This interview was conducted during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Rose Byrne has returned to the 1980s, darkly comedic reality of Physical once again. And once again, the show lights itself up with a dazzling array of ’80s-era outfits that shine brighter than the previous seasons.
In this final season, Sheila’s finally gotten her business up and running. However, a new rising prospect in the fitness world, Kelly Kilmartin (Zooey Deschanel) causes Sheila to grow jealous for her own success. Now, Sheila faces her own internal crisis and must fight her own demons or crumble apart trying.
I had the chance to talk with costume designer Ernesto Martinez and talked about transitioning into Physical, his favorite designs, and more. Check out our interview with him down below!
THH: Previously, you’ve worked on shows with a more modern, contemporary design like Veep and Dollface. What was that transition like to design more 1980s-aesthetic attire in this show?
ERNESTO MARTINEZ: You know, whenever you do [period] pieces, you do a lot of research and you really have to recreate the era and the feeling of the time. Especially with Physical, it’s very fun because I used Jane Fonda’s work as an inspiration, but I also used Richard Simmons a lot and Cher. There were a lot of obscure talent that did these aerobic workout videos and they all had their own following and their routines were all different. The way they dressed was really different so I took inspiration from all of them: Cher, Jane Fonda, there were quite a lot of them so it was pretty great.
THH: In addition, were there any certain inspirations that helped create your designs that made them stand out from what we’ve seen from the first two seasons?
ERNESTO MARTINEZ: Well, you know, without giving too much away, we do have a new character that is really pivotal in the season. She’s sort of like a voice to Sheila Rubin [Rose Byrne]. I used a lot of inspiration from couture, from the ’80s couture designers like Claude Montana. I used a lot of that to mix it up because Sheila takes a turn in season 3, without giving too much of that away.
[She is] a very professional, sort of dark character and I didn’t want to change too much of who she is, but you do need to change her. It’s settled, but it’s there; she’s quite darker and more rigid, there’s no denim anymore, there’s not the old Sheila. She’s not really so much a mom, I think “mom” has taken second place to her career.
THH: Womanhood and self-image are integral themes to the journeys of Sheila and the main characters this season. How do your costume designs reflect how these characters embody and represent these ideas?
ERNESTO MARTINEZ: So Sheila is more business-oriented and, without giving too much away, she also has a nemesis now and so, there’s a lot of competition between them and there’s a lot of emphasis on the costumes and a lot of emphasis on the wardrobe. Sheila is a very feminine character so I really kept her feminine but also business-like. And then we have Kelly Kilmartin [Zooey Deschanel], who is sort of the “blonde bombshell” actress and it kept her very sexy with vibrant colors and all the latest looks from the 1980s.
Greta [Dierdre Friel], who’s Sheila’s best friend, is really the one that’s taken the biggest turn. She’s more of a plus-sized woman and that was really fun to make her really sexy and great. From the first season to the third season, she’s found her sexual freedom, she’s like “burned her bra”-type thing. So that was actually the funnest part to do that, to make her character really sexy and fun and interesting for the period for a woman like that. [sic]
THH: On this topic, how was it like finding the balance between reflecting the imagery of these themes and creating a diverse collection of visually eye-catching outfits?
ERNESTO MARTINEZ: Oh wow! It was pretty easy when I have a muse like Rose Byrne, it’s a lot of fun. Physical, and the people that work as a collaborative [group] on the show, is so fun. So really, the research and everything, Rose is like the perfect model and so is Zooey and they were just fantastic. Everything we put on there kind of works, it’s great!
The period, [the production team] lend themselves to the period. The hair and make-up team were really great on it so it was always a lot of fun to come up with ideas and throw them in there. Most of the time, it worked and it was good!
THH: Every character certainly has the opportunity to shine with the many colorful and neonic outfits you’ve designed. What would you say is the best outfit you’ve made for this show?
ERNESTO MARTINEZ: So, I have two that I really like. I loved Sheila’s culottes that I made and I think it’s in episode 3 or 4. We made these fantastic culottes with the matching sweater, they’re really great and she wears them with a pair of high heels and it’s purple and it’s really pretty.
She has a run-in with Kelly Kilmartin and we made a beautiful, emerald-green wrap dress for Zooey that has a slip that goes all the way up to her thighs [laughs] and I like them together in those colors. Those are probably, by far, my favorite two outfits for the season. Those were fun!
Physical‘s third season is now streaming on Apple TV+.