A lot of clothing in the closet and stories to tell: an interview with BJ Rogers, Criminal Minds designer

Season 13 premieres tomorrow and Criminal Minds BR brings to you a very fun and informative behind the scenes stories interview with BJ Rogers, CM costume designer since day 1, in 2005.

CRIMINAL MINDS BR: How did you start working in the entertainment industry? Did you work in the fashion industry before that?
BJ ROGERS: I had applied to schools for psychology and after being accepted to some very good schools I decided that I wanted to do fashion instead! So the last moment I switched gears much to my parents’ chagrin. I studied design and despite the fact that I had family in the business I decided to go the fashion route! Retail is a cruel business, I was on holiday in Tahiti, and got offered a commercial. I was very unprofessional and never went back to Saks Fifth Avenue, and never looked back!
I did, however; take a break from costuming and designed for a clothing line for three years, but I missed the business and found myself back in it.

BJ Rogers in a closet full of shoes in Criminal Minds studios (Photo by BJ Rogers)

CMBR: Is it true that toupee tape is a costume designer’s best friend?
BJR: It’s sticky on both sides so it’s a big help if buttons are bulging or if a collar won’t stay put… It helps the costumers on set with continuity as it holds the clothing in place.

CMBR: You’ve worked with stars such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Bruce Willis, and others, do these artists give any opinions on the costumes of their characters?
BJR: Yes, I feel like movies are far more of a collaboration than television. You do more fittings and have more time to develop a character. Yes, of course, they have opinions. In my book the best actors are the ones that want to become the character, it’s not all about what looks good on them, but if the character would do it. In “12 Monkeys” there were many scenes that Bruce [Willis] was naked in, but I remember wanting to put a pair of Calvin Klein underwear on his head for a hat and Terry Gilliam who was the director saying we had gone too far!! Which shocked me, as we were super outrageous and dirty dirt everywhere!
I say that just based on the timeframe you have to get everything done. Of all the formats of TV, episodic is really a crash and a bash we do our show in seven to eight days, so by the time you receive the actor sizes shop for them, then you need to fit them and generally age the clothes if they’re new. It’s a very time-consuming process some people act like clothes fall from the sky they really have no idea how much goes into costuming just one person. I feel like it’s a very intimate experience with the actor they’re the only one that really sees how much effort went into the creation of the character.

BJ Rogers & Joe Mantegna (Photo by BJ Rogers)

CMBR: How many people work with you in the costume design department?
BJR: I have a large department mainly because the last time I did episodic was “Fame LA”, not the original one, and every week I was designing dance numbers, it was brutal on the costumers and I felt like I went through everyone in 705 [this is the union for costumers] so I have one costumer who runs the truck then I have two customers that trade-off episodes odd/even and I have two key costumers who do the same thing. There’s one person to handle background artist. A costume supervisor, two seamstresses, and two production assistants. So what is that 11!

CMBR: What is the biggest difference between working in movies and TV?
BJR: In features, you have more time to create background stories for your characters which aid you in telling the story of who your characters are. I remember one of my first meetings asking what kind of car the character drove and what he did for a living and my producer wanting to know why? It’s all information.

Panel with costumes that actors had worn in Criminal Minds (Photo by BJ Rogers)

CMBR: How is it to design the costumes for characters like unsubs, that appear in only a few scenes in the episode?
BJR: The world of the unsub hasn’t really changed too severely. When we first started the show actors would whisper what’s an unsub, so I wrote it on the mirror of the fitting room! I used to get a lot of thank you’s for making them feel like a killer and finding their character, but now everyone knows the deal.
My best on unsubs have been the ones I can have fun with and dress them completely out of the box. My favorite one that comes to mind is, C. S. Lee [who played Justin Leu, in episode 10×02 “Burn”], the spicy Asian you might remember him from Dexter. The episode was written by Janine Sherman Barrois and it was directed by a woman [Karen Gaviola]. I wanted to put him in this crazy onesie with a sheer raincoat and boots!! They thought it was sexist my mouth fell open! In the end, they went along with it, it was fabulous and I was delighted, and CS was into it and such a good sport!
In general, as I’m sure most of you know black black black is the word for the unsub and hoodie hoodie hoodie is the mainstay. However, sometimes they just need to blend in so their costume is your everyday man who says don’t look at me!

Part of the designing process for one of Penelope Garcia’s dresses (Photo by BJ Rogers)

CMBR: In the other hand, how is it to reflect the changes and the evolution of a character in more than 10 years, like the agents in Criminal Minds?
BJR: Wow, that’s really the best part for me. To have characters for 13 years and to arc their evolution. For example when the character of JJ played by AJ Cook joined the cast she came from a media background, office. So the first time she went out in the field with the team she was in a skirt with heels and had to walk across a park! Yes, the grass! For all of us gals who wear heels we know the consequences of heels with grass, something to be avoided, but JJ was new and came from a desk job so it was awkward but real. She started with puffy sleeves and skirts and now she’s very paired down and ready to kick butt!
I felt like I made a mistake with Reid, played by Gube. I started him out with short sleeves and he wore the same tie for three episodes I figured it was something his grandfather had given him and the only tie he had. I liked that part, but I remember thinking I wish I would’ve put him in black pants and a white shirt and had worn that outfit for the first 4 or 5 episodes like he was so genius all his clothes were the same thing, as if he didn’t have time to think about it.
Of course, there’s Garcia, my personal favorite to design for. She started out like loving hands at home embellishing her outfits, to the fashion diva of the show! I design sweaters for every outfit she wears and a rip apart dresses and reconstruct them into something entirely different than how I got them off the rack. Often times I use more than one dress. My seamstress swears that she is seeing dresses in the store that do the panel up the side like we do!

One of Dr. Reid’s costumes (Foto de BJ Rogers)

CMBR: How is the interaction of your department with the writers and directors of the episodes? How does the fact that every episode has a different writer and director affect your job?
BJR: Every episode I sit down and have a meeting with the director and the writer and we discuss the day players of the episode and what they should look like. I’m really blessed, as I have a lot of freedom on the show to create. Every now and again we get a new director that wants to see photos.
I really design for the actor/the character. I have two simple rules one, never let the costume come in before the actor and two, the costume should feel like a second skin so the actor feels like the character. My feeling is the director then gets the performance he wants because after us and thinking about his costume it feels natural.

CMBR: How many pieces of clothing do you have for the actors to change in a sequence in the case that they get dirty or sweat?
BJR: It depends on the scene we are doing. if there is a stunt we have a whole outfit for the stunt person sometimes two if we think we’re in danger of blood or something ripping. Since there’s a lot of crashing and breaking down doors I tend to do triples on the boys and the girls I have to do doubles when they wear their vest’s because the Velcro wreck their sweaters!

One of Penelope Garcia’s super trending costumes (Photo by BJ Rogers)

CMBR: Is there any concerns about sustainability in your department? Are the costumes reused somehow after the filming?
BJR: Oh my gosh, I’m so concerned about the environment!
The photos that I take during a fitting we reuse as size tags on our stock clothes. I carry reusable bags to shop with and I’m constantly on everyone in my department for that I watch the recycling bin like a hawk! But, yes we have what I call a “dead shed” the clothes that with kill people in goon there. That way if we’re doing photos that require someone who’s been buried for years and their clothes would be disintegrating, or our standard CSP of our victims we head there. All of our clothes we recycle in use. Plus the main cast repeats their outfits again it’s something I feel looks real and more relatable.

Costume tags with fitting pictures and the actors wearing their costumes (Foto de BJ Rogers)

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