‘The Morning Show’ production designer Nelson Coates on turning a California high school event space into an Italian villa [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

After being unable to join longtime collaborator Mimi Leder on the first season of “The Morning Show,” production designer Nelson Coates boarded Season 2, which turned out to be quite the adventure. The Apple TV+ series had been filming for three and half weeks when production halted due to COVID-19 last spring. During the shutdown, producers and writers reworked the entire season to incorporate the pandemic, and by the time the drama was set to resume production in October 2020, Coates essentially had a whole new — and global — season on his hands.

“We used maybe a day and a half of that three and a half weeks of filming in the new season because we did such a major pivot,” Coates tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Production Design panel (watch above). “When we came back, the scripts were way huge. We all thought that with COVID, working in the pandemic, that we would have manageable-sized spaces and manageable-sized events, and of course the first script starts with New Year’s Eve in Times Square, which couldn’t be more crazy.”

COVID restrictions prevented the series from even filming a few days of exteriors in New York, so Coates replicated Times Square in a parking lot in Santa Anita, California. Season 2 was filmed entirely in the Los Angeles area despite scenes in China, in Wuhan and Beijing, and a subplot involving Mitch (Steve Carell) living in Lake Como, Italy, after his disgraceful exit last season. “It became, how do we mine L.A. for any possible element to become all these countries? We’re doing streets in Milan and a villa and all these streets in Lake Como,” Coates says. “It was kind of crazy because we had to do it all within the confines of L.A. Mimi and Kerry Ehrin, our showrunner, said, ‘We have this crazy idea. We want to be in Italy, but we know we can’t go.’ We can’t even go to New York because there was no way to quarantine actors and be able to film there.”

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Coates and his team found a 1920s house on the property of a high school in Sierra Madre that was used as an event space. The house was designed by William Neff and was based “supposedly on the early plans of a Michelangelo house design in Florence.” Unfurnished and painted white, the house was transformed into an “intergenerational” villa to make it feel as if it’s been passed down in a family for years.

“It has the Roman pieces built to look like Roman pieces, the Biedermeier elements. You have the flat-screen TV in one room, but you have the tube screen in another because, ‘Ah, why do we need to keep buying things?’ It just has that huge, multilayered, very Italian feel to it,” Coates explains. “Every surface was redone. We did a lot of faux stone work, a lot of gardens and fountains and things, even beyond what has made the cut. It was quite fun and spectacular to try and create a real environment and showing the actors, ‘OK, this is what you’re looking at over here and you can’t stand beyond this because that’ll be a balcony that drops to nothing.’”

Outside of bringing Italy to Los Angeles, Coates also recreated the entire UBA office set. Cities like Pasadena and Beverly Hills were closed to filming, so he couldn’t scout office suites. “We started just drilling down and actually taking over more stages at Sony and we built a 12,000-square foot office complex with all the offices and bullpens and hallways and elevators,” he shares. “And then all the walls fly, and different graphics and furniture come in, and it becomes another floor with additional 12,000 square feet of space. All of that from pencil to shooting on that set was eight and a half weeks, so eight and a half weeks to design and build and furnish was like hair on fire.”

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