Jamie Walker McCall Interview: ‘Pose’ production designer
For production designer Jamie Walker McCall, Season 2 of “Pose” was all about expanding the world established in the first season. McCall was tasked with building a stage based on the Connelly Theater, one of the locations for the ballroom scenes in Season 1. “Season 2, everything got bigger,” McCall says in an exclusive new webchat with Gold Derby. “We went out a lot more, we built a lot more on stage. I think you can tell, too, the ball performances themselves became huge.” Watch the full video interview with McCall above.
For the iconic ballroom scenes, McCall designed a stage that allowed for more expansiveness to film at other areas in the ballroom. “It’s slightly smaller than the original space but we added some hallways and some extra rooms that the Connelly Theater didn’t have,” she explains. “We added a whole upstairs bar area and used the Connelly as our base.” It was a challenge to create some of the elaborate set pieces used in the performances at the ball, like Elektra (Dominique Jackson) emerging from the clamshell in the season’s second episode.
One of McCall’s favorite new sets to craft was the Hellfire Club, the sex dungeon where Elektra works. This was a “dream job” for the production designer, who did some firsthand research to capture the right look. “When I came back and was starting to put it together I really wanted the red, the walls, I wanted everything to feel dank and moist,” she describes. “All the red lights, it’s just very moody and then when you step into her domain, we chose this really pretty wallpaper just to add a little bit of depth to the wall but still some softness. Again, in her space, I went with glossy paints just to make it feel like a dank dungeon for her.”
In a show like “Pose” that is full of bold performances (including Emmy winner Billy Porter) and colorful costumes, McCall sees it as her job to set a realistic foundation for the time period. “What I like to do with my sets is keep the sets grounded in reality so that then the costumes can pop off and the acting can pop off the set,” she notes. It has become increasingly difficult for the designer to find locations that aren’t updated for our current era, 30 years later. “New York is modernizing so much now it’s really hard to find places that still look like old New York.” McCall researched through documentary footage from “Paris Is Burning” to get a feel for the ball culture scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “I also watched the documentary on Marsha Johnson and then my typical research of going down the rabbit hole of finding what that time period looked like.”
McCall feels that working on “Pose” and other Ryan Murphy productions provides an opportunity for creativity to flourish. “It’s just such a great environment, a creative environment, and it’s nice to have Ryan be a part of every little thing that we do and to have his feedback,” she states. “I can’t say enough about how creatively you can thrive in his environments.”