Oscar-winner Graham Moore explains how he doubled Chicago in a Wembley studio

Moore tells KFTV how he filmed his 1950s Chicago gangster feature, The Outfit, starring Mark Rylance, entirely in one tailor shop on a north London set

By Chris Evans 16 Feb 2022

Oscar-winner Graham Moore explains how he doubled Chicago in a Wembley studio
The Outfit. Credit: Focus Features

Aptly dressed in a sharp grey suit, Graham Moore talks with real enthusiasm about his feature directorial debut, The Outfit, a 1950s Chicago-set gangster film with a difference, set entirely in a tailor shop, which is a world premiere at the Berlin film festival.

All the action focuses on and around a master ‘cutter’, Leonard Burling, played by leading British actor Mark Rylance, who has to outwit a dangerous group of mobsters in order to survive a fateful night.

The fact it is all set in one small location actually proved beneficial for Moore and his production team because they were due to start shooting in the US in April 2020 when Covid struck. Fortunately, they just needed a controlled studio space and so moved into the most unlikely of places.

“We decided to film at The Fountain Studios next to Wembley Stadium, home to The X-Factor, so we could be near Mark [Rylance]. It was actually quite funny recreating a 50s Chicago feel surrounded by posters of Simon Cowell and the team everywhere.”

Former glory

Moore is not your typical debut film director. He is already a best-selling author and Oscar-winner for his script of The Imitation Game, which proved to be a smash hit earning about $233m off a $14m budget back in 2014.

The accolades and contacts he amassed from that project certainly proved useful when putting together The Outfit years later. Indeed, FilmNation came onboard early doors as producers - alongside Scoop Productions and Amy Jackson - having also distributed The Imitation Game.

The idea for The Outfit was originally inspired by Moore’s grandfather, Charlie, a gentle, decent man who worked as a doctor in a small-town medical practice in the US. He was hugely influential in Moore’s early life after his parents divorced, helping him tie his first tie.

“But despite being a kind, gentle soul, one of his patients was the notorious mobster Jerry Catena. This was always fascinating to my family and abhorrent to my grandmother who couldn’t understand why he’d treat a know murderer. To which my grandfather would always say, ‘he’s only ever been a gentleman to me’,” laughs Moore. “The psychology of these two completely different men and their worlds colliding interested me.”

Tailor made

The idea was ruminating in Moore’s brain when his friend and the film’s co-scriptwriter (and executive producer), Johnathan McClain, said one day: “How come no one’s ever made a film about a Savile Row tailor?”.

This peaked Moore’s interest and the two of them set to work researching this fascinating line of work, which takes years to perfect (even spending time in the basement of a Savile Row shop), until their lead character, Leonard, was formed. But then they needed a story.

“And that’s when we found a single sentence buried deep in a big book about 20th century suit-making. We learned that the first bug the FBI ever planted was in a tailor shop in Chicago in 1956. We instantly lit up and said that’s our story. It’s about a man, like my grandfather, a gentle craftsman, working in the service of these vicious mobsters in the 1950s and the FBI want to plant a bug to catch them,” says Moore. “I thought what if we could build an entire film inside the tailor shop. It felt like an exciting, contained film noir concept, in a similar vein to Hitchcock films like Rear Window and Rope.”

The pair got to work on the script, sharing drafts with producer Scoop Wasserstein of Scoop Production, who, like FilmNation later, decided immediately that he wanted to be involved. “Even at that early stage, I knew I was looking at something special,” he says. “It’s full of surprises that are based in character.”

Class acts

Then getting Rylance onboard to play the lead was a dream come true for Moore. “Having him for my directorial debut took a lot of the weight off my shoulders. All I had to do was say ‘point the camera over there at Mark and say action and something brilliant will happen, and I’ll take all the credit,’” smiles Moore.

The scenes between Rylance’s character and the crime boss, Roy Boyle, played by renowned British theatre actor, Simon Russell Beale, are particularly memorable. The pair have moved in the same acting circles for many years, often playing Shakespearean characters, but had never worked together before. “It was exciting to put them in the same room, you could tell they were both eager to bring their best when they were on set together. We used two cameras instead of one so we could focus on them at the same time and allow them to improvise and try things.”

Rounding out the small main cast are Zoey Deutch as Leonard’s assistant, Mable; Dylan O’Brien as Roy’s son, Richie; Johnny Flynn as gangster henchman Francis; and Nigerian born-British actress Nikki Amuka-Bird as rival gang boss La Fontaine. All the characters are based on real figures in Chicago in the 1950s.

The film’s title is a double entendre, referencing the Chicago Outfit, which was a criminal organisation formed from the remnants of Al Capone’s empire, made up of gangs from across the US. “But it’s also a metaphor for how our clothes are an outward projection of ourselves, and when you pull back the layers, things might not be as they seem, which is the case for all the characters,” says Moore.

Creative talent

As a debutant and with a small $5m budget to play with, Moore deliberately surrounded himself with as much creative talent as possible to help make the film look impressive. This included Dick Pope (Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies) as cinematographer and Gemma Jackson as production designer, who’s worked on several big projects including Game of Thrones.

“You would never know how small a budget this film had from the caliber of people running every department. So many of them are Academy Award winners and nominees, but all of them work together in real harmony,” enthuses Moore.

“I even managed to get my friend William Goldenberg, who’s worked on some of my favourite films, including Heat and The Insider [and The Imitation Game], to do the editing,” says Moore. “We worked out of his living room in Los Angeles due to Covid. It was funny because his teenage daughter was on Zoom schooling in the other room, so we couldn’t cut the loud shooting scenes while she was there.”

Perhaps the biggest coup of all though was securing indie heavyweights Focus Features as distributors, ensuring theatrical release in the US on 18 March and in the UK on 8 April.

Moore has his fingers crossed but is nonetheless very happy with how the film turned out, despite having to film during Covid. “I just hope my next project, for which I’m currently writing the script, can be filmed in a non-pandemic environment,” he concludes.

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