AS: And the actors really experienced winter on set?
ES: Yeah, we were filming in the winter and it was really cold and I think they really began to experience the misery of life on the outside even though they were on a stage. There was no heating.
AS: How is Tom Hooper different from director Mike Leigh? Is Mike Leigh visual?
ES: They are both incredibly thorough about the understanding of the character and the time and place that they inhabit and nothing is taken for granted. With neither director would I ever get away with putting something on the set just because it looked nice. It has to be there for a reason. In that way they work in a similar way. With Tom you heighten it. You’re very rigorous about making sure it’s historically accurate but in the end we’re making a musical. You’re allowed to heighten it. That’s the difference. Where Mike wouldn’t do that. Although on Topsy-Turvy I often tweaked it a bit. But not to the degree anywhere near.
AS: Are you talking about realism vs being more stylized and theatrical?
ES: Not so much stylized and theatrical -just sort of raising the bar all the time. It’s just exaggerating slightly. Not going into the world of the fantastical but if you’ve got a red room just making it more red than you would naturally have. Or extra cold or the wood slightly more decrepit. Just sort of pushing the limits up a bit.
AS: On The King’s Speech you said a lot of it was locations. How was your role different?
ES: None of the locations were actually as you saw them. And we felt very strongly it would be good to work in the real places. We found his treatment room very near Harley Street in London. Plus the reality is that we didn’t have as much money. I don’t want to spend the money on building a wall if one exists and you can decorate it.
AS: Speaking of walls there was that one wall in The King’s Speech that was so amazing.
ES: The King’s Speech was quite a theatrical piece when I first read it. Tom and I though there would be a lot more of just looking at Lionel Logue and the King in one room. So we thought the room should be really, really interesting! The script developed as we went along but we kept that interest. We also thought what was really great to start painting it really theatrically -kind of a Shakespearean tan.
AS: Do you do a lot of sketching for every movie you work on?
ES: Yes, because I’m quite quick. I do tons. I did a whole sequence of watercolors and paintings for Les Mis. It gives you something to talk about with directors. Even if something is wrong at least it’s a starting point.
AS: Do you ever have set designers do sketches too?
ES: No. Although I sometimes get them to do a visual if it’s a big street scene or something because studios like that sort of thing. But no, primarily with Tom he will happily work from my watercolors.
AS: Did you go to art school?
ES: Yes, I went to the Central Saint Martins in London. I did theater design in school and I worked in the theater for about eight years before I started doing films. I did the sets and the costumes when I did theater. I did design in theater for Mike Leigh and then he suddenly asked if I wanted to work on a film and I said yes because it sounded fun. I didn’t realize it would be such hard work! But it is fun.
This is a very interesting conversation. Thank you for sharing your insights about the production design and entertainment industry! As a student aspiring to one day work in the entertainment or production industry these insights are very inspiring and helpful in career planning. Wish you the best in all your endeavors! Keep up the incredibly beautiful work.