Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fantastic LA Times Interview With Joan Bergin--Costume Designer for The Tudors

Emmy-nominated costume designer on dressing characters with success...

In recognition of the part clothes play, more than 75 outfits from contemporary shows, including some that are nominated this year for Emmys in costume design, are on display at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising's museum and galleries in downtown Los Angeles. The free exhibit, which opened July 27 and runs through Sept. 4.

Joan Bergin, "The Tudors"

Bergin won Emmys for the series in 2007 and 2008 and received Irish Film & Television Academy awards in 2008 and 2009 as well. Her museum-quality costumes were featured in a Macy's display in New York City on St. Patrick's Day. Bergin has contributed to movies including "My Left Foot," "In the Name of the Father" and "The Prestige." She is currently working on the Starz Network production of "Camelot," starring Eva Green and Joseph Fiennes.

Image: How many costumes did you create for the show?

JB: I kind of lost count! My workshop was actually quite small, but across the series we made about 500 costumes and rented and modified countless others.... The amount of clothes — when I look at it now, I laugh. The relevant note is that I drape onto a form like old-style couture with a goodly degree of skill. Every detail, from cloth to braid to button. The workshop [staff] tease me.... I should just put [cloth, etc.] on the actors, pins and all, without having to make it up.

Image: Which character did you design the most for?

Bergin: Anne Boleyn. Showtime let the show take its natural course. For example, Anne came as a young girl who had studied a bit of the court but was no princess. I was able to slowly build her to become this magnificent creature.

Image: The characters don't physically age much as time progresses. The costumes are key in portraying this progression. How did you plan this out?

Bergin: I'm a great believer in research. Especially the social history around these people — it can be quite arrogant to make decisions for them. I figured, as Henry ransacked more and more churches and monasteries, he spent a lot of it on his own back and the clothes at court. I made them more opulent. As a character came more into the king's favor, they would dress better. Not unlike nowadays, as if someone were in a rising corporate position.

Image: What a sexy set! Which male and female character was your favorite to dress?

Bergin: Well, one of the things about Jonathan Rhys-Meyers [Henry] is that he is a natural clothes horse. He was very interested in the costumes. If he hadn't liked what I was doing it would have been agonizing. He really enjoyed the fittings and contributed. With women, it was Anne and Catherine Parr. We did magnificent jewelry for her [Anne's] coronation scene that cost an absolute fortune. We had a bodyguard on set!

Image: But both Henry Cavill [Charles Brandon] and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers are gorgeous. Did you have a favorite?

Bergin: Let's just say I always like things complex and difficult, and Henry [Rhys-Meyers] was more … complex.

Image: The jewelry was extraordinary. Did you create that?

Bergin: I have a lovely story — I got a letter from a company in Philadelphia called Sorrelli, huge fans of the show, who sent six pieces that were perfect for the costumes. The next two years they supplied "The Tudors" with most of the jewelry. They even have "The Tudors" collection on their website ( There was also an Italian vendor, Autore, who lent us a $40,000 pearl necklace that was used for the decapitation of Anne.

Image: Is it true that you were inspired by modern clothing for the Tudor look?

Bergin: Yes. "The Tudors" is a strange blend of trying to be as authentic as possible but with a twist. I wanted people to look at it and say, "Look how sexy and foxy," rather than, "Oh! Who would wear that?" Balenciaga corsets and the Degas ballerinas inspired me. I also went to an auction and bought a trunk filled with fabrics collected by a woman from her travels all over the world. One of Catherine Parr's dresses was made with a 100-year-old obi.

Image: What was it like winning your first Emmy?

Bergin: "The Tudors" was a show I originally did not want to do because I didn't know how it could be done. I thought, "How on Earth could you do this?" And so when my name was called out, I was like one of those footballers and went, "Yes!" My friends claimed I knocked them down. I was shocked at how delighted I was. You often lack the security about what you're doing, and it was like being reaffirmed.


  1. Thank you for bringing such nice posts. Your blog is always fascinating to read.

  2. I love the show itself but find myself re-watching it to see the costumes and set also! Gorgeous!

  3. costumes are amazeing i lovvve the dress anne boylen wears when she final gains power over wosley in the first season and the crown ohhh man i would love crown like that! that natlie dormer is just a great actress i swear when i see her chacter im looking at the actally anne boylen and not natlie dormer she that good!!!