Curt Beech interview: ‘Only Murders in the Building’ production designer

Curt Beech is a first-time Emmy nominee for his production design on “Only Murders in the Building,” which arguably is the ideal show for which to receive your maiden bid. “The Arconia and its environs are definitely a major character in the show because it is a contained environment. It kind of makes it a bit like theater that way, which is why this show is unique and special,” Beech tells Gold Derby (watch above). “It’s all taking place in one very important place.”

Beech and his team created a visually rich fictional New York City building, where one glance at the apartments of Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) told you everything you needed to know about them. Charles’ is meticulously curated, neat and orderly like the cautious former TV star he is; Oliver’s is ostentatious and theatrical like the over-the-top theater director he is; and Mabel’s is under renovation and mysterious like the work in progress she is. Beech credits the writing for laying the groundwork to give the art department the freedom to do its thing.

“The gift of this show is that the writing is so good that most of what we needed was in the writing and in the character development, so that makes our job a bit easier,” he says. “And then we’re able to extrapolate our own ideas and add to what was already there, but without the script being good, it’s very hard.”

SEE Nathan Lane on making Emmy history with ‘Only Murders in the Building’ and the ‘thrilling challenge’ of learning ASL

Case in point: They concocted multiple backstories for the characters and elements in their homes that were not written in the scripts. Oliver’s dining room is lined with wallpaper inspired by an opera house. “Every time he is pitching a project, he is literally on stage and you can feel like he’s on stage. And that is an homage to his father, who is an opera director. Did it say in the script that his father was an opera director? No. We made that idea up because we found this amazing print and we were like, ‘This would be an incredible wallpaper,'” Beech explains. “And we wove it into the story and presented it to John Hoffman, the showrunner and creator, and he was like, ‘I think that’s wonderful. Let’s go with it.’ And we put it up and it creates this stunning room.”

In Charles’ kitchen hangs an Ed Ruscha print that says “Nice, Hot Vegetables,” which is worth “well into six digits” these days. But not when Charles bought it back in the ’90s. “We made up a story that he went to a party in L.A. when he was working on ‘Brazzos’ and he met Ruscha poolside at somebody’s amazing mansion, and they hit it off. Ruscha invited him to the studio, he picked out a piece and he bought it for what was peanuts back then, but now it’s appreciated into a very valuable piece,” Beech shares. “And what this does is it tells us that Charles is a shrewd collector of art and that he has a good eye and that he’s very smart with his money.”

Much like Oliver’s overstuffed apartment, the show is teeming with lots of small details, Easter eggs and references that you may not have noticed yet. All of the core trio’s apartments have ladders. The stage models in Oliver’s apartment are from Beech’s graduate school classes that he busted out of storage and Oliver’s books are from the personal collection of set decorator Rich Murray, who has also penned songs for Oliver’s musical “Newark! Newark!”

“There is a totally tricked-out dog closet in Oliver’s foyer for Winnie. We’ve never seen it. I’ve never seen the door open, but it’s there and it’s amazing,” Beech says. “Everyone has plants represented in their apartment. Charles’ are real, Oliver’s are fake. And of course in Mabel’s, there are only some shapes of them on the drapery, but they’re there. Everyone has some form of plant life. There are only a couple opportunities for us to do apple-to-apple comparisons with these characters visually.”

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UPLOADED Aug 9, 2022 12:32 pm