Costume designer keeps her age a secret after decades in the film industry
She is a costume designer to the stars who has won three Emmy awards and has dressed everyone from Scarlett Johansson to Meryl Streep. And one golden rule Joan Bergin has maintained is to keep her age a secret in Tinseltown.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent on Friday night at the Irish premiere of Disney’s Disenchanted, which she worked on, the Dublin native explained: “People are very ageist. One of the things I notice in America is how much people talk about age, even in politics. They say, ‘oh Joe Biden is far too old to be president’. It is this false mentality that only the young can do a job.”
Asked if ageism exists in Hollywood, she says: “Definitely. It is even more pronounced in Hollywood. I was always a very slow developer in my career. I was someone who suddenly got their mojo later in life. I was in my 30s when I got it but I am in my prime now and I would tell people to celebrate every year of life.”
Ms Bergin, who led a team of over 40 people on the set of Disenchanted, says: “I always make sure I work with a lot of younger people and I go to work wearing purple nail varnish.
“They all tease me about it but I think that when I am with all of them I have to do something [to show a youthful side]. You know it annoys me when people think you are old, because age is 50pc mindset. You should only stop working if the passion dies — and it hasn’t for me.”
The Cabra-born designer was speaking after she stepped off a plane from Los Angeles, where she had attended the movie’s world premiere on Wednesday night.
The sequel to 2007’s Enchanted was filmed in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, when the country was in lockdown and Ms Bergin worked alongside Suzanne Keogh, her former design assistant. Film crews transformed the area into a fairytale wonderland complete with garlands of wisteria flowers strewn over shops and homes.
As a designer who spends “hours” talking to actors in one-on-one fittings, she says psychiatry is one of the main parts of her job — and she has discovered that A-listers are even more self-conscious than the average person.
“You have to be. When you think how someone as exquisite as Florence Pugh [star of Little Women and Lady Macbeth] was once told during her first week in Hollywood that she needed to change the shape of her face. And the shape of her face, when you look at her, that slightly wide jaw, its absolutely wonderful. It is actually what makes her and her character.”
She adds that “most women” also “wish they were thinner”.
“The camera packs on pounds but I would like to think attitudes are changing. One of the great things about Disney is that the actors are much more normal now.”
Her aim is to “empower” actors through their wardrobe.
“Some people wouldn’t care if they were in pyjamas but then others have such an image of themselves that they are afraid to let it go — they have a certain ‘look’.
“Everyone isn’t as good as Meryl Streep. But what I adore about fittings always is that they have to be very quiet, very contained, and you have to gain the actor’s trust.”
Speaking at the LA premiere of Disenchanted, lead actors Idina Menzel and Patrick Dempsey hailed the Irish countryside as “beautiful”.
Menzel, who is best known for voicing Elsa in Frozen, said: “It wasn’t just that we got to be in a beautiful place, [but] everyone that we worked with… was mostly a local crew and they were pretty much some of the best people I’ve ever worked with.
“We got to be in a place that we fell in love with and felt happy in and we were very lucky to be there.”
Meanwhile, Ms Bergin wants others to know her line of work is more important than people realise.
“Lately, I keep meeting people — cab drivers, an AA rescue mechanic — and they stop me on the street to tell me of their mothers and grandmothers, who were gifted seamstresses, pattern cutters, and embroiders who worked mainly as unsung heroes.
“A taxi driver recognised me recently and he said to me ‘if my mother only knew that a seamstress would get the prestige that you did’. I said to him ‘we are so much more than seamstresses’.”
‘Disenchanted’ is streaming on Disney+ from this weekend