Ann Roth has never been to a film festival.
That’s a wildly surprising fact considering the Oscar-winning costume designer is a veteran of more than 100 major film and TV productions — from 1968’s “Midnight Cowboy” to current entry “Hope Springs.”
“I’ve been invited, I just don’t know what I would do there,” says Roth, lauded by colleagues for decades both for her talent and self-effacement.
At the Hamptons Film Festival, Roth will not only attend her first film festival via an evening tribute co-presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Oct. 6 (Mike Nichols and Nathan Lane are set to speak), she will also be presented with the fest’s Golden Starfish Award for lifetime achievement in costume design.
A longtime collaborator of Nichols and actress Meryl Streep, Roth is quick to point out that she is not “a fashion person.” Rather, her exemplary skill lies in helping an actor find and create their character through costume. The process begins during a project’s first fitting session that is an inventive lesson in character study.
“I get into a room with an actor,” explains Roth of the process that eventually segues into “Let’s take off all your clothes and start.” By a process of “playing around” with clothes and accessories (previously selected by Roth and her team), a character crystallizes and the actor “is free to become somebody else.”
“You look in the mirror and there’s somebody else there or the beginnings of someone else. That apparition tells you what to do,” is how Roth describes it.
More than an outfit or a look, Roth’s highly detailed costumes and ensembles are an authentic expression of character. Consider these examples of her memorable contributions: Matt Damon’s viscous wool bathing suit in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (“It’s the only one that he should wear. He didn’t have a choice,” says the designer cheekily) or Meryl Streep’s neo-hippie garb for the “Waterloo” number in “Mamma Mia!” (“My idea of heaven, I love it”).
Roth’s designs can’t be typecast. She moves from one of project to another, from contemporary (“Signs”) to period (“The English Patient”), from Broadway (the Tony-nominated “The Book of Mormon”) to HBO (“Mildred Pierce”).
An extensive at-home research library inspires her preliminary drawings and she credits Gotham’s the Costume Depot as a go-to source. Regarding other craftsmen — the name and address of the best tailor in Europe, for example — she’s coy about sharing details of her highly refined mechanism for getting costumes done.
At her side are longtime collaborators Michelle Matland (since 1992) and Donna Maloney (1987).
“As far as I’m concerned, I have the very best,” she declares of her support team.
Roth sums up her “complicated collaborations” with directors and actors, “Truth always works. Finding it is the great pleasure.”
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