Keith Cunningham interview: ‘Mare of Easttown’ production designer
Production designer Keith Cunningham, who has contended five times at the Art Directors Guild Awards for his film work, just earned his first Emmy nomination for the HBO limited series “Mare of Easttown.” He is quick to credit this success to a close collaboration with two fellow Emmy nominees: cinematographer Ben Richardson and costume designer Meghan Kasperlik. “It was all about coming up with the design parameters for these characters, to make each one diverse but make them fit into this world that we were creating. We knew we wanted a real density in the overall world and in each dwelling. We came up with a color palette because we were looking for a structure for these unstructured lives.”
Cunningham had first worked with “Mare of Easttown” creator Brad Inglesby on the Ben Affleck film “The Way Back.” The production designer, who grew up in suburban Chicago, found inspiration in the writer’s own life story. “Brad and I had a nice short-hand with his world, the hard-working blue collar people of the Philadelphia area. We used that as a springboard for a lot of the nuances of various characters’ lives.”
And he reveals that Oscar and Emmy winner Kate Winslet, who plays the title character, also offered invaluable input in her capacity as a producer. “Her coming up with the look and vibe of Mare really informed us and started us off in the right direction. She is the center of this community and we saw her as the design hub.”
For Cunningham, the first step in designing the overall look of “Mare of Easttown” was to visit the real-life locations in the Philadelphia area, including the local landmark, the Wawa convenience mart. In our interview, he details his creation of a similar type store for a pivotal moment in the story. And he reveals that production had to be halted for several months during the pandemic. He concedes he was forced to be creative when shooting resumed due to various restrictions. Watch our interview to find out how Cunningham overcame these limitations as well as both his most challenging location and favorite set.