How Elle Fanning Became The Girl From Plainville

The series’ costume designer, Mirren Gordon-Crozier, shares an exclusive look at the actress’s true-crime transformation.

Written by Maxine Wally

Elle Fanning with Colton Ryan on the set of ‘The Girl From Plainville.’ All photographs by Mirren Go...
Elle Fanning with Colton Ryan on the set of ‘The Girl From Plainville.’ Photographs throughout by Mirren Gordon-Crozier.

In the first episode of The Girl From Plainville, Michelle Carter, played by Elle Fanning, is seen mourning the death of her boyfriend, Conrad “Coco” Roy III. She sobs inconsolably, her body heaving while she cries. Two friends attempt to calm her, but it’s no use—she can’t stop convulsing with emotion. That is, until she stops abruptly to leaf through her clothes in search of the perfect dress to wear to Coco’s funeral.

The series, now streaming on Hulu, is inspired by the true story of the so-called “texting suicide case” that resulted in Carter, then 17, being charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging Roy to take his own life. In order to portray the infamous real-life Carter, Fanning went through an extensive hair and makeup transformation that made the actress virtually unrecognizable. Running in tandem with the actress’s drastic beauty change was a compelling narrative told through Carter’s wardrobe. To craft the true crime tale through clothing, the series’ costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier spent weeks meticulously researching Carter’s story, discovering key details behind the dresses and blouses the teenager wore. Eventually, Gordon-Crozier arrived at an unexpected conclusion: “More than anything, Michelle wants to be loved,” she tells W. “And I found a way into her relationship with Coco via this loneliness and need for attention—whether it’s fitting in with her high school peers or fantasizing about dancing with Coco dressed as Lea Michele in Glee.” Here, Gordon-Crozier shares her exclusive photo diary from the set of The Girl From Plainville and reveals how she carefully sourced each look.

“For me, building a character always begins with endless research,” Gordon-Crozier tells W. “Here is a snippet of Michelle’s. Michelle is a chameleon and we really explored that in her costumes. Her color palette is soft childish pastels. Just like so many teen girls, she is trying to find out where she can fit in. But it all takes a turn for the worse by her relationship with Coco and his eventual death.”

“Michelle Carter and Coco Roy met in Florida in 2012 whilst visiting family members,” the costume designer says. “Michelle has a massive evolution throughout the series as she struggles with not only the case against her, but also with a severe eating disorder. Florida is one of the only times we see her being a carefree teenager. This is her playing tennis when she meets Coco for the first time.”

“We shot all of the Florida scenes in Tybee Island, which is a beach community off the coast of Savannah, Georgia,” Gordon-Crozier recalls. “In between setups, I took this photo of Elle and Colton [Ryan] and told them to give me Dawson’s Creek energy. They certainly know how to ham it up for the camera.”

“These bunny ears are a big theme in the show,” Gordon-Crozier says. “Michelle and Coco wear them on their first date in Florida and they pop up throughout the entire season.”

“This photo [depicts] Elle getting her prosthetics on in the hair and makeup trailer,” Gordon-Crozier says. “We call this look ‘Alien Angel.’ I spent a lot of time bothering Jules Holdren (hair) and Erin Monroe (makeup) who are responsible for Michelle’s incredible physical transformation throughout the show.”

Glee was a big theme in Michelle Carter’s life—she often used quotes from the show as her own,” Gordon-Crozier says. “From what we know, Michelle looked up to Rachel and Finn’s infinite love for one another. We thought dressing them in similar digs might be something she might wear in her fantasy.”

“Elle and Colton posing for an iconic prom photo.”

“Purple Crocs were a big hit for comfort shoes in between takes for Elle and Colton,” she adds. “We even took the time to bedazzle them with their initials.”

“When Michelle finds out Coco has really died. It was Elle’s idea to smudge her mascara where she would have cried on her pillow.”

“One of the first things I did when I started this job was to try and find this pink floral shirt that Michelle Carter had worn to court,” Gordon-Crozier says. “Where does one find a seemingly generic floral top from 2017? After hours upon hours of scrolling through the Internet, I finally found it on Poshmark late at night. The best part about finding this shirt is it allowed me to understand the character more based on what brand it was (Ann Taylor Loft). From there, it became obvious that her mother had bought all her court clothes. The more we researched photos we started to see that often times Michelle and her mother, Gail, would share items of clothing.”

“Michelle, Gail (Cara Buono) and David Carter (Kai Lennox) entering the courthouse. Once again, we managed to find the exact outfit the real Michelle Carter wore to court,” Gordon-Crozier says. “The size of her clothes was a huge factor in dressing Elle; we wanted to make sure things were slightly baggy on her to show how much weight she had lost during the trial.”

“In June of 2017, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and was sent to Bristol County Juvenile Court of Massachusetts,” says Gordon-Crozier. “This is exactly what she wore. She had lost a lot of weight at that point and chopped her hair.”

Mirren Gordon-Crozier with Elle Fanning on the set of The Girl From Plainville.

All photos courtesy of Mirren Gordon-Crozier.