"COSTUMES BY . . . " is a credit many moviegoers may overlook. Not the stars, though. They know better. Skilled costume designers help them to become the characters they play. And for years Ann Roth has been one of the best, as Rita Braver will now show us:
We've seen her work in more than 100 films and dozens of Broadway shows. She's dressed everyone from Robin Williams ("The Bird Cage") to Matt Damon ("The Talented Mr. Ripley") to Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia!").
But though Ann Roth is considered one of America's top costume designers, she prefers that you don't pay much attention to her, or her work:
"What's the best thing someone could say about costumes that you've designed for a production? What's the biggest compliment?" asked Bravwer.
"Well, it depends," said Roth. "If it's an audience member, they just love the show, and that's good for me."
But actors like Glenn Close count on Roth to create the perfect costume. Just look at the detail on the robe worn by the upper-class country club-type Close plays in a new Broadway production of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance." John Lithgow co-stars.
Roth described the thinking behind Lithgow's outfit, which Braver described as "a little bit goofy."
"My father dressed like that, Rita!" Roth replied.
She said Lithgow's character was "a guy who is comfortable at 65 years old, probably, living where he does with his own club and his own gang, and nobody's ever said, 'Those are goofy pants' to him. And he likes them!"
Lithgow described his conversations with Roth in the fitting room as the first time the character comes together most vividly.
The first time Roth designed a costume for Lithgow was when he was seven or eight years old. "I was Mustardseed in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,'" he said.
In fact, "A Delicate Balance" is a reunion for Roth, Lithgow and Close, who all worked together on the 1982 film, "The World According to Garp," where Roth dressed Lithgow as a transgendered woman.
"She had to build my body even, the hips and the breasts," said Lithgow. "I thought, 'Ann, aren't these awfully big, these breasts?' And she said, 'I'm thinking Julia Child!'" he laughed.
At age 83, Roth is known for getting it right. Her New York studio is filled with posters, drawings, and costumes for productions like "The Book of Mormon."
Roth started out as an assistant in the 1950s. Soon she was a full-fledged costume designer on major films, like "Midnight Cowboy" in 1969. She created signature looks for Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.
But one of the big problems was that Brenda Vaccaro didn't want to do her nude scene.
"And I bought this red fox coat for 200 bucks," Roth recalled. "And I told Brenda not to worry, that she wouldn't have to lie there naked. How could you not fall in love with a naked girl in fur coat?"
No surprise that the director gave Ann Roth her way.
Braver said, "I want to talk about your reputation for a minute."
"All by yourself you'll be talking about it," Roth responded.
But is "Formidable" a good word to describe her?
"That means bossy. No, it's not nice! Would you say it's nice?" Roth said.
"How do you see yourself?"
"I think I'm darling!" she laughed. I would say that I am very, very kind and understanding with actors. When they take their clothes off in the fitting room, they are at the most vulnerable anybody could possibly be."