“There’s actually a story arc for the house in Season 4 and it’s the same parallel arc for the characters: Everything is falling apart,” says Grace and Frankie production designer Devorah Herbert, who this year counts her second consecutive Primetime Emmy nomination in the half-hour narrative production design category for the Netflix series.
Together with costume designer Allyson B. Fanger, who counts her third nom for the series in the contemporary series costume category, the duo are responsible for telling a deeper, innate story about the aged protagonists of cosmopolitan Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) and former hippie Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) in their colors, patterns, set designs and overall personal getsups. “If the sofa is going to be blue, not brown” says Fanger, that’s an important note that the production design immediately relays to her.
“It’s like one painting in its entirety,” says Fanger ,who needs to know the color of such things as sheets and pillows near characters in a particular shot so she knows how to dress them. “When the colors are the same (as the character), you lose the person.”
Herbert and Fanger recently sat down for AwardsLine’s Production Value video series at Grace and Frankie co-creator Marta Kauffman’s Malibu beach house, which serves as the actual inspiration for the character’s own domicile.
“Season 4 is all about the wear and tear of age; these women are now getting older,and in seasons 1 and 2 the guys too were re-inventing themselves, forming new relationships,” says Herbert. “Now their bodies are betraying them and their sweaters are getting pills, there’s dust around the walls, there’s a water leak in the ceiling, and the bathtub comes crashing through.”
When Herbert first read the script note about a bath tub crashing through the beach house, her first response was, ” ‘Oh no!’ — which is how the characters are going to respond.” However, after picking every detail of these characters’ material lives and putting it in the shot, “it was fun to take a sledgehammer into one of these walls,” she says.
Tomlin’s Frankie is a personal attachment for them, as Fanger has incorporated parts of her mother-in-law’s fashion sensibility, while Herbert drew inspiration from her own mother who is a painter, just like the character. The mother of Fanger’s mother-in-law was photographer Dorothea Lange, and a vast collection of unique jewelry had been amassed from their travels around the world, pieces that sync with Frankie’s Sante Fe sunset-earth tone color sensibility. Adina Mills also makes the crystals seen on Frankie, while jewelry makers will reach out to Fanger on social media and pitch their wares.
For both Herbert and Fanger, the introduction of Jane’s new house guest Sheree (Lisa Kudrow) this season turned their Frankie worlds upside down.
In the initial conception of Sheree from the writers, “they wanted the audience to think it was Frankie when she was walking on the beach; she’s no Frankie but she’s eclectic in her own right. We found a good balance.” Sheree was Frankie’s younger version, but an explosive aesthetic of pinks, golds, blacks, and leopard prints, a style which took over Frankie’s former studio at Grace’s house.
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