Production designer Judy Becker went into her first meeting about “Ratched” with her own concepts for the visual design of the show, but producer Ryan Murphy had other ideas in mind. Considering “Ratched” is a prequel to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Becker researched not only the film but mental institutions of the ’40s, envisioning a grittier realism than what we would ultimately see in the show. “The first thing Ryan said was, ‘This is gonna look nothing like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” says Becker in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “He wanted it to look very rich and lavish and the hospital to look like a hotel that had been converted to a psychiatric hospital.” Watch the full video interview above.
The most significant showcase for Becker’s work is the psychiatric hospital at which Ratched (Sarah Paulson) works. Becker and her location manager, Robert Foulkes, found the Arrowhead Springs Hotel in San Bernardino, a luxurious spa and resort that would end up being the exteriors of the show’s hospital. The problem was, the owner did not want any film crews to shoot there, so production recreated the set on the Fox lot. “I’d say in most ways, building it was much better for production and we really used that set,” recalls Becker. Most notably, they were able to create the huge solarium-style room for Dr. Hanover’s office and the long hallways, which the hotel did not have.
So why did Murphy and Becker want to go the more luxurious route for “Ratched”? As Becker explains, it comes down to believability within this heightened world. “It’s important for the storytelling that these characters have this almost snobby demeanor, especially Ratched,” notes Becker. “When she’s begging for work in this really glamorous setting, it’s believable,” compared to if the institution was more realistic and run down.
For Becker, who has been a production designer on films and TV shows for many years, working on a Murphy production is like nothing else. “It really has allowed me to explore so many different periods and styles,” she observes. This is one of the benefits of working in television for Becker, who had almost exclusively been a production designer for film before joining Murphy’s team, working on shows like “Feud: Bette and Joan,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” and “Pose.” “In long-form storytelling, in a miniseries, you really get to explore the visual worlds of the characters.”
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