Stephen King may be a master of horror, but as stories like “The Body” (which later became “Stand By Me”) and “The Green Mile” have shown, King is also a master of the heart. Adapted and directed by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Mist”), “The Green Mile” stars Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, a death row prison guard during the Great Depression who witnesses unexplained events after that a larger-than-life convict named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives at his facility to serve out his final days. The film was a commercial success at the box office and won four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
Although “The Green Mile” is a period piece, no one in the cast or crew would ever declare the film to be historically accurate. First, there’s the whole “is John Coffey actually Jesus Christ?” questions to be answered, but on a smaller scale, the costume is intentionally imprecise.
Entertainment Weekly interviewed Hanks back in 1999 in preparation for the film’s release, where he admitted that the entire team had no problem bending the accuracy a bit, especially considering their wardrobe. “The reality is they didn’t have uniforms on death row in 1935,” Hanks said. “But Frank [Darabont] wanted them because it looked really cool, and I wanted them as an actor because it gave me this exoskeleton that conveyed some of the more subtle aspects of the scenes.” Given how prominent Hank’s uniformed image was in the marketing campaign for “The Green Mile, ” it’s hard to imagine him without it.
The guards’ hats almost didn’t fit
One crucial part of the uniforms that Hanks wanted to include had the potential to be a nightmare for the production – the guard hats. Hanks told EW that there were numerous discussions about the hats, with many concerned that they would be a problem for the cinematographer.
“We had so many discussions about the hats. ‘Should we wear these hats?’ “Can you put them all the way back on your head?” But the hats were very important, because when they’re on, it means a guard is officially on duty. And when they’re off, things relax a little bit. They were this intangible signal to all about when they have to shape up and fly straight and when they don’t.”
Seeing Doug Hutchison’s Percy Wetmore stripped of his uniform after he shoots William “Wild Bill” Wharton for the first time is a powerful moment, which would be diminished were it not for the uniformed look. Costume design is an important part of the visual storytelling, and while the wardrobe wasn’t created with textbook precision in mind, it’s clear that non-verbal storytelling was prioritized instead.