UNITED STATES OF TARA
April 20th, 2010 by Karen Burg
Beth Wooke SDSA
“The sets on Tara have always been so innovative. The spaces inspire us in the writers' room every day…there really can be a valuable symbiotic relationship between set and content.”
—Diablo Cody, Writer/Creator THE UNITED STATES OF TARA
“I’m definitely feeling a symbiotic relationship with Tara and her ‘alters’!” laughs Set Decorator Beth Wooke SDSA. “I feel like I’m channeling multiple personalities each time I put together one of Tara’s sets—I have to think how each ‘alter’ would be experiencing the set and what their effect would be on it. It’s literally a cast of characters inside one woman! And now, this second season has even more going on with Tara, each of her family members, new people and new places—it’s been amazing!”
The layered twists of the new season of UNITED STATES OF TARA—a provocative, rather dark yet humorous, tender, very human tale—have given Wooke, Production Designer Cabot McMullen, and most recently Production Designer Richard Toyon, the opportunity to create sets as authentic, idiosyncratic and colorful as the intriguing characters and storyline.
The first season’s palette was muted, as we met Tara Gregson [Toni Colette], her family and her “alters”—alternate personalities that appear as she grapples with the psychological phenomenon of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Tara has taken herself off medication in order to fully experience each manifestation, hoping to find the cause and a way of gaining control.
The second season opens with Tara on new medication and the “alters” seemingly quiet. A happier Tara is immediately evident through her home’s brighter colors, lighter upholstery, fresh flowers and artistic touches.
Throughout both seasons, the sets hold clues to each of Tara’s personalities, as Wooke describes:
Tara is highly creative, a muralist and artist in interior design. We always have paint brushes, shelter magazines, sketch pads and design samples around the Gregson Home sets. This season she is inspired by new artists she meets through her daughter Kate [Brie Larson].
Alice is a reflection of a ‘50s housewife who enjoys cooking, sex (whipped cream is key), and letting people know what is right and wrong (whether they want to hear it or not). She has the ability to read people instantly, as well as a strong predilection towards any decor with a chicken motif. Watch for chicken items, her "Alice was here!" signature.
Buck manifests as a man who enjoys beer, boots, porn movies, talking about "nam", and in this season falls in love with the local bar waitress. Curiously, Buck cannot see without his glasses and must wear them at all times. Look for Buck’s glasses, trucker hats and hunting magazines around the home.
Chicken is a 6-year-old version of Tara, revealed first through flashbacks. Watch for her this season!
Gimme is an animalistic version of Tara, who communicates through action not words, including having bouts of chaotic destruction. "I had to make sure we had plenty of duplicates for some of the set decor elements".
Dr. Shoshana Schoenbaum is a therapist straight out of 1970s New York, with attitude to match, whom we meet this season. The Hubbard House next door (late ‘60s decor) seems to trigger this persona.
T, the first transformation we met, is a promiscuous teenager who likes to smoke pot, borrow Kate’s clothing and go shopping with Tara's credit cards. Tara and the family often have to deal with the debris after T or Buck manifest.”
Tara isn’t the only one affected by these personalities. Each of her family members has his or her own journey to self—angst enough for her teenagers who are heavily impacted by their mother’s personas. Tara is unaware of what transpires when one of the “alters” takes over, so she has to rely on her family for feedback and the unfamiliar detritus she discovers throughout the house for visceral and literal proof.
Quirky 2nd Season!
The Hubbard House
After the next door neighbor commits suicide, Tara’s husband Max [John Corbett], a landscape architect, decides to buy the house and “flip” it, doing the renovation himself with Tara’s assistance. The Hubbard House is a time warp, having not been updated since the late 1960s. A few pieces of furniture remain, underscoring the atmospheric emptiness and triggering flashbacks to Tara’s past. As the season unfolds, the house is brought back to its mid-century roots and “staged for resale”. Wooke tread carefully here, with definitive element editing.
However, she was able to put her restraint aside on the inspired Lynda’s Loft, formerly a copperplate factory. The mysterious artiste [Viola Davis] has created a bohemian enclave, furnished and decorated with “found” objects, not only incorporating the former factory’s Men’s Room and an old claw-footed tub, but also innovatively using leftover hardware and neon, a wall phone, theater seats, carpets, fabrics and an amazing assortment of objects. Wooke shares, “We imagined an artists’ space that could be used for large art pieces as well as music, poetry, film and plays.” From McMullen’s original sketches to the dense detailing by Wooke and her crew, including “phenomenal” buyers Associate SDSA members Derrick Hinman and Moe Moe Lwin ,the set amazed the producers, creators and cast.
Executive Producer Stephen Spielberg singled Wooke out, praising the feature-film quality of the set.
Writer/Creator Diablo Cody notes, “The sets on TARA have always been so innovative. The spaces inspire us in the writers' room every day. But I have to say, I was particularly blown away by the factory loft created for the character of Lynda, played by Viola Davis. It was and is easily the most astonishing set I've ever seen. I was overwhelmed by the detail. It was an urban candyland that seemed inviting and dangerous all at once.”
“We wrote Lynda as an intensely colorful, complicated woman, and the loft was a reflection of that,” she continues. “It was almost impossible to believe that the space hadn't really been lived in. Jill Soloway [TARA’s Showrunner] and I wound up writing an entire episode in the loft; we felt that we were able to connect with Lynda's energy in there.” Cody adds, “There really can be a valuable symbiotic relationship between set and content.”
The set changes this season exemplify her statement. There is more of an emphasis on the fact that this takes place in Kansas. Thus, not only are locations more specific, Wooke says, “We now infuse Kansas in the decor, from Kansas City home and garden magazines to state flags to team paraphernalia to phone books.” The new decor includes a huge graphic of the names of contiguous train stops into Kansas City.
Ted and Hany’s
We visit other Gregson neighbors: Ted and Hany. Wooke reveals, “They are a loving homosexual couple who Marshall sees as living a ‘normal’ life. It allows Marshall to accept who he may be, a glimpse into his future perhaps. "We decorated this home as any young happy-in-love couple would—fresh, a little preppy and Martha Stewartesque.”
The Gregson’s - Marshall
She adds, “Marshall [Keir Gilchrist], the Gregson’s sensitive teenage son, clearly has the soul of a sophisticated man trapped in the body of a young teen. He enjoys Jazz, gourmet cooking, film history and theater. We obtained clearance with jazz musicians to frame albums as art, Kansas City Jazz Museum posters as well. It is assumed that he is gay, but this season he is conflicted and wonders if he may be straight after all. You get the sense he is counting the days until he can move to New York, where he will be truly appreciated. We built a Lego version of the Chrysler Building that we think he constructed when he was 12. He appreciates Alice’s decorum and clarity, but he loves his mom and wishes the ‘alters’ would never come out.”
The Gregson’s - Kate
This season, his capricious older sister Kate, “…Gets her GED, a job, and a new boyfriend! She is very smart and clever, yet realizes perhaps too late that her actions are having an adverse affect on Tara,” Wooke explains. “Her room is a collection of her pre-teen past—toy horses, pink decor and other girly items—yet infused with a young adult coming into her own. We feel she has inherited her mother’s creative talents and much of the artwork and decor is clearly the work of Kate.” She is the catalyst who introduces her mother to Lynda and the edgier world of the Crossroads Arts District.
The Gregson’s - Max?
The Zen-like Max, Tara’s husband and rock of the family, gets grittier this season as well, so the Gregson den became more masculine, more Max-specific: Landscape books, plans and the occasional sprinkler head as a "paper weight…wood paneling, leather chair, blue stripe sectional…encased home-run baseball…”
Pammy’s Place goes the other direction. Wooke describes, “Pammy, a waitress at a local dive bar and a single mother with 2 young daughters, is seduced by the loving and sweet talking Buck. Her home is decorated as if she shops thrift stores, Sears and K-Mart—there’s a touch of ‘80s brass and mauve. She has to work all the time to support her kids, so the home is cozy but unorganized. Her pink recliner is a character unto itself this season.”
As if the universe were reflecting her tumultuous life, a tornado hits Tara's neighborhood! Devastation & debris, both emotional and physical, transpire. As her pregnant sister’s wedding disintegrates, Tara learns they have a half-brother.
Even quirkier 3rd and current season!
The turbulence continues when the stress of going back to college and dealing with her caustic psychology professor, Dr. Hattaras [Eddie Izzard], while preparing to host her sister’s baby shower, causes the alters to fight for control of Tara. Terrible consequences ensue.
Meanwhile, some of Max’s family secrets are divulged when he and Marshall visit his compulsive, hoarder mother to get her signature in order to sell his business. Kate moves out, becomes a flight attendant and gets involved with a frequent flier. Marshall’s film project includes a revealing interview. Neil moves in to help Charmaine with their baby whom she won’t let Tara near. Tara confronts her alters and negotiates a contract with them, but a frightening incident at a corn maze exposes a new alter…
And that’s just the beginning of this season! Tune to Showtime on Monday nights and check back here for updates and new photos of new sets!
Details make the set…
“The mere mention of an obscure object sends Beth scouring every flea market, website and garage sale to find it. It is this attention to detail that makes a good set great,” says Director Craig Zisk. “Even if the objects go unnoticed by the cameras, they create an environment for both the actors and me to perform at our best. Beth is an overachiever, exactly what a director wants in a set decorator. I always get a kick watching the actor's reaction to seeing a Beth Wooke fantasyland for the first time."
Set Decorator Beth Wooke SDSA shares resources!
SDSA Business members that make USOT such a success include:
Sandy's year-round Christmas Room: Dr Christmas and Green Sets...especially when they ask for a PINK christmas tree!
Kate's new flight attendant job has us view multiple airport lobbies and airplanes: Air Hollywood, Aero Mock-ups, Modern Props, and Town and Country.
Marshall's film gets accepted to a New York Student Film Festival: Air Designs street dressing and Heaven or Las Vegas Neon.
Abbotoir Books: Dr. Hattaras' full bookshelf of psychology books and more!
Alley Cats: Urban, edgy, street dressing.
Alpha Medical: Charmaine's hospital room, art and more.
Apropos: Furnishings, particularly for the Ted & Hany set.
Astek Wallcoverings: Custom wallpapers -always a great resource!
Bischoff's Taxidermy: When you need a stuffed squirrel...yes, it was scripted!
EC Props: Industrial elements used throughout the season especially the Hubbard Basement.
Faux Library: Fantastic books and items for Kansas State University Overland Park trophy case and more!
Grace Home Furnishings: Fast, gorgeous, custom headboard within 2 weeks from a magazine photo!
Hollywood Studio Gallery: All the fantastic art in Dr. Hattaras' office.
LA Party Rents: Colorful tenting and restaurant decor.
Lennie Marvin: LM basically had everything I needed for a downtown festival, as well as several restaurant sets that popped up.
Omega Cinema Props: As well as their CP2 and CP3 facilities for a range of set dressing.
Pinacoteca: Lots of large art used in Lynda's Loft and throughout Gregson home.
Practical Props: Great period lighting.
Schumacher: Fabulous designer wallpaper.
Universal Studios: They had everything I needed from lighting to period furnishings, to rugs and drapery and were cooperative with contracts that started out as swing sets but extended all season long! Special shout out to their upholstery department that allowed for super quick turnaround when Showtime wanted to reflect a happier Tara in the home decor.
Warner Bros: Their Thompson Street warehouse closure came at the perfect time for our “disaster” scenes!
Dr. Hattaras (Eddie Izzard)Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2011 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Charmaine's Dining Room
Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), Lionel (Michael J. Willett) and Noah (Aaron Christian Howles)Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2011 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Kate (Brie Larson) and Tara (Toni Collette) share a laugh about life.Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2011 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Lynda's (Viola Davis) Crossroads District Loft gets visit from Kate (Brie Larson)
Tara (Toni Collette)Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2010 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) and Sandy (Frances Conroy)Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2011 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Max (John Corbett) visits his mother Sandy (Frances Conroy) and discovers she is a hoarder.Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2011 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Max (John Corbett) and Tara (Toni Collette) in their bedroom.Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2011 Showtime All Rights Reserved.
Kate (Brie Larson) in full Princess Vahalla gear.Photo by Jordan Althaus ©2010 Showtime All Rights Reserved.