Oscar-nominated costume designer Jenny Beaven doesn’t like dressing for awards

Costume designer Jenny Beavan on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Costume designer Jenny Beavan on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road. PHOTO: JASIN BOLAND

Oscar-winning Jenny Beavan has designed costumes for major films, but she does not like dressing up for awards

British costume designer Jenny Beavan has an Oscar statuette to her name, plus nine other Oscar nominations for her notable costume work - the latest being her creations for George Miller's post-apocalyptic film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

But it is British comedian and TV host Stephen Fry whom she is most grateful to for raising her profile - so she said, with her tongue firmly in cheek, of course.

Beavan, 65, was the target of Fry's controversial joke at the Baftas two weeks ago, where she had picked up the award for Best Costume Design for Fury Road.

Assessing her casual leather jacket and scarf look, he had joked on stage: "Only one of the great cinematic costume designers would come to an awards ceremony dressed as a bag lady."

Fry defended himself on social media, saying that they are good friends and that she got the joke, but the overwhelming backlash he received online eventually led him to quit Twitter.

Beavan asserts to The Straits Times that she is not at all offended by Fry, whom she had previously worked with on films such as Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (2011) and Gosford Park (2001).

Speaking over the telephone, the 65-year-old says with enthusiasm: "Oh, absolutely, we're on speaking terms. In fact, he has done me a lot of good. My profile has never been this high before."

If anything, she sounds even harsher on herself than Fry was.

"Well, you know what I look like - I'm small and fat and old, and I don't do frocks. These awards things are very tricky for me because I don't like the dressing up and the glamour. I prefer to remain in the background."

Personal style aside, she is one of the most well-respected in the business when it comes to dressing characters in movies.

Besides the Oscar win for her work on A Room With A View (1986), she has been recognised by the Academy for her designs on major films such as Sense And Sensibility (1995), Anna And The King (1999) and The King's Speech (2010).

Given that most of her past work has been for period pieces, she says that she was particularly "excited" to be hired for Mad Max: Fury Road.

"It's just so different and I always love a challenge. I love my Jane Austens and I would love to do more of that, if anyone wants me to, but I've wanted to do something futuristic for a really long time.

"What's funny, though, is that, in a way, it's no different from working on period pieces. Every time you design a costume, you're helping to tell the story of the movie, so whether it's a modern or period piece, the process is the same."

She is not sure why director Miller chose her for the job - there was a list of 12 contenders, she says - but she got along very well with him as soon as they met.

"Executive producer of the film Iain Smith knew me from Alexander (2004) so he helped to promote me a bit. But, really, when I flew out to Australia to meet George, we just got on.

"He's a man who has made films about penguins and pigs, and I've worked on films about bonnets and corsets, and for some reason, I just think that's a great match," she says with a chuckle.

Other than the Mad Max movie franchise, which had starred Mel Gibson before Tom Hardy took over for Fury Road, Miller has also produced Babe (1995), featuring a sweet pig who wants to be a sheepdog, and directed animated film Happy Feet (2006), about singing penguins.

With fewer than two days to go before the Oscars - it will be aired in Singapore live on Monday morning - Beavan is not feeling any nerves.

Perhaps it helps that the other contenders in the same award category are her friends. She is up against Jacqueline West for The Revenant, Paco Delgado for The Danish Girl and double-nominee Sandy Powell for Cinderella and Carol.

She says enthusiastically: "All the costume designers had dinner together last night and we could be poisoning each other's soups.

"But no, we're good friends, so we'll just see what happens."


• The 88th Annual Academy Awards will be telecast live on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Monday from 8am. The encore telecast airs at 7pm the same day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline ''Bag lady' dresses Mad Max'. Print Edition | Subscribe