“Every set had to be viewed in the context of the whole,” said Judy Becker, Oscar-nominated production designer for Sony/Annapurna’s American Hustle. “We had to look at the character from where they start and to where they go to … each of those sets has a place in the telling of the personal story.” David O. Russell’s homage to the 1970s tells the story of con men, political corruption and characters who try to negotiate through and rise above their circumstances. The film is nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture. Becker and set decorator Heather Loeffler, worked together to bring a 1970s realism to the sets.
The film’s central character, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), begins as a low-level con man who has aspirations of greatness. When we first get to know him, he is in his office — a disheveled interior with peeling wallpaper. And, although he has a new desk and black leather couch, everything around it smacks of a certain lack of sophistication. “We know that he hasn’t reached the level of success of where he is going to get to, but we see from the office where he wants to be,” says Becker. “So we put in this modernesque desk that was a little too big for the space. We put things in that were kind of nice and were inspirational but not yet there.”
As Rosenfeld and his lover Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) start building “a business” based on scams and stolen artwork, the office space eventually becomes London and Associates, which flaunts beautiful sculptural and travertine walls. “Most eras have their own color palette. “We used a lot of yellow and blue for this film.” For the Adams’ character, who started as a stripper and then taught herself about design and sophistication from magazines, Becker used “a timeless, beautiful yellow. It wasn’t kitschy and felt very contemporary.” The bedroom is adorned with textured yellow walls that seem to cascade seamlessly down a perfectly matched headboard onto a yellow bedspread. It’s framed by a classic 1970s deep white shag carpet and offset by period-piece white nightstands. The room was built on a stage in Woodburn, MA.
Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) uses an entirely different motif to reflect the depth of her character. “Rosalyn was an interesting character to design for,” says Becker. “She was non-working housewife. Her husband was not around a lot. She has a child … she’s alone and depressed, and when some people are depressed, they turn to eating and some turn to drinking. She turns to decorating. She starts decorating and she can’t stop, so you have layer after layer after layer of decorating.” The result is a gawdy gold design that layers the room set on blue carpeting. Becker first found the bedspread at the Brooklyn Flea market and bought it immediately. “It became the centerpiece of the room. And then my decorator tried different wall samples and a lot of them looked good with it, but we finally found the right one.” The result is reminiscent of a room at the Holiday Inn circa 1970s, with a nice added touch of two zebra pillows.
Becker said she and her team had a blast decorating the sets. “They were all extremely fun, and the great thing about the movie was when we thought we hit the top of ‘funness,’ it kept getting better. We shot the disco bathroom which we built, the room that Robert De Niro sat in which you couldn’t see that well, but it was the backroom of the casino. And, one of my favorites was London Associates; I was trying to do a 1970s mid-century stylish office.”