Tony Fanning interview: ‘The First Lady’ production designer
“We did six versions of the White House, which was a big undertaking,” reveals production designer Tony Fanning about his extensive work on Showtime’s limited series “The First Lady.” “We had to do the incoming administration and the outgoing administration for each,” he proclaims, adding for our recent Q&A, “we had an incredible research team and documentation on the Eleanor and Obama blocks.” We talked with Fanning as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with 2022 Emmy Awards contenders. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
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The Emmy-winning production designer (for “The West Wing” pilot) is credited alongside fellow Emmy-winning production designer Todd Fjelsted (“GLOW”) with creating the world of “The First Lady,” Showtime’s 10 episode limited series about three very different presidents’ wives and their experiences in the White House. While Fjelsted designed the sets for the Michelle Pfeiffer-led Betty Ford parts of the series, Fanning designed the segments focused on the tenures of Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) and Michelle Obama (Viola Davis). Fanning created over 350 sets for the series, a challenge made all the more daunting by having to traverse multiple decades and even different centuries.
“The biggest task for us was building the actual interiors of the White House,” Fanning says. “I’m very familiar with that through doing ‘The West Wing,'” he adds, explaining that “I knew the ins and outs of it and how to accomplish it. So the big undertaking is getting the show up and running. But our other challenge was that we had an enormous number of sets that we had to accomplish for the whole story, because we spend very little time, even though it’s based around the White House, we’re still doing the time before the White House, when they’re courting and getting married, and then the post-presidency.”