Jazz Tangcay has a quick catch up with production designer Michael Bricker on creating the world of Russian Doll.
When production designer Michael Bricker started creating the world of Nadia in Russian Doll, he started with the bathroom. It was the key to the character and the entire series. Bricker says he was influenced by portholes and Alice in Wonderland when reading the pilot script. His next step was to create a bathroom that would make Natasha Lyonne’s red hair pop, so he chose green.
As Bricker tells me, his choice has become a design trend as websites and design magazines tell how to recreate the Russian Doll bathroom.
Read our chat below and how he created the resetting world of Nadia and Alan in the smash hit Netflix show.
How do you start with Russian Doll where the apartment and bathroom are such a key aspect to the entire series?
It really started with the apartment itself because we knew we were going to be there often and we knew we were going to be resetting so many times. You want that to be a space that the audience loves and likes to be. It needs to be immediately orienting so that we know where she is and she knows where she is, that was also important.
I always imagine that whole space as her journey from the living room to the front door. That space is about her trying to find the right set of circumstances that allows her to leave the apartment without dying. I started visualizing and designing that journey and what that short distance has its own story narrative to it.
I always pictured the bathroom as a rabbit hole because there were some early references to Alice in Wonderland in the pilot script. I liked the idea that she was passing through the rabbit hole and entering Wonderland so the rest of the apartment and the rest of New York was Wonderland.
That was key. Natasha really wanted the space to read as a real artist’s space. Once we’ve been there working as an artist, we had a lot of friends who were artists, we tried to enrich it with a lot of handmade elements and vintage elements and pieces of art that Maxine had made. The door is a piece of art that Maxine had made. We tried putting pieces that looked like the door throughout the apartment so she is the artist that lived there.
What about the color choice? It’s so New York and so artsy. It’s green.
It’s simple. I chose it to be the opposite color to her hair. Her hair was orangey-red and we wanted her to pop out from the bathroom. I picked the inverse color. I wanted it to be dark so I went with this dark green. Once we found the right tiles, we knew it was perfect.
What about the mirror and the choice of it being round?
It’s like a rabbit hole and a portal. I definitely knew I wanted it to be round. We never shot it this way, but there’s this sense of her almost coming out of the mirror and landing in the sink. That’s not really the case, but it kind of is. I knew I wanted it to be round so it felt like a ship. The copper added a great vibe in terms of the rest of the design too.
Later in the series, we meet Alan with his OCD. What was the design concept with his?
Some of that came from the script. It gave us a clear sense of the place. His reset point is his own bathroom whereas Nadia’s reset isn’t her own bathroom. There needed to be a relationship between the two bathrooms, but to me, her apartment and his apartment needed to look different. The color palette of the two apartments are similar because hers is warm and his is cool. Hers is messy and clean. His is new stuff and hers is old.
We wanted him to feel, almost to an extreme degree without history. So much of the show is about trauma and mental health so that’s what he’s battling. His apartment is a representation of what he’s battling and Nadia’s is a representation of her own version of that and that’s what inspired those two to be different.
It was really so much fun. I don’t live in New York. I’m from Indiana and this was totally different. I’m an outsider looking at New York and that ended up being helpful. The universe of the show was pretty close to the universe we shot in. We shot in the East Village and everything was in walking distance and that was actually our playground. Early on, I had this idea of plotting those locations in terms of how far they were in relation to the loft. The further we got, the less saturated the world became. There were less texture and fewer patterns. As Nadia is moving around, she’s exploring this map and as she gets to the edge of it, it becomes fuzzier and less clear. So, when she’s at Beatrice’s apartment everything is almost black, white and grey and low texture because she’s at the end of the map. You’ll see that in the DP and costume because as a team they loved that idea.
It just became this simple design strategy that we all used. The key creatives were operating with these design anchors.
I think you’ve started a trend with the bathroom and green.
I know. I saw on a site how to re-create the Russian Doll bathroom. I’m shocked by the love for it. I just did what was right for the character and it was so thrilling.