Ann Roth Is Hollywood’s Secret Weapon

By Maureen Dowd | July 31, 2023

Ann Roth Is Hollywood’s Secret Weapon

Inside the studio of the costume master who helped give the world “Klute,” “The English Patient,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Working Girl,” “Mamma Mia!” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — and more.In Solidarity

Ann Roth began with a few instructions: “Do NOT call me amazing. Do NOT call me a 91-year-old legend. Do NOT call me the oldest person in the ‘Barbie’ movie.”

I had driven four hours through a biblical downpour to interview the revered costume designer. After a hike down a dark path through the woods to an 18th-century house, I felt as though I were opening the Narnia wardrobe and entering a whimsical fantasy world. Owls perched on rafters. Angels from Naples, Italy, dangled from the bedroom ceiling and chandeliers. A stone mantel was lined with miniature farm animals amid Oscars, Tonys and BAFTAs.

The enchanted cottage is a portal to one of the most imaginative minds in American culture, who has conjured memorable theater and film characters for more than half a century, from “The World of Henry Orient” to “The World According to Garp,” from “Midnight Cowboy” to “The Morning After.”

Ms. Roth was dressed in a crisp blue Orvis shirt, flowered shorts, rubber sandals (with aquamarine toenails peeking out) and an anklet that reads “East Coast” in an Old English typeface, a present from her grandchildren. She sports rings for earrings, including her grandmother’s engagement diamond.

Ms. Roth has a pivotal scene with Margot Robbie in the “Barbie” movie, directed by her friend Greta Gerwig (Ms. Roth calls her “Gret”). When it was floated that Ms. Gerwig cut the scene, she refused, she said, because without it, “I don’t know what this movie is about.”

When the forever-young Barbie ventures out from Barbieland and encounters Ms. Roth, who plays a woman sitting at a bus stop in Los Angeles reading a paper, the doll suddenly realizes that being human and growing old could be cool.

“You’re so beautiful,” Barbie tells the woman, sounding amazed.“I know it,” Ms. Roth, in character, replies blithely.

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