Eimer casts a fitting role for herself in Waugh
Aine O'Connor meets Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, the costume designer for 'Brideshead Revisited'
There are few of us who don't at some time ponder the possibility of a surprise turn of events that will change our lives. Perhaps it's for this reason that most interviewers -- this one included -- start out by asking Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh about "falling into" costume design when we meet to discuss her work on Brideshead Revisited. And much as the random event theory appeals, it turns out she didn't study to be a vet and end up designing clothes for Sebastian Flyte.
Having studied fashion in her native Limerick, Eimer did what so many did at that time. She emigrated. It had been an exciting time to be in college but it wasn't an exciting time to graduate. "It was 1988, there wasn't a lot of work, nothing really in fashion, it was pretty downbeat. A friend of mine was going to Madrid and I just kind of tagged along with her, for the laugh."
There was, however, quite a buzz in Spain at the time, their first Franco-free decade for a while seemed full of artistic promise with the likes of Pedro Almodovar beginning to make a name. Eimer was living in a house with film students and started helping them out on their productions. "It was very basic, but it got the interest going. We were broke, but it was a brilliant time to be over there, just the whole cultural aspect to it."
Eimer returned to Ireland in 1991. Consolata Boyle gave her three weeks' work as costume assistant on the John Sayles film, The Secret of Roan Inish. "I had to meet Consolata in Jury's hotel. She was going to give me a lift up to Donegal and I was so nervous going to work on a real film, being young and innocent!"
Eimer notices a difference now. "Girls coming into me now would never be like that. They are very enthusiastic but there's a different sensibility now of: 'If this doesn't work out, I can do something else'. It is generational, though, but I like that I had that naivete and innocence because it made it all really exciting."
The Irish film scene was picking up in the Nineties and Eimer's cv is like a history of Irish film since 1993. She worked on Widow's Peak, the ground-breaking series Family, and the mini-series Scarlett ("it was terrible but Timothy Dalton was a lovely guy.") Michael Collins and The Butcher Boy saw the beginning of a working relationship with Neil Jordan, with whom she has worked on four films, including the recently completed Ondine. Designers have agents who put them forward for jobs. "The first time you meet the director is when you go in for an interview. Then, you hope you get the job in enough time to do enough research. You also hope they'll cast it quickly enough so your ideas will match the actor.
"Once somebody's cast I'll phone them and they'll always have some ideas about their character and we do fittings so there's no surprises. There's no point in anyone being unhappy!" By and large, people are very nice. "Actors, if they've a reputation for being a pain in the ass, unless they're Angelina Jolie, people aren't going to want to work with them. People who are all airs and graces are usually very young. You hear things, like when I was doing Becoming Jane people said Maggie Smith was very difficult. She's not, she's very exacting. That's fine, I don't want to be messing around. either."
Generally, only the bigger stars get to keep their costumes, otherwise they are returned to the costume houses that make up the designs. They are embargoed until the production is released and then either re-used, or, in the case of principals' costumes, sometimes auctioned. But there are rooms and rooms of beautiful clothes somewhere.
Eimer is a little annoyed with some of the Irish reactions to Brideshead. "Of course I'm completely biased, but I thought [a particular feature] was completely one-sided and it was a shame to have a whole page of a tirade." Interestingly though, most criticism has been based on comparing the film to the TV series rather than to Evelyn Waugh's novel. "The series was iconic but there are definitely rose tinted glasses being used," she laughs, "it was the Eighties for God's sake, of course Brideshead was beautiful!" Reactions in America have been more favourable and in the UK, where she expected to hear criticism, reviews have been "pretty measured".
Costume designers remain on location for the full shoot, although Brideshead was unusual in that she was on set, based in England, for five months. She was pregnant with her second child and her husband and six-year-old daughter came over from their Meath home at weekends. "It cost a fortune but it worked! I don't work 12 months of the year, either. Especially now I've got two kids, I try to do a block and take some time off. But I really like my job."
Brideshead Revisited is on general release nationwide