Laura Fox interview: ‘The White Lotus’ production designer
Working and living at the Four Seasons Resort Maui sounds like a dream — if it weren’t for a pandemic. Mike White‘s “The White Lotus” filmed last fall entirely at the Four Seasons, which was transformed into titular resort and also served as the living quarters for the whole cast and production team in Hawaii.
“When I got the call about the job, they had already chosen the Four Seasons,” production designer Laura Fox tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Production Design panel (watch above). “I think HBO had approached Mike White about, ‘Maybe you have something in your bag of tricks that might work for small, pandemic, non-giant ‘Succession’-type shooting?’ And he had literally been thinking about a resort idea, not this one, but he rewrote it. But that’s sort of where it came from because I literally got on a plane after being in my house for six months basically. I mean, it was prime pandemic time. And the hotel was closed for half of it. We were just there in the bubble.”
During her 1o-day quarantine, which she describes as “The Shining by the Sea,” Fox came up with the aesthetic for the HBO satire, covering her room in fabric samples. “I would be taping everything up in my room, fabrics for which set, and I would send them to my art director, who was also quarantining,” she explains. “He would do a little Photoshopping. Then my decorator, who was in L.A., would send me photos of furniture. It was just the weirdest.”
Fox and her team were allowed to empty out the real hotel rooms, save for certain things that were untouchable, like the headboards. “That was also what was so exciting because there were so many things you couldn’t do, and that’s the mother of invention. Normally you go into a job with a ton of references,” she says. “Here, you just had to say, ‘Here’s my reference: this room. I’m just gonna work from it.’ No paint, which I think was a blessing. It really was just getting as much of what existed in the room out, working with things you couldn’t get rid of.”
As Fox notes, hotel rooms, while nice, are usually kind of “banal because 50 different types of people have to stay in there.” Fox and White discussed leaving the rooms as they were, but ultimately decided to “go for it” and create a “rich and kitsch” look that would be “the Madonna Inn meets the Four Seasons.” Some rooms already had names in the script, like the Pineapple Suite, the most expensive room at The White Lotus that Shane (Jake Lacy) so desperately wants to move into from the Palm Suite. Both rooms lived up to their names as Fox populated each with pineapples and palm plants.
“The Pineapple and the Palm were scripted because of that character’s whole need to be in the better room. But Jennifer [Coolidge]’s suite, the Hibiscus Suite — Mike was great. [He said] ‘Well, if you find a better look, we can change the name of the room,'” Fox shares. “So I just really started with fabric. And I had all these Hawaiian fabrics sent to me in L.A. and I left swatches for my decorator, and then it just kept evolving from those fabrics.”