CDG - The Costume Designer

Winter 2017

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Wiinter 2017 The Costume Designer 17 What can be said of Meryl Streep that hasn't already been penned? Heaped with accolades, honorary doctorates, and Oscars, Streep has been recognized for her art for nearly 40 years. But, it is her willingness to subsume ego and don whatever garments are needed, which makes her a Costume Designer's dream and the recipient of our 2017 Distinguished Collaborator Award. We spoke with Costume Designer Ann Roth, who described meeting Streep on the film Silkwood. It was the first of 11 films thus far. She gives insight into the alchemy of their creative dialogue, whose ardent commitment to building a character is the essence of Costume Design. If I think about the way I design costumes ... I am not movie star fixated. If an actor is going to take on a role, I—good or bad, prob- ably bad—do not consider that actor's physical contribution, so if an actor says, 'I would never wear green,' I turn off because I'm not vaguely interested in what the actor wears. I am very, very interested in what the character would wear. Many times those characters don't have taste about themselves, they make mistakes, or they don't care. In which case, I find that interesting. There are movie stars, and that's what they are and that's what they want to be, and they are very marketable. It's a very different thing. I think the thing that makes Meryl unique is her skill. Not only does she have the desire and the commitment, but she has the skill to actually do it. We're really good friends. I know her kids. She knows mine. She comes here [to Roth's Pennsylvania farm]. I go there. She encourages me. I encourage her. We met in the early '80s when we were doing Silkwood. And I did not know her. We were not friends then. We were going to go to Texas and do this movie and it was a low-budget piece. The director was a friend of mine, Mike Nichols, and Mike certainly knew how I worked and I knew how he worked. But he grew a lot. He changed a great deal over the years with Meryl and me. I remember on Silkwood what he wanted Cher and Meryl to look like—if he were on this earth, he'd probably kill me for saying this—but he wanted Snow White and Rose Red. He wanted these two beauties. Meryl and I met to have her measurements taken, and there was a girl with light-brown hair verging on blonde. I had all these pictures of Karen Silkwood stuffed in my purse. I pulled them out. Eventually, I said to Mike, "I think we're probably going to color her hair brown." He said, "Oh, my God, no. She must be blonde." Because I didn't know Meryl at the time, nor did Mike, we pussyfooted around that until we got to Texas, which was too late. But, indeed, it wasn't too late, because Meryl dyed her hair in the sink in the bathroom of the Holiday Inn herself when we were in Grapevine, Texas. I didn't do any major creation. I copied what I saw Karen Silkwood wearing. It was a Levi's skirt buttoned up the front and a jacket and some T-shirt. We figured out that where she lived Distinguished Collaborator A Conversation with Ann Roth and that there was no washing machine. She would probably stop at a bar on the way home and stick her stuff in the washeteria on the block in Oklahoma. Meryl did wear cowboy boots because we felt Karen thought they were great. At any rate, close to the first day of shooting, she was standing, leaning against a Volkswagen with a can of beer in her hand, and she looked exactly like Karen Silkwood. Mike showed up and walked right past her. We felt that was a great success because he did not know it was Meryl. That was pretty much the way we worked for a long time, and still do. When you look back, you can't tell whether the height of the heel or the right earring was Meryl's or mine. It's what happens in the fitting room after you cross a certain line with the character, once you commit to something that speaks to you in the mirror and the room is a disaster—all over the floor are different bras and shoes. You're constantly looking in the mirror and at one particular point, it's out of your hands, it's out of your control, because the person is there. The character is there, and it's like, 'Look out. Let me breathe.' It tells you what the rest is going to be. It comes alive. Meryl Streep Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

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