Article by Joanna Cassidy -
Arranged by Gary Willoughby - Graphics by Bryan Ebenhoch
In mid-1980 I auditioned and was hired by
Ridley Scott and Warner Bros. Studios, to portray the Replicant character of
Zhora in the film Blade Runner.
There was much discussion about the
costume that would be appropriate for the character Zhora to wear. At the
time, I owned a snake (doesn’t everyone) whose name was “Darling”. Ridley
decided to include “Darling” in a dance sequence that was planned. I
explained to him that snakes move by squeezing and then relaxing propelling
themselves, and I thought that the costume should be easy for “Darling” to
move about on since he was new to the movie business and was going to have
to adjust and become accustomed to many other new experiences. I thought the
more comfortable the costume I was wearing, the easier it would be for
The first time the audience sees Zhora is
in the hallway walking towards the dressing room of the tacky Night Club
called the “Snake Pit”. That is about the time in the screenplay when
Harrison Ford’s “Deckard” character starts putting the mystery together.
Ridley and I talked about the dance
sequence with the snake and envisioned Zhora coming out of a sand dune in
slow motion, her hands emerging first covered with particles of sand
indicating her arrival and “Darling” doing the same.
During the dance sequence Ridley wanted
to have a brief beautiful encounter with a naked Zhora dancing with the
snake. When it came down to the actual scene, Ridley decided to have Zhora’s
character wear a costume. This costume consisted of three relatively small
pieces of nylon strategically placed and then thousands of sequins carefully
glued on my skin. It took three hours to apply the makeup for that scene and
a lot of patience.
The next decision was about what was
Zhora going to wear during her escape from “Deckard”. I suggested we have
my friend Marika Contempasis design a costume for the chase scene. Marika is
a genius at crochet and today many pieces of her work are on permanent
display in museums nationwide. We talked about the color the costume should
be. Ridley wanted a very muted palette so that Zhora could move about almost
invisible. During a meeting with Marika, Ridley who is a brilliant artist
drew what he envisioned, which was a figure with a nymph-like quality. He
drew a figure with almost nymph-like look. At the end of the meeting Marika
said she could make it and would have it ready in six days.
Marika called and said the costume was
ready and we went to see it. It fit like a dream, but was very fragile and
Ridley appreciated it , but felt it needed to be enhanced to make Zhora look
much tougher (more like rough trade), but with an air of the super human
quality which Replicants have. I was very happy that I could wear a bit more
because I knew we would be shooting nights and because it would be very cold
around four o'clock in the morning.
By now the film was in production and I
had been rehearsing with a dancer for the “Dance in the Dunes”.
Ridley got together with Charles Knode
and designed a very exotic black leather costume that I actually could run
and fall in.
He made two sets. I have one and I
believe the other didn’t survive except for the Bra that had the blood
The Charles Knode costume consisted of a
clear plastic raincoat, the leather bra, boots, pants, and a flesh colored
leotard. There was only one nymph costume made, by Marika, which consisted
of a small top and bottom. Michael Kaplan knew about the nymph costume
Marika made, and the order to make it, and he wrote me a letter regarding
the costumes authenticity.
I was shocked when I went to the studio
to see the costume Charles had made. I had my measurements taken a week
before and like two naughty school boys Ridley and Charles waited for me to
change into my costume and emerge from the changing room, and then they
watched me go from pink to red in my black leathers. I tried to act
nonchalant, but it was nearly impossible in the Warner Bros. dressing room
with the overhead neon lights accentuating my white skin. I think I said
something like "Where's my whip?" , and we proceeded to break into gales of
laughter. That broke the tension. I realized I would have a lot of fun being
a dominatrix for the next three weeks, of course Ridley would love shocking
the producers and audience with his Zhora.
To make the character even more dedicated
and exotic, Ridley came up with the idea of a snake tattoo subtly wrapped
around my neck. I loved it even though it wouldn't show that much under my
hair when it was down, but having the stenciled tattoo applied every day
took my mind into Zhora's and I became the woman who was desperate to
Ridley spoke endlessly about the
Replicants. He loved the concept that humanity was morphing rapidly into
artificially created humans. We were both happy with my last take after
Zhora was shot and as she lay dying, a tear slowly fell down the side of her
In terms of the costume in the dance
sequence, I wanted to mention the Egyptian looking headdress Zhora wears
(carries) into the dressing room of The Snake Pit bar after her performance.
We set the scene for Zhora's exotic snake dance, the feeling Ridley wanted
the audience to have was that of a queen rising from her burial ground under
the dunes. Since whenever did the dance, I'm not sure how the headdress
would have appeared, but it as it was we used it as a prop, and really for
that purpose. It was great looking and did make me appear gigantic since it
blended into my dark makeup and it almost appeared to be growing from my
I hope this short article explains a bit
about the costume I wore in Blade Runner.