During our recent webcam chat (watch above), “Underground” production designer Meghan C. Rogers revealed the biggest challenge she faced in recreating the Antebellum South was, “making it feel like we were there and that it was new, rather than an antiquated place. We wanted to create a contemporary feel within this historic time.” The hit WGN America series follows a group of runaway slaves hoping to escape via the nascent underground railroad.
Rogers says of the period, “We really haven’t seen a lot about that time, or where people went or what their journey was. This is a show that’s more about the journey than the place of single oppression, so it’s about people moving through this time period. It’s very active. We go a lot of different places, we cover a lot of different modes of transportation. That was probably the main challenge, was the constantly changing environments.”
This one-time Emmy nominee (“Temple Grandin,” 2010) pulled from a variety of resources for inspiration. “I do a lot of reading in addition to looking for visual media,” she says, “because there’s a lot you can read about what people are going through, some of their stories and journeys, what their house looked like or what their yard looked like.” She adds, “We covered the high-end living in the Antebellum homes, down to the slave quarters, which were tiny and very elemental, to the people in the North comparing the different spaces and how people lived in society at the time.”
For the Macon Plantation, where much of the series takes place, Rogers and her team searched far and wide throughout the state of Louisiana. “I was looking for some place that could show us both the cotton fields, as well as the front of the house and some of the interior of the house,” she explains. “We had a hard time finding all three for a long time.” They finally settled on a location just north of New Orleans, which required a lot of tender love and care. “They had just re-leveled the house before we got there,” she says. “It was not livable.” Yet after two months of hard work, it was ready for the cameras.
Rogers gives due credit to everyone who helped make her vision possible. “It was never big enough,” she claims, “but we had a very special team of people who were very up for a challenge, and this was a unique show where every single episode was a new visual, architectural challenge for us.”