“What could be better?” asks production designer Tim Galvin while describing his recent task of creating the sets for National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha.” “I was so happy to be invited onto the job. It seemed like a great surprise for me. It all was very serendipitous. In reading the script this was going to be some kind of great job.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
The limited series stars Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin and chronicles the Queen of Soul’s rise to fame from singing in her father’s church to becoming one of the world’s most revered entertainers. The challenge of creating a world that spans from the 1940s to the 1990s required extensive research and Galvin was thrilled when director Anthony Hemingway allowed him to “be bold.”
Despite Franklin being a public figure, the songstress was notably private which provided Galvin with “thin references” about her childhood home. “Reverend C.L. Franklin‘s (Courtney B. Vance) home is still there in Detroit,” Galvin explains. “There’s not really pictures of the inside so much, but we had the outside. We knew what the neighborhood was like and the architecture of the house. We found a location that modeled the place as well as we could do in Atlanta.”
“We had truckloads of stuff coming from different parts of the country,” Galvin describes when discussing how they recreated Franklin’s time in the recording studio. “It was tricky in terms of the eras because that equipment changed quite a bit. Every couple years there was some advance, especially in the control equipment, and some of it is pretty well known. The Atlantic and FAME studios are hallowed ground for musicians. Famous recordings were made there and there are tons of pictures and videos. So we felt that we really had to honor the truth and experience that musicians would have had there.”
Although much of the series focuses on Franklin’s private life, Galvin was also able to show a bit of flash when building sets like the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas. “Doing a real theatrical set was a lot of fun,” he recalls. “Bringing back the 70s and the disco and all the light bulbs was pretty great. She’s a big star at that point. Playing Vegas! So Anthony was like, ‘Don’t hold back!’ and the dancers and the whole accompaniment of the scene really boosted it up.”
Galvin goes on to describe his favorite sets he designed for “Genius: Aretha” and share some personal stories about his decades in the entertainment industry. How did he end up hanging out with Anthony Hopkins in the Bahamas? And what Oscar-winning diva taught him the true meaning of star power? “It was like somebody turned it up to 11 and I thought, holy cow! That is what they mean!”
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