Set Decorator Dorit Hurst SDSA and Production Designer Ray Yamagata reveal the twisted past and bring us through the equally convoluted present of the new series AMERICAN GIGOLO, keeping us on track with sets conveying not only places, but also the subtle differences through both short and long changes of time.
A present-day reimagining of the iconic 1980 film, AMERICAN GIGOLO follows Julian Kaye after his wrongful conviction release from 15 years in prison as he navigates his complicated relationships with his former lover Michelle Stratton [Gretchen Mol], his troubled mother, and the people who betrayed him.
“Can I ask you a question?”
In keeping with the show’s litany, we’ve asked Dorit a few questions about the behind-the-scenes. We won’t come up with the solution to the plot, that’s for you to discover in the season finale, but we will reveal some great set decoration details!
SETDECOR: The time frame of the series jumps through different periods, but close together, which are not stylistically different in many ways...what was the process to define the time frame?
Set Decorator Dorit Hurst SDSA: Time changes are very subtle in some areas & notable in others. We often shot different eras on the same day with very little change over time. We creatively, planned accordingly. Olga’s oceanfront mansion was decidedly timeless, with not much change, except with soft goods and florals. The architecture and color palette were so specific we found we couldn’t fight with it. All white. Blue-tinted window glass with lavender curtains, rugs & kitchen!
Beach house: “We brought in our own bubble chair for Young Isabelle to perch. It was nice to have Isabelle [Lizzie Brocheré] still perching in it once she was ready to pounce,” reveals Set Decorator Dorit Hurst SDSA. Photo by Justin Lubin ©2021 Showtime. All rights reserved.
However, Julian’s apartment and his mother’s trailer had big changeovers. Mrs. Henderson’s trailer was hued as a bordello, with romanticized furnishings & décor.
When we see it again later, it has become hoarded and unkept. This was another set shot in one day but revealing two different time periods. For the Pilot episode, it started clean...
Julian’s mother, Mrs. Henderson’s trailer...earlier times. Melora Walters as Maryanne Henderson. Photo by Warrick Page ©2021 Showtime. All rights reserved.
Mrs. Henderson’s trailer, earlier times. Courtesy of Showtime.
...but midday of the shoot, the company moved to exteriors to film some desert while we redressed the trailer as faded and hoarded.
We were pretty detail-planned for it: I purchased items in multiples and then pre-aged and dusted furnishings, drapery and artwork.
Mrs. Henderson’s trailer: Even tighter quarters with the hoarded dressing. Courtesy of Showtime.
We also pre-built stacked piles to be easily moved in this constrained space, making room for camera crew and actors to move. [She smiles] I learned this trick from fellow Set Decorator Don Diers SDSA years prior.
Julian’s mother’s trailer. Courtesy of Showtime. Jon Bernthal as Julian Kaye, Melora Walters as his mother. Photo by Justin Lubin ©2021 Showtime. All rights reserved.
Julian’s apartment is sort of opposite. His space starts cluttered, somewhat hoarded, reminiscent of the trailer...but then he peels away items that don’t serve him.
Julian's studio apartment when he first moves in, filled with the clutter of someone else’s life. Courtesy of Showtime.
This set was super-evolving up until it was filmed. My Buyers, Chelsea Mondelli and Lenna Karacostas, helped make sense of it all. We decided to work backwards, shopping out items we wanted to end up with, then layered and layered on top of that for this unscripted character, the previous tenant.
The direction we got was that Julian peels away what doesn’t serve him. He was raised with a great sense of style and taste, but he no longer lives in excess. Dressing his tiny Venice Beach studio apartment was both fun and tricky. The interior was shot on stage at Sony Studios.
Julian's apartment with a more monastic lifestyle. A clean & fresh new start. Courtesy of Showtime.
His set evolves quickly, encompassing a feeling of clean, fresh, beauty, with some underlying grit. I was pleased with how moody it ended up feeling.
SETDECOR: Julian’s door is always open when he is in his apartment, what does that mean...an “after” response to prison’s locked doors? Something to do with psychological openness? [See photo at top of page]
DH: I am pretty confident this was a Jon Bernthal choice. His character was enjoying his freedom and loved the ocean. The ocean, which is right out his door, is a place for Julian “to wash off” that guy who does what he needs to do. Jon is a wonderful actor and truly great to work with.
Stratton mansion: Detective Sunday [Rosie O’Donnell] is questioning Michelle Stratton [Gretchen Mol]. Photo by Patrick Wymore ©2021 Showtime. All rights reserved.
SETDECOR: The Stratton house was slick with marble and stone and concrete, cold with hard angles. What was the process for providing the furnishings for the space?
DH: We shot the episodic mansion at a location in Encino. It was a multi-million-dollar home on the sales market, and had been staged with sofas similar enough to what we had shopped out and stylistically matched. We changed artwork and added some furnishings and smalls that suited our characters.
Stratton mansion, master bedroom. Dressed for filming except waiting to add fresh florals. Courtesy of Showtime.
Each time we finished filming at the location (which was weekly), we had to ensure its readiness to be real estate ‘shown’, so we had to remove all of the interesting pieces. Items left had to be approved by the Seller. A lot of negotiating and people pleasing, beyond the norm, on this one.
Design-wise, we wanted to stay with monochromatic fabrics with small splashes of color. I had a tremendous amount of fun with Corri Levelle, at Sandy Rose Floral, designing fresh arrangements. As Michelle Stratton evolves and fades, to the point of shedding her wig, so did the coloration of the arrangements. We started with strong reds at the beginning of the season, but then moved to more muted and softer tones towards the end.
Stratton mansion, master bedroom. The extra touch, from Sandy Rose Florals, who handled all the florals for the series. Courtesy of Showtime.
We created a similar theme with the beach mansion. When Olga was in charge, florals were pretty, soft, and purple. When Isabelle takes over, the coloration moved into more passionate colors like deep burgundy and were much spikier.
SETDECOR: Please tell us about the art as well, for the Stratton house, and throughout the series.
DH: I love looking for Artwork. I began looking for artists who were inspired by the 1980s—not to mimic what may have been in the original film, but a point of reference in its expression. A variety of artwork was produced at a larger scale and printed on canvas for the Stratton mansion. Those were selected purely for color and emotion.
I used artist Hilary Bond, in the oceanfront mansion. Her figure outline screen-prints really hit the mark. I found Artspace Warehouse to have a great selection of artists that were readily available and fit within the constraints of a TV show budget. For the Pilot episode, I rented most all of the artwork.
When the show got picked up for the season and it was known that we would be returning to the same sets, I went out to re-rent or to purchase those pieces, only to find they had been sold. Definitely a “Yikes!” moment. We reached out to the artists, who, thankfully, were able to re-create those pieces for us. Such a relief...and they looked great! Two of those pieces were in Colin’s bedroom in the Stratton mansion: ‘Dog Balloon’ by Virginie Schroder and ‘Instant Classic’ by Carl Smith. The classic car was a subtle nod to his attraction to things his biological father was drawn to.
Stratton mansion, Colin’s bedroom, soft focus.
SETDECOR: Some scenes were shot with a desaturated filter, does that require any additional thought to the set decoration?
DH: It wasn’t a specific conversation we had, but in general, I like to work closely with the Director of Photography. In creating our sets, we do need to facilitate and work with other crafts. Part of my process in shopping lighting is to be in discussion with the DP and Production Designer as to what is needed and desired. Sometimes it’s a certain LED light with specific lumens. Other times, it’s a compromise with the way we want it to look and what the DP needs in order to film the scene. The discussion can be whether a directional lamp or shaded lamp is needed to create a certain mood. Lighting is a detailed part of the top layer of dressing I enjoy so much.
SETDECOR: And there were some distinctive palettes throughout the series, please tell us about those.
DH: Creating color palettes and themes for characters is a fun way to create distinction. When you have all of the colors in the world to choose from, and only a few days to make selections, it helps to quicken the process. We had loose ideas about assigning colors to characters, but didn’t mind straying.
Julian Kaye’s character was emerald greens and blues akin to deep ocean hues. Thematically, we repeated his jail cell dressing of meditation books on a shelf above a desk in each of the spaces he inhabited, mimicking the desk in Colin’s room as well.
The palette for the Green-Eyed Woman in the neighboring trailer was putrid green, yellow and orange. We added motifs of predatory animals as she herself was predatory.
[Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below!]
SETDECOR: Were there any set elements brought forward from or paying homage to the film – Easter eggs of sorts? [Other than the Jaguar!]
DH: Those shafts of light spilling in through the blinds was a main feature on most sets. Vertical & Horizonal window blinds were stock line items in each set’s budget. I often ordered extra pieces for the Grip & Lighting department to place as needed when the installed sections weren’t at good angles for lighting through.
SETDECOR: Holding cells, interrogation rooms, police offices, how do you work with these spaces to differentiate them throughout the series?
DH: This was a fun contrast. We kept the color tones to grey, beige & blue. Ray Yamagata, our Production Designer, has an affinity for repetitive patterns: having rows of file cabinets, rows of blinds, rows of light fixtures. It lends to the deliberate, orderly nature of these utilitarian spaces and gives the set more visual depth.
[Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below!]
SETDECOR: Bars and motels...you had a range of those as well.
DH: Some were locations, some were sets. We did have to come up with nicknames because at some point the set was “Upscale Bar” and then in a later episode it was a different “Upscale Bar”. These sets are fun. You have to reach a little deeper to find what is interesting and what will differentiate it from a prior set already shot.
Julian [Jon Bernthal] meets his friend Lorenzo [Wayne Brady] at an upscale bar. Filmed a The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Photo by Justin Lubin ©2021 Showtime. All rights reserved.
[Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below for additional bars + motels.]
SETDECOR: Sets range from seaside mansions to desert trailers, what preparation is done within the shooting schedule to accommodate the disparate style of the sets?
DH: Hilarious question – NONE. We often had separate crews who spent days in Lancaster at the Trailer Park and another crew at the beach with the ocean breeze. Our Leadperson, Phil Bufano, tried his best to shift Set Dressers around to different locations so that no one felt stuck in the boondocks. Well, for some, the boondocks are preferable to the difficult and delicate nature of working in an oceanfront mansion location. A little something for everyone!
I was glad to have a such a supportive crew who were wonderful at following floor plan layouts & set-dress packets. I also felt fortunate that Zoom meetings have become the norm. On one occasion, I was putting finishing touches and opened a set in Malibu, then while driving to Lancaster, had a zoom Production meeting from my car, making progress on a set shooting the following day.
Our crew was exceedingly organized and would prep ahead as best we could for days like these.
SETDECOR: What were the biggest challenges of this series? And how did you solve or handle them?
DH: 1-Hour TV is known to be a beast...there are a lot of sets shot in a short time span. It is a lot of communicating, and juggling with a lot of people and things. Luckily, beyond employing an awesome crew, I practice and teach Yoga! Developing a practice of balancing time & energy…finding the joy and pleasure of working… keeping steady focus on the task at hand and getting home at a decent hour are all things we, as a department, worked at steadily. We all enjoy our craft and want to have longevity in this business.
I would say getting through a full season, during Covid, without getting too overwhelmed, and maintaining a level of creativity that I am proud of, feels like a great accomplishment. Yeah, I would say do Yoga.
*Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below, there is so much more to see!
**Set Decorator Dorit Hurst SDSA would like to acknowledge her inimitable crew and the following SDSA Business Members who were valued resources for this series, particularly and especially: Sandy Rose Floral Inc, ArtSpace Warehouse, Warner Bros. Studios and Universal Studios Property
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