ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For the filmmakers, the primary objective was to plant subtle, not-so-subtle, and just-plain-obvious clues that Dale Doback and Brennan Huff have refused to grow up. Production designer Clayton Hartley and costume designer Susan Matheson collaborated with each other and with McKay, Ferrell, and Reilly to achieve a design and look that would express the characters' sensibilities.
Matheson reunites with the team after designing the costumes for Talladega Nights. In fact, it was Matheson who chose one of the strangest costumes in that film -- Ricky Bobby's pink Crystal Gayle t-shirt, which Ferrell liked so much that he wore it to the premiere of the film.
"I'm always on the hunt for t-shirts, even when I'm not working on a movie," she says. "Whenever I'm in another city, I go to thrift stores -- I'm talking Salvation Army, not chic boutiques. Or I'm on eBay all the time, looking for things. In movies in which people wear contemporary clothes, it's very hard to distinguish yourself in an interesting way, so I always try to make sure there's a distinct personality to every character. One way you can do that is through a unique, cool t-shirt."
Matheson was charged with two distinct tasks in the costumes. First, she had to help differentiate what might seem, on the face of it, two similar characters in Dale and Brennan. "Brennan is a bit sweeter than Dale, more of a mama's boy, so I wanted his t-shirts to have a sensitive side," laughs Matheson. "For example, he wears a purple shirt with an airbrushed horse running across it. He also wears shirts featuring juvenile travel destinations, which hints that he's been living with mommy. Dale, on the other hand, wears shirts that center on his interest in martial arts -- and, at the beginning of the film, a vintage Yoda shirt."
"The great thing about Adam McKay is that he's incredibly supportive of people with an absurdist sense of humor," Matheson continues. "As long as the joke is subtle, and as long as I can justify it, he's all for it."
She cites an example that didn't make it into the movie but still shows off the sensibility. "I gave Will a pair of plaid Christmas pants and socks with vinyl bottoms -- the kind children wear. Will had tucked his pants into the socks, which got a huge reaction from the crew. You can't even see it in the film, but I thought those socks were just right for Will's character."
Step Brothers marks production designer Clayton Hartley's fifth collaboration with Ferrell, and from a design standpoint, it might be their most straightforward film yet. After recreating the 1970s in Anchorman and Semi-Pro and larger worlds of soccer and NASCAR in Kicking & Screaming and Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, with a few exceptions, takes place in one house in Los Angeles. In that way, Hartley's goal was to provide a design that would underscore the fact that the characters are stuck in time as teenagers, without calling attention to itself. "The art department is not funny; Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and John C. Reilly are funny," he says. "Our goal was to take a subtle approach, never going over the top, to make an environment that was true to the reality of the characters, so that we could enhance the comedy and not distort it."
The way they did that, he says, is "to leave around puddles of stuff, like a teenager does. A teenager will leave his bike in the driveway, his coat in the hall, empty bags of snacks in the den... it was those little touches that would make this nice house look like two children lived in it."
Which is not to say that they didn't have ample opportunity to be creative. The boys' shared bedroom is a hodgepodge of teenage memories culled from the entire art department. Set decorator Casey Hallenbeck filled the room with -- in Hartley's words -- "all sorts of goofy stuff. There was this magic kit, the kind with the swords... a beer can collection... posters of rock bands and sexy girls, like a teenage boy would pin up. It was definitely a great chance for him to go to town and remake a teenage bedroom."