Crew Call Podcast: In a very short time in Hollywood, production designer Devorah Herbert has left an everlasting visual impression in film and television. She brought a gritty, South Central L.A. authenticity to David Ayer’s crime dramas such as End Of Watch and Harsh Times, and she boldly established a red palette in the pilot of ABC’s Revenge — emphasized so greatly during its murder-on-the-beach wedding scene — a motif that continued throughout the series’ first season.
With the third season of Netflix’s Grace And Frankie, Herbert has been recognized with her first Emmy nomination in the category of outstanding production design for a narrative program (half-hour or less). The odd couple series marked Herbert’s first foray into comedy, but similar to what she emphasized on Ayer’s earlier canon, when it comes to design, no matter what the genre, it has to be real, and it definitely has to be honest to the characters. Furthermore, Herbert’s scenic layers tell a lot about the souls of the characters onscreen. One of her biggest projects during Season 3 on Grace And Frankie was overseeing the design of the Spanish colonial house belonging to Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson’s gay couple, Robert and Sol, the ex-husbands of Grace and Frankie. It’s rare on a TV series to build an entire new set from the ground up, but it speaks to Netflix’s ability to provide creatives with the materials they need to tell their story versus cutting corners.
Compared to the sterile colors used in Grace and Robert’s first house when they were married — a clear reflection of their marriage at the onset of Season 1 — Robert and Sol’s house exudes browns and reds to reflect the harmony and warmth in their relationship. From the geometric door in their house to the authentic Nicaraguan tile used in their kitchen, all the design choices were made from real materials to reflect Robert and Sol’s independence and personal choice. Nothing was fake.
“I recognized the characters right away,” says Herbert on what drew her to the show. “Grace and Robert are an uptight, Waspy couple, and Frankie and Sol are an eccentric Jewish couple. My dad is a very reserved Wasp, and my mother is an eccentric Jewish artist, so I felt like I knew the characters and could speak to them authentically.”
Herbert originally set out to be a theater director, attending Columbia University graduate school, however, there were times when many theater productions called for a production designer. So, Herbert jumped in. But then through a recommendation from her professor, Herbert found her way to Julie Taymor’s workshop when the then-future Lion King Tony-winning director was working on the Broadway show The Green Bird.
“She tells her stories visually. In any Julie Taymor production, the sound could go out and you can still tell what’s going on. What I learned from that as a designer is that I’m telling a story with design,” says Herbert about working with Taymor. “For my part, I want you to be able to get a real sense what’s happening and the emotionality for the show by what you’re looking at.”
Herbert shares her production design nomination with art director Ben Edelberg and set decorator Christopher Carlson. Including production design, Grace And Frankie is also nominated for outstanding costumes for a contemporary series, limited series or movie; and comedy best lead actresses Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.