Kathleen Felix-Hager press
The Story Behind Deborah’s Yellow Dress with 'Hacks' Costume Designer Kathleen Felix-Hager
May 27, 2024

Written by Meaghan Darwish, TVInsider

Hacks is back and more ambitious than ever as Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) turns her sights on Late Night! But as long as Deborah’s been longing after the coveted TV gig, showrunners Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, and Jen Statsky have been cooking up her Season 3 arc of chasing after it.

But the first priority was getting Deborah and her writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) back together after Season 2’s professional breakup. While Ava’s done well by getting a writing job with a political comedy series, Deborah’s success following her streaming special continues to unfold, but she’s surrounded by those who live to praise her, leading to a much-needed heart-to-heart and wake-up call when she and Ava run into each other at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Canada.

Upon reconnecting, Deborah finds herself in an interesting predicament as she’s set to guest host the late-night show she was once poised to helm. Relying on Ava to help put the episode together, the women realize that their working relationship is far from over, but there are still obstacles to overcome as Ava essentially blows up her relationship with actress girlfriend Ruby (Lorenza Izzo) to move back in with Ava as they work on snagging her the coveted hosting gig, which will be up for grabs as the current host plans to exit the show. Below, the showrunners break down Deborah’s late-night ambitions as Einbinder opens up about what it means for Ava’s journey.

Plus, costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager takes us inside Deborah’s closet, sharing the story behind that yellow dress and big drag reveal from the premiere episode, and music supervisor Matt Biffa offers insight into selections like Brandi Carlile‘s “The Story” and King Princess’s cover of “Dirty Work.”

Deborah’s Late Night Dream

“It was something that we always were building towards and had planned on doing, but it did evolve in so far as we knew that we were going to have Deborah guest host and it was going to set her on the course to potentially have this opportunity,” Downs, who also plays Jimmy, tells TV Insider. “We didn’t necessarily know it was going to be the second episode.”

According to Aniello, the idea was made in the original pitch for the series years back. “We pitched out each season, so this was always going to be this season, and it’s taken a long time for us to evolve the characters professionally and personally to get to the place where this is even reasonable. So it’s not a climax, but it’s heading towards one,” she teases.

What kind of climax? Fans will have to wait and see as the season unfolds, but as Statsky puts it, “The question we are asking this season is who has the power and how will Ava adjust to having this world back in LA where she’s got some status and success and, then she is going back into this dynamic that is so enriching and exciting on one hand, but on the other, toxic in many ways.”

For Einbinder, she sees Ava’s desire to chase late night with Deborah as more tied to their bond than her character’s personal ambitions. “Late night is Deborah’s lifelong dream and Ava’s motivations are based on Deborah. She obviously wants to write comedy and she’s doing a fine job at this new show, but there’s nothing quite like writing with and for Deborah.”

How that process will go this time around will remain to be seen, but metaphorical rose-colored glasses were knocked off of Ava’s face just moments after returning to Vegas and knocking on Deborah’s door as her host began laying down some rules. This was set to the tune of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work,” but with a twist.

Season 3’s Soundtrack

When it came to picking the track, it wasn’t lost on Biffa that the tune has been utilized in other popular media, such as The Sopranos or Euphoria, but when a song fits the moment you have to let it guide you. “That song works so well with what’s going on [and] really you are in no other position than to go, ‘okay, yeah, that really works.'”

Initially, Biffa was interested in using The Pointer Sisters’ version of the tune, but it was Downs, Aniello, and Statsky who “came up with the idea of getting an artist to re-record a version, which is how we end up with King Princess recording this version specially for the show,” Biffa says. The special recording, “went unusually smoothly,” Biffa recalls of the process. “It can take a while, this kind of thing because you have to talk to management and the record company and you have to work out the deal, but in this case, Jen, Paul, and Lucia had a personal in with [King Princess], so they talked to her first.”

Also a fan of the show, King Princess’s involvement was an easy part of the process, as Biffa remarks, “She did a phenomenal job and she did it in three days. I couldn’t believe it when the demo came through, and it sounded so incredible. She was in Berlin without any of her normal musicians. I don’t how they managed to pull it together so quickly.” Pull it together they did, though.

But that’s not the only notable music moment among the first Season 3 episodes as Biffa acknowledges his use of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story.” A request of the Downs, Aniello, and Statsky’s, Biffa says, “I happened to be coincidentally going through a massive Brandi Carlile rabbit hole. And so I was like, ‘This sounds absolutely phenomenal.'” In other words, Biffa didn’t have to be convinced it was a good pick for the scene which saw Deborah knock on Ava’s hotel door to find she’d checked out and gone back to Los Angeles.

But it signifies the rekindling of the pair’s relationship, which Biffa feels is fitting of the tune. “It speaks to Deborah and Ava’s relationship. There is a slight element of will they, won’t they? It’s almost at times becomes a romantic thing. It isn’t, but there are sort of elements of that,” Biffa acknowledges. “And so the disappointment that Deborah feels when Ava isn’t there to receive the cake and then the way that the song kicks in and Brandi’s voice does that crack that it does, to me was just unbearably powerful.”

Inside Deborah’s Closet & Fashion Faux Pas

One reason Deborah certainly needs Ava back in her life is to save her from impossibly embarrassing fashion moments, one crisis of which is averted thanks to her bluntness regarding a custom yellow Bill Blass gown. “It is an existing dress,” Emmy-winning costume designer Felix-Hager tells TV Insider of the gown Deborah handpicked from her warehouse-sized closet. “It was a dress designed by Bill Blass in that hideous yellow for whatever reason. And I added my own touches to it,” she reveals. (Felix-Hager’s vision for the dress can be seen in the exclusive sketch, above.)

“All that horse hair detail was mine and we added some tulle in the back.” The biggest challenge Felix-Hager faced was, that “it had to be ugly, but it also had to be believable that at some point Deborah would’ve thought it was pretty or Deborah would’ve gravitated to it.” Admittedly, Felix-Hager says, “It’s very ’80s with big sort of Dynasty sleeves and that whole vibe. It’s such a story point that I was happy that everyone was happy with the choice and that Lucia, Jen, and Paul really liked it.”

Despite being an eyesore for the characters, Felix-Hager notes, “Jean really liked it as far as serving for the story. So it was really fun.” As for toeing the line of being respectful to Blass’ original work, while serving the comedy of the situation, Felix-Hager adds, “It was a really tricky line. I got the script early on in prep, so I was able to really concentrate and search out things and the color was really ugly to me, that yellow told the story. And also the shape was dated and didn’t age particularly [well].”

Even if Deborah’s ensemble didn’t dazzle, she certainly has an endless wealth of options as was shown during her closet montage. “In the script, it says that Deborah has a warehouse-size closet, so that was as specific as it got. The production designer, the set decorator, and I worked really closely together on that scene to fill that warehouse with wardrobes,” Felix-Hager says of the fun task.

For viewers who might not have noticed on the first pass, Felix-Hager also reveals, “I dressed all the mannequins that you see in that scene when she walks in, and they all were outfits that Deborah had worn on the show. So those are fun, specific pieces that are notable for her character.”

Utilizing familiar pieces was vital for Season 3’s opening shot as well, which serves as a fake-out as fans follow someone they think is Deborah through a casino floor only to discover it’s a drag queen. “[It’s] my favorite shot we’ve ever done. It was an epic sort of situation,” Felix-Hager says. “It’s the first shot of the season, but it was the last thing we shot. It was two or three in the morning on the Vegas strip. It was very choreographed.”

Initially, Felix-Hager says after reading the scripted sequence, she went to the showrunners and requested they put the drag queen in one of Deborah’s most notable looks. “I pitched to the showrunners that I wanted it to be the same multicolored coat that we saw at the very beginning of Season 1 when we first saw that shot of her back walking through. I just really wanted to call back to that moment and also have the audience really believe that it was Deborah.”

The mission was accomplished. Stay tuned for even more great musical, fashion, and character moments as Hacks continues on Max, and let us know what you thought of the show’s return episodes in the comments section, below.

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