“It’s a dream come true,” exclaims production designer Maria Caso of working with John Logan. She collaborated with Logan on the new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” and brought Los Angeles of 1938 to life. A period specific look isn’t enough for Caso, as she goes to great lengths to infuse character into each set. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“I consider him to be a historian,” Caso explains, referring to series creator and writer Logan. “He has a depth of knowledge of so many things.” That wealth of knowledge arrived in a thick packet of historical information about 1938, which Logan gave to the design team on day one. “The show is about racial, political issues in 1938” which still ring true in today’s world, according to Caso. So in order to “honor the stories” of that time, she and her team spent three days speaking to people who had lived through that era and who lived in the neighborhoods depicted in the series.
With research in place, Caso could begin to work on designing spaces that truly felt as though they belonged to each character. “You want the sets to honor the characters,” she explains. So she strives to ensure that each space can “grow and evolve” alongside the players in the series. A massive physical set recreated a Los Angeles Main Street in stunning detail was combined with fully realized interior sets to connect to the street.
It’s easy to see the importance of character in Caso’s construction of Maria Vega’s (Adriana Barraza) shrine to Santa Muerte. “It’s her space that she actually made,” Caso notes, “so I didn’t want it to look designed.” Time and care went into making every statue in the room appear “homemade.” Similar attention to detail was brought to the more architectural designs for the home of Sister Molly (Kerry Bishe). Caso admits that she prefers colors and textures to the all white color scheme of the house, but the cold color palette was essential to make the audience “feel the loneliness in Molly’s world.”
Caso is perhaps most proud of the nightclub The Crimson Cat. “It’s probably my favorite set ever,” she admits. “It’s so simple and it’s about the people and about the human spirit.” The space had to be large enough to house the show’s massive dance numbers, and the designer brought intimacy to it by adding simple red accents. “Our job is to represent and honor the characters,” asserts Caso, “and I think we did it best in that set.”
Caso won an Emmy for her work on “Deadwood” and has two additional nominations for that period drama. “Deadwood” has also nabbed her three nominations from the Art Directors Guild.
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