Some call her the doyenne of costume design, but Ann Roth herself prefers the term “broad.” Turning 80 next month, Roth may be the oldest working designer in the business, but she’s flaunting blue toenails — not hair — and dancing to Tom Waits in the morning for inspiration.
Her work on the Depression-era miniseries “Mildred Pierce” resulted in her third Emmy nomination, adding to the Tony she received earlier this year for Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s zany musical comedy “The Book of Mormon.” Roth, who won an Oscar for “The English Patient” (1996), has been nominated three other times by the Academy, and has been honored with a career achievement prize by the Costume Designers Guild.
Although Roth’s credits include such iconic films as “Midnight Cowboy,” “Klute” and “Hair,” as well as more recent fare like “Julie & Julia” and “Rabbit Hole,” the famously fastidious designer says she still feels like an outsider in Hollywood.
Roth’s commitment to authenticity in the service of character — right down to period undergarments on the extras — was initially met with raised eyebrows. “One was not encouraged to be artistic” in Hollywood, recalls the East Coast native. “You were encouraged to join the bowling team.”
Of course, her loving attention to detail is precisely what has nurtured such fruitful relationships with the actors, directors and producers she works with. “I often work with good friends; that’s pretty much what guides my life,” Roth says, adding that she’s signed on with Mike Nichols, a regular collaborator since “The Odd Couple” in 1965, for a new production of “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” the buzzed about Jonathan Safran Foer adaptation slated for a Christmas release, is the designer’s third collaboration with Stephen Daldry, and the David Frankel-helmed comedy “Great Hope Springs,” filming now, is just the latest in a long line of projects with Meryl Streep, whom Roth has helped transform into everyone from Karen Silkwood to Sister Aloysius Beauvier.
“She’s very, very brave,” says Roth of the chameleon-like actress. “She can picture it … and she can do it. It’s divine to get in the fitting room and see the character take over the mirror. That’s a divine feeling for me.”
Title: Costume designer
Role model: Irene Sharaff
Career mantra: “You have to dance in the morning. I blast music in the studio; it makes me work.”
Leisure pursuits: “I read everything.”
Philanthropic passion: Garden Academy, a nonprofit school for children with autism