MR. & MRS. SMITH
August 15th, 2005 by Karen Burg
Set Decorator: Victor Zolfo SDSA
Assistant Set Decorator: Ron Franco SDSA
Production Designer: Jeff Mann Fox
Text: Guy Williams
All Photos have been reprinted with permission from SET DECOR Magazine (Summer 2005)
In the film MR AND MRS SMITH, we go behind the closed doors of a couple hiding their secret identities from the world—and each other. First time collaborators Set Decorator Victor Zolfo SDSA and Production Designer Jeff Mann were charged with creating sets which not only portray the affluent suburban lifestyle of paid assassins John and Jane Smith [Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie], but also speak of the growing emotional distance between the title characters.
“Once we established the textures, colors and materials that we thought would best reflect John and Jane, we then discussed the temperament of a specific scene,” says Zolfo. “We always wanted to ramp it up visually without being gratuitous,”adds Mann. Personality cues in the design and decoration were typically subtle, such as stories told by the artwork, moods established by colors or furniture that isn’t as it first appears.
“One of the challenges in creating the Smith house was the representation of two people trapped in a loveless marriage built on deceit. Plus, being assassins, their identities are fictitious, so everything we show as a reflection of them is actually their own creation of themselves,” said Zolfo. Mann explains, “When imagining John and Jane’s environment, we started from a place of love and desire that the characters once held for each other which ultimately reeked of irony as their relationship grows distant and then combative.” Intimate spaces become confining.
In shared spaces such as the Master Bedroom and Master Bath, the two may be in close company, but there are elements suggesting entrapment not marital bliss. The formal setting of the Dining Room suggests the chilly relationship between the two. John’s Tool Shed and Jane’s Kitchen at first represent their distinct personalities, then later transform to reveal the couple’s personal arsenals.
The design team’s greatest challenge was developing sets that had to sustain large scale destruction. Says Mann, “We didn’t want to limit ourselves or compromise the aesthetic of the film just because a room was going to be destroyed.” Zolfo continues, “The decision was made to not shy away from real pieces, but make duplicates and breakaways. This enabled us to achieve a high level of sophistication and be more creative.” Zolfo and team found existing 20th Century collector pieces that fit the Smiths’ high-end tastes, but also served the many stunts and gags of the film.
Also on board with Zolfo was his friend, Assistant Set Decorator Ron Franco SDSA. They agree that while an assistant may not be necessary on smaller projects, today’s large studio productions place so many expectations on the set decorating department that having back-up is essential. “It was a tremendous asset having Ron with me on this project,” said Zolfo. While set concepts are developed in collaboration with the production designer, Zolfo gathers research, then searches for the primary pieces that will anchor and explain the set. “We dealt with many custom-ordered pieces and special-order fabrics that required considerable research. Ron served as liaison with furniture and fabric houses to ensure all orders were on track.” In addition, Franco took on the daunting task of coordinating product placement for a massive superstore set.
Through collaboration and creativity, the set decorating team faced the many challenges of MR AND MRS SMITH and succeeded in creating a not-so-ordinary world for the deceptively unassuming couple next door.