Bill Groom Interview: ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ production designer
Production designer Bill Groom, who has worked on everything from films like “A League of Their Own” and “Milk” to such TV series as “Vinyl” and Boardwalk Empire” is drawn to projects set in the past. “I love period work. It’s fun, it’s exciting, there’s always a lot to learn and I enjoy that part of the process.“
For Season 3 of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s” set on the brink of the ’60s, Emmy-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska told Gold Derby previously that there were more than 9,000 extras this time out to outfit. Everything is bigger in the nostalgic comedy created by Amy Sherman- Palladino and Dan Palladino that has garnered a record 16 Emmys, 8 for each season so far. Was that true in Groom’s case when it came to sets?
“It never gets easier, it only gets harder by season,” he says. “But that’s good. That’s what we are reaching for, more and more interesting elements and story for Midge and Susie and everybody.” Fans of the show know that in No. 3, Rachel Brosnahan’s stand-up comic Midge as well as her manager played by Alex Borstein hit the big time while touring with crooner Shy Baldwin (Leroy McCain). The show’s universe has greatly expanded because of it and so did Groom’s responsibilities.
Which design was the most complicated for him? “Probably scouting and making everything work in Miami was probably the most challenging for the season,” Groom says in his webchat (see the exclusive video above). “Partly because it was hot as hell. It was just putting all those pieces together away from our base in New York, but it was fun to do. ” Midge and Shy perform at Florida’s famed Fountainebleau Hotel by the beach while Midge teaches Susie how to doggie paddle in the inn’s pool.
He adds, “It’s changed a little bit over the years in Miami. I had worked there about 30 years ago and things were pretty shabby and run down along Miami Beach and all. It’s changed so much. It was very glamorous in its day in the time period of our story and then it kind of went through a little bit of a downturn and it started back up again. So Miami is kind of sparkling and glamorous again in its way. So it was a nice time to go back and kind of re-establish that period in the ‘50s.”
They did film at the actual Fontainebleau. Groom says, “It has been recently restored to very close to what it was in the ‘50s, including this elaborate marble floor that they’ve got and that was all reconstructed.” He goes on to say that the renovation project cost around $4 billion. “That included the original structure and then they built two or three new towers there.” As the production designer notes, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and even Elvis Presley hung out and performed there back in the day.
When Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) shows up to catch Midge’s act there, they go to a romantic restaurant for dinner. Groom says he based the exotic décor on a 1964 film called “I Am Cuba.” Not to spoil the mood, but he says, “We did that on a stage in New York.”
In a series about someone who makes a living telling jokes, often “Mrs. Maisel’s “ humor extends beyond the stage. In Sophie Lennon’s expansive New York townhouse, Jane Lynch — who plays the hick comic — takes her new manager Susie into her cavernous library that is filled with shelves but only holds 12 or so actual books. Groom says, “I don’t remember if that was in the script or if it was something that developed as we scouted location and occasions and talked to Amy and Dan.”
Groom goes on to talk about Susie’s minuscule apartment where her pull-down bed blocks the door and also serves a visual gag and the two biggest set pieces on Season 3 – the USO show at an actual hangar and the variety show that was shot partly at Harlem’s Apollo theater and also inside a nearby church basement. He also declares one of his favorite sets to be Midge’s ex-husband Joel’s renovated nightclub that also hides an illegal gambling den that’s based on a real social club. And don’t get Groom started on finding period-appropriate slot machines for when Shy and Midge perform in Las Vegas.