The late Elizabeth Taylor was was one of the greatest screen actresses—and greatest beauties—of her day. (She was also one of the most married, with eight weddings to her credit.) But perhaps more than any other woman in Hollywood, her name is synonymous with extravagance, thanks to her passion for diamonds and other fine gems.
So when it was announced that Taylor’s life would be chronicled in the TV movie Liz & Dick (Nov. 25, Lifetime, 9/8c) with Lindsay Lohan starring as the late actress, we had to wonder: Where were the producers going to get all those jewels?
To find out, we went straight to the source: the film’s costume designer Salvador Perez, Jr.
“At my first meeting for the film, the executive producer said, ‘You have three stars in this movie: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and her jewels,’” Perez recalls. “We took it very seriously.” (Below, Grant Bowler and Lindsay Lohan in costume and character for Liz and Dick.)
Here, he dishes on the Dame, the diamonds, and yes, those Lindsay Lohan rumors.
How much knowledge did you have about Elizabeth Taylor going into the film?
I actually worked with her on The Flintstones in 1993. So I had met her and seen her real jewels in person. She was so tiny, and to imagine some of those huge diamonds on her hand must have been amazing.
What kind of research did you need to do about her collection leading up to production?
It was actually the easiest research I’ve ever done in my career. All I had to do was buy her book My Love Affair with Jewelry. It was almost like cheating. The research was the easy part—but acquiring them was the hard part.
What kind of budget were you given to work with?
I had a separate budget just for jewels. But it’s a low budget movie, so we didn’t have a lot of money.
So how much did you spend?
I spent $15,000 on her jewels. Now mind you, that was a lot of favors. What I was able to get for that budget…it’s unheard of. I begged, borrowed and used up every costume favor I have in this town!
Did you borrow any real pieces? Or was the jewelry primarily costume?
The majority of the jewelry in the movie is costume. We had the connections and we could have gotten the real pieces, but the insurance liability to borrow is millions of dollars. It’s not worth the drama.
So how were you able to find pieces that looked authentic?
I worked with Skinny Dog Design Group—they do prop jewelry for movies. They knew every piece better than I did and they had a diamond cutter cut czs [cubic zirconia] to match the exact stones from Elizabeth’s collection. For a small budget movie, that’s an insane luxury. I also worked with 14 Karats, the go-to jewelers of Beverly Hills. They’re longtime friends of Lindsay Lohan’s, so she asked them to help me out. They re-created the Bvlgari emerald set. The rest was vintage shopping and rentals.
I’ve heard she’s wearing the Bvlgari set in the promo photo (below). But those are rubies. What’s the story?
Yes! They photoshopped the dress to be red and the emeralds to be rubies. Those were actually the emeralds that they made for me at 14 Karats. It sort of killed me because the emeralds are the signature pieces in the film, but obviously I understand why they went for the red. It was much more dramatic. They appear as emeralds in the film, though. She goes to Bvlgari to buy them and then she wears them to watch the Oscars.
I can’t believe those pieces are costume. They look so real.
It’s called movie magic! It’s a film, not a documentary, and on camera everything sparkles. There are certain things you can’t fake. I can use fake diamonds, but I can’t use fake fur. On camera, a piece of glass sparkles just like a diamond sparkles, but with fur you can’t cheat.
Did any of Elizabeth Taylor’s real pieces make it into the film?
Now that I think about it, there was one real piece. Lindsay Lohan’s publicist met Elizabeth’s nurse—her caretaker—at a party, introduced her to Lindsay, and the two became fast friends. What can I say? Hollywood’s a small town. Her nurse ended up bringing some of Elizabeth’s pearls to the set and she let Lindsay wear them (below).
Out of the pieces she wore in the movie, do you know if Lindsay had a favorite piece?
The Taylor Burton Diamond (below). Lindsay loves jewelry and had pet names for them all. She brought in a lot of vintage Chanel pieces and a pair of real Chopard diamond earrings from her own massive collection. She’s very meticulous with her jewelry, I have to say. Each diamond earring was separated into its own bag because she knows: Diamonds scratch diamonds.
Now let’s talk about Lindsay. It seems like every day there was a new rumor about her—fainting on set, being a diva. How much of it was true?
Ninety percent of what was in the press was exaggerated. I was on set every day, and I saw what happened. The story about her being passed out in a hotel? That’s not true. We worked 14 hours straight and we were all exhausted, and she has to be on camera and look beautiful. And then they told her she had five more scenes which would take five more hours, so she wanted to take a nap and she just couldn’t get out of bed. But of course the story became that she was unconscious. It was just ridiculous.
How did she handle the added stress of the media?
There were so many people gunning against her and she wanted to take it seriously so that she could prove them wrong. It was a big responsibility to do Elizabeth Taylor, and when you have the whole world not supporting you… that’s an added pressure.
What do you think the reaction to the film will be?
There are people who will watch the movie because of their love of Elizabeth Taylor, there will be people who watch it because of Lindsay Lohan, and then there’s going to be a whole other group of people who watch it for the jewelry and the costumes. And that as a costume designer is a very big responsibility. It’s a great story and I know people will be fascinated by it.