Tuesday 25 June 2019

The day I dressed Colin Farrell . . .

Eimear Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, costume designer to the stars, has her dream career all sewn up

Personally speaking, if I was about to have a costume fitting with Colin Farrell, I would be a little hot and bothered, but costume designer Eimear Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh takes it all in her stride!

On working with Colin on Neil Jordan's film Ondine last year, she says: "We had a brilliant fitting with Colin. He is an absolute gentleman! I had all of this second-hand stuff lined up for him that looked quite left-of-centre. He came in and loved it."

Colin does indeed appear to have been a dream to work with. He even took a liking to a leather jacket that had once belonged to Eimear's husband. He wore it all the time in the film and asked if he could keep it when filming was over. Colin also asked Eimear not to wash the clothes he wore as a fisherman in the film and was quite happy to authentically stink of fish.

Eimear has been in the business for 20 years and has dressed everyone from Cillian Murphy to Emma Thompson. Her screen credits include Breakfast on Pluto, Ondine, Brideshead Revisited and Becoming Jane. She is enjoying a return to the intimacy of theatre with Rough Magic's production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest at The Gaiety, directed by Lynne Parker.

Wilde's much-loved comedy must be every costume designer's dream and Eimear agrees that, with Oscar Wilde, the characters are a little bit eccentric so there is great scope to have a bit of fun with it.

Eimear particularly enjoys working with strong personalities like Emma Thompson and Stockard Channing. With people who have been in the business for a long time they know what suits them and they will have researched their character.

"With Emma, we sat in her kitchen drinking coffee and I took out my books and showed her some ideas," Eimear says. "I think it's really important to get inside what the actor is thinking about the character."

After an initial meeting with Stockard Channing (who is playing Lady Bracknell in this production), several costume ideas had come and gone. Eimear had bought a fabric in London that caught Stockard's eye. The actress loved this bold emerald green Chinese silk fabric and Eimear thought "if this woman is ready to wear this colour, then we are going to have great fun".

For her second costume, Eimear created a dress that is predominantly red with a cerise pink and red flower, teamed with a dramatic red hat with ostrich feathers (well, Lady Bracknell was never one to fade into the background).

These costumes may look beautiful but, at the end of the day, they are working props, and Eimear believes that the most important thing is that the actor is comfortable.

"After all," she says, "when they walk on stage, the costume affects how they walk, their silhouette, how they stand and how they sit."

Surely there must be actors who are difficult to deal with?

Alas, Eimear has no stories of actors who have caused her trouble or who have refused to wear one of her creations. This brings us to talk about the fact that a costume designer has to be a very good "people person". It is very much a collaborative process.

She would never say: "you have to wear this". She would go with the more diplomatic: "I was thinking about this, what do you think? If you don't like it, let's have a chat about it. Will it work or will we change it a bit so we can both be happy?"

It becomes clear to me that this social skill is the underestimated and perhaps forgotten skill a good costume designer must possess.

Eimear's face lights up when she talks about working with director Ken Loach on The Wind that Shakes the Barley. He afforded himself the luxury of shooting the film in sequence which she had never experienced before. He wanted the actors to wear the costumes during rehearsals to help them get into character.

During a film, Eimear is with the actors 12 hours a day and is constantly working ahead.

"A lot of actors say how the costume helps them to get into character, you are another element in the process of helping them to find the character," she says.

Cillian Murphy must have been a challenging task to dress in Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto as Patrick 'Kitten' Braden. "We could have gone for giving him really female curves but Neil liked that slightly androgynous look which really worked for the '70s and the glam rock thing," Eimear says.

She makes the distinction that they weren't going for a man trying to look like a woman, but rather a young guy who likes dressing in women's clothes who was appealing to boys and girls.

She was very impressed with Cillian considering all he had to go through for the role. "He had to shave and pluck, wear make-up, wigs and dresses and he was great," she says.

So what happens to the costumes when the production ends? It seems a shame that Eimear's creations will have such a brief outing. After just a short run on the Gaiety stage, they will then be kept in a costume storage facility.

On film locations, however, the big-name actors sometimes get to keep their costumes, it can even be written into their contracts. As I leave the studio, Eimear also shows me the costume Gwendolyn will wear. A magnificent gown made with a rich pink and purple fabric with gorgeous hints of gold. I feel immediate pangs of envy towards the actress who will get to wear it.

Rough Magic presents The Importance of Being Earnest at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, until June 19 at 8pm with matinees at 3pm l Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals, Monday and Friday at 7pm and Arts News, Tuesday-Thursday at 6.40pm on RTÉ lyric fm

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