The Outfit: Is Leonard Burling Inspired by a Real Tailor?

In Graham Moore’s ‘The Outfit,’ a tailor shop becomes the focal point of the events that change the life of a seemingly harmless tailor as well as of the people who pass through his shop. The protagonist of the story is Leonard Burling, an English cutter who runs a shop in Chicago. His place is used by a local criminal gang for the purposes of money laundering and also for communicating with “the Outfit.” Burling lets them use the shop and turns a blind eye to their operation because they are good customers, but soon, things take a turn, and it turns out that Burling is not who he seems. Considering that the film takes place in the 50s and refers to real people and criminal gangs, one can’t help but wonder if the character of Leonard Burling is also inspired by a real person.

Leonard Burling is a Fictional Character Inspired by the Director’s Grandfather

‘The Outfit’ is a fictional film co-written and directed by Graham Moore. Every character in the film and its setting is completely made-up, but the writers looked towards real-life inspirations to create them. For Moore, the character of Leonard Burling is closest to his own grandfather. The director revealed that when he was young, and his parents split up, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, who was a doctor and “the kindest soul” he’d ever known.

As a doctor, his grandfather treated a lot of people from all walks of life, one of whom was the gangster Jerry Catena of the Genovese crime family. Considering that his grandfather had nothing to do with the criminal world, it made Moore wonder what his relationship with Catena would have been like. Did they have a friendship? If so, what did they talk about? What did they discuss? Moore’s grandmother didn’t like the criminals frequenting her husband’s medical practice and once asked him why he treated Catena, who was himself a murderer. At that point, Moore’s grandfather said that Catena had “never been anything but a gentleman” to him, so there was no reason for him to turn Catena away in his time of need.

This stark contrast between his father’s and Catena’s nature made Moore think about what common ground they could have found to be so amicable with each other. This eventually led him to the story of Leonard Burling and the creation of ‘The Outfit.’ Moore confessed that they wrote Mark Rylance’s character, especially his calm and mild-mannered-ness, keeping Moore’s grandfather in mind.

While Moore’s grandfather had been a doctor, Leonard Burling is a cutter who makes bespoke suits. There was a reason the writers opted for this profession. While the plot of ‘The Outfit’ was still forming in their minds, Moore and co-writer Johnathan McClain came upon a piece of history where they discovered that the first bug the FBI planted was in a tailor shop on Michigan Avenue in the late 1950s. At that time, the technology was fairly new, so the criminals didn’t know much about it, and the tailor shop was a perfect location because it was frequented but never caused any suspicion.

Once they had this information, the missing link in the story was taken care of. It made sense for Burling to run a tailor shop, and from here, the plot of the rest of the film was formed. The writers decided to keep the story confined to the shop. At first, it started as an experiment, but the more they developed the setting, the better it worked, especially because it turned the focus towards Burling, whose unsuspecting nature makes him the biggest wild card in a film that is full of twists and turns. Considering this, it is clear that while Leonard Burling is a fictional character, he was written with a very real person and a real situation in mind.

Read More: Where Was The Outfit Filmed?