Grand High Witch's glam makeover in the HBO Max adaptation and detailed how she hid Hathaway's pregnancy.

By Tierney Bricker, Amanda Williams Oct 31, 2020 10:00 AMTags

It's the season of the witch. 

What better way is there to celebrate Halloween than by watching Anne Hathaway take on the iconic role of the Grand High Witch in The Witches? Not only is her performance deliciously campy, but it's also surprisingly glamorous. Who needs a black pointy hat when you have a live snake accoutrement on your Oscars-worthy gown?

English costume designer Joanna Johnston—who previously teamed with director Robert Zemeckis on the Back to the Future trilogy, Death Becomes Her and The Polar Express, among other movies—is responsible for Hathaway's over-the-top ensembles in the HBO Max adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel, and she had just one word for the overall theme she was going for: "Glamour."

Johnston broke down the Grand High Witch's '60s high-fashion makeover in an exclusive interview with E! News, detailing her legendary real-life inspirations and the biggest struggle her team faced. Spoiler alert: It was Hathaway getting pregnant while filming. (She welcomed her second son, Jack, at the end of 2019.)

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Read on to find out how involved Hathaway was in crafting her character's look, the surprising place all of those chic standout pieces came from and all the details on that gold snake accessory...

Because this adaptation of The Witches was set in the 1960s, costume designer Joanna Johnston told E! News said she looked to "glamorous women" from that time period, including Faye Dunaway and Marilyn Monroe for inspiration.

Changing the decade the film took place in helped Johnston and Anne Hathaway establish their own unique look for the character, different from Anjelica Huston's iconic turn in the original film, which took place in the 1980s.

"I mean I did look at the film and I did really enjoy it and I love Anjelica Huston," Johnston explained. "So I just thought it needed to have its own platform and not really have anything to do with the old one. It's a new take. The dial is turned right up. But the great thing about witches is they can be anybody you know. They come in all sorts of different guises. You know, it's fun because you can go a bit over the top, really."

While Huston rocked a blunt, too-perfect long brunette bob and fringe in the original, The Witches remake subverted expectations by having Hathaway don a chic coiffed blonde 'do, reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. 

"When I was doing my research, we looked at these blonde icons and we looked at Anne blonde as well," Johnston explained of the hue choice, "she had done a couple of things with blonde hair, you know, but she's got brown eyes which is kind of interesting because it's a sort of odd look."

Because all of the witches wear wigs, the Grand High Witch needed to have a "more bombshell" look because "everything about her is a higher quality  than all the other witches," she reasoned. "They don't have such good wigs."

Hoping to snag one of the Grand High Witch's covetable pieces? "It was all designed," Johnston revealed. "Everything of hers was designed and made."

The impressive task was as exhausting was it was exhilarating for Johnston's team. 

"It's complex and I managed to make it particularly complicated in the design for the construction," she admitted. "It was very challenging for the Brennan's Ian Fraser Wallace, who was my main cutter. And, you know, the printing and dyeing departments—everything was difficult. But it's good  because it's nice to have to create challenges and things you've never done before."

The biggest hurdle in terms of wardrobe was the purple gown with the gold snake Hathaway wears in the film's climax, that is also featured on the poster. But not because of the construction.

"Anne Hathaway became pregnant halfway through filming," Johnston said. "The results of the pregnancy became apparent halfway through. So the body clinging design with a snake wrapping round it was pretty challenging. It's funny now but it was. It was definitely quite taxing."

As for the slinky dress' main accessory, Johnston wanted to create a versatile reptile. 

"It was a snake wrapped around the dress, and it comes into a jeweled head around the collar. So it's sort of partial jewelry and partial on other materials," she explained, "and the idea was that it had its own character and then it could be slightly animated. The idea that it had its own sort of character."

As previously mentioned, Hathaway became pregnant with her second child midway through production, with Johnston admitting, "I didn't know she was pregnant I thought she was just eating lots of pasta. Bad period or something."

Because Hathaway wanted to keep the information quiet, Johnston didn't learn about the pregnancy until toward the end of shooting, which meant it was "too late to change the design, so we just had to accommodate with what we could and with camera angles and what not."

Before production kicked off, Johnston and Hathaway spoke over the phone about the Grand High Witch's overall look. 

"I gave some general ideas of what I was thinking and I had done some designs. Anne was really game for the super overdramatic, she was really into that," Johnston detailed. "She sent me a self-made video clip with her clacking around in mules with a dress and gown."

After receiving the tape, the costume designer knew she would "get on really well" with the star because "she just wanted it to be as dramatic as I did," Johnston said. "She was wonderful to work with."

In addition to Hathaway, Johnston dressed about 60 other witches. "We had so much fun with them," she recalled.

"I liked the fact that there was very few rules to the witches," Johnston explained. "They create their own kind of sort of bizarre style which can be high fashion or it could be like a witch who lives in the woods. I mean it's sort of brilliant. You can run the gamut." 

The Witches is available to stream on HBO Max. 

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