[LISTEN] ‘Kingdom’ production designer Maria Caso was inspired by ‘fearless’ MMA fighters

“For me, I’m a designer for the characters,” says production designer Maria Caso about her approach to the sets for “Kingdom,” the gritty drama about mixed martial arts fighters that returns with new episodes on DirecTV’s Audience Network on June 1. “I think these people are fearless,” so she wanted to be as faithful to them and their stories as possible. (Listen to our audio chat above.)

“We talked to a lot of real MMA fighters about what the gym is for them, and basically it’s their whole entire world,” Caso explains of the process of designing one of the show’s primary settings, the Navy St. Gym where the main characters work and train. “Their whole lives are in that building. That was the beginning of how I tried to figure out what it would be.”

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Caso previously earned three Emmy nominations for her work on “Deadwood,” winning in 2005, but despite the stark differences between HBO’s elaborate period drama and the gritty modern locales of “Kingdom,” “I don’t think [the process is] any different. I’m trying to tell the richest story and serve the characters with our sets and create a world that’s real. It doesn’t matter if it’s a western or [contemporary].”

Nevertheless, period and fantasy designs do tend to get more attention from awards groups, but that could be a blessing as well as a curse. “When you walk onto a gritty gym set or a dumpy hotel, people don’t even realize that you designed that … I think that’s a compliment in a way if they walk onto the set and don’t understand that you created that world for them because it’s so real.”

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