Kim Wannop is the 4-time Emmy nominated Set Decorator of Veep. She worked with fellow Set Decorator David Smith on the finale of the landmark comedic HBO satire. Little did David know that Kim would deliver twins prematurely and he’d have to take over the lion’s share of the duties on the last episode.
We talk about that bit of serendipity and what it was like for both of them to be there at the end of such a legendary show. We also get into the struggle the show had keeping up with real life over the years, as well as the wondrous work of Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the iconic Selina Meyer.
Awards Daily: How did you both come to Veep?
Kim Wannop: The show came to Los Angeles for season 5 because of the tax credit. They came from Baltimore. In that move only a couple of the department heads came with the show, and lucky for me the set decorators didn’t come. Veep was my favorite show and I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I got to interview…well I stalked the production designer a little bit and interviewed with him and he picked me! I came onto in season 5 when they moved to LA.
AD: Did you feel any sort of nervousness or trepidation like following such great work?
Kim: My god, yeah. (Laughs). I really think that I play like I’m naive and sort of like I’m going to act “as if” because the work that was done before. The pilot was done by set decorator Jan Pascale. The decorated before me was Tiffany Zappula. They’re work was fantastic, and I really had to ask, were those all sets? Did you really shoot there? Because they were done so well and were so realistic. That was something I really tried to strive for.
AD: David, you came to the show right at the end.
David Smith: I only did the series finale, and that was because Kim gave birth the night before we were to begin together. I was going to be her second, which I’ve often done, and it’s nice to work with another set decorator, but at that point I think we had a different vision of how we would share the load. The delivery happened a little prematurely, and she hadn’t quite expected it. I was thrown into it. I was sort of surprised by how busy the show was. I have a long history at this point. Kim concentrated on a couple of such she’d already prepped for, and then I jumped in and started prepping the things that were unknown to us before she delivered the twins.
it was sink or swim time. Fortunately, I’ve been around a long time and have a lot of experience. So, I could keep my head above water. The entire production team on people was really very helpful to me. I know that Kim and the team had an incredible working relationship. I stepped into it and did the best I could, and then when she could, she came and did what she (Kim) could do, and then working from home as well. But it was a busy episode and I’m really pleased to have done it.
AD: What was it like to be there when the curtains closed on such an historic show?
Kim: I was incredibly sad. I was I was there the last night of shooting. The last scene they did was the oval office scene, and it was nothing like I had experienced. I had experienced the end of one show, Parks and Rec, but that was completely different. We were sad we weren’t going to see each other, but it was more like high school ending. With Veep it was like a death. I think possibly it was because that scene where she realizes what she’s done and it’s sad. As a viewer I thought it was so sad. As far as the show being iconic, I can’t really think of another political show that’s influenced our current climate – which is really frightening – that examined it so realistically. I’ve been told that real Washington is way more like Veep than it is House of Cards. There’s no dire manipulation going on, it’s like, oh my god they put the wrong speech in the prompter kind of thing. (Laughs).
It’s definitely an iconic thing and, I mean Elaine is pretty iconic, but Julia’s work is immeasurable at this point. She’s amazing. When we shut down for her cancer, there was a time where she tried to work with the producers to make this work in-between treatments. The support of our producers and of HBO was more like no, you take care of you and we’ll be here when you get back. Her strength was incredible. She came back and worked and did a phenomenal job on this last season. She’s definitely the leader of this show.
AD: David, was it odd coming in at the last with this tightly knit group?
David: Very much so. It felt really odd. I must say, there was nothing anyone did that made it feel odd for me. I just knew there had been this intimate group that had a big history together, and how monumental all this had been, and that this was the conclusion. I too was around, but not for the entire evening on the last day of shooting at the oval office. I didn’t want to get too close to anyone, because I knew it was not my shared experience. I walked on the stage and people were definitely very emotional.
There were tears, there was laughter. it was really terrific. But I just felt like I was intruding, and I just didn’t want to intrude.
Kim: Which is silly!
David: Yeah, I know. Thank you.
Kim: You had the blood, sweat, and tears of the prior two weeks. (Laughs)
David: I know. Everyone was great. I’m just going to say, it’s incredible for Julia to have had two shows and to strike lightning twice. It just doesn’t happen that often. The odds of somebody being that successful in two incredibly different roles is really unbelievable.
AD: The show may be a satirical comedy, but the sets have to be realistic for it to work. How did you achieve that?
Kim: We have an incredible amount of research and a plethora of different resources that we can pull from. Like stock or Getty images. Anything that will give us insight into this this behind the scenes world. We went to 7 or 8 campaign offices this season. You try to figure out how to make campaign offices look different when you take all the research it all looks kind of all the same. People are kind of like pack rats moving in. But one picture I saw had balloons. So, we put balloons in an office. Or, there were people really into like the phone banks and added that. It’s trying to do something design wise that it’s more than just the posters, or the flag saying that we’re in Iowa.
We strive to give them different look. The other example this season, which David had a big part in, was every state they were in they were also in a different hotel room. So, there are six versions of a hotel room in almost every episode. She (Selina) started out in this rinky-dink hotel room, but at the end, David decorated her last hotel suite – which was gorgeous. I would say it’s just an enormous amount of research. How they live on the road, where they would actually stay, and what’s the reality of it.
David: I just want to say that it’s so great that the show has a history and it was really done well. With the government buildings and the White House, and it comes from the top. There’s such great respect about that and wanting to get things really correct.
Kim: Our writers went to the White House. The writers have political resources. Frank Rich is on our set. From the top they really do want everything right. There’s documentaries of Obama’s campaign and Hillary’s campaign that we watched, and they don’t want it to look pretty, they wanted it to be real.
David: I just wanted to point out in the last episode, you’re talking about trying to get things correct, basically it is the Charlotte Democratic Convention. Some of that footage is what we used, and we were inserting things into it and using it. That was a bit of an effort on the entire team’s part to get the stage correct and make it worthwhile on a very much as a smaller scale. We were not in an auditorium that sat 60000 people. We used USC. It was really quite wonderful. We did well with a slightly heightened reality, with CNN and the CBS television news anchors in the future. It was great fun to have those limitations and to know the what you really striving to do.
AD: Considering the show’s sharp edges, did you get any resistance from people in the political scene who might not have wanted to contribute?
Kim: The production designer, Jim Gloster, right before season 6, did a little scout to Washington and went through some congressional offices and he had a massive amount of pictures when he came back. I don’t think anyone said don’t include this, or don’t use my name, as far as I know. The writers had people hat worked for the Nixon campaign. They went deep. I mean, they had some really great resources. There’s a story the story in episode one of the season where she goes to the wrong city and the staff is all waiting in a different city. That happened to Obama.
AD: What was it like for the two of you to collaborate. I don’t believe you worked with each other before.
David: No, this was the first time. The thing is, Kim and I are both members of the Set Decorator’s Society of America. We’re a group that’s 26-27 years old now. Km is the president and I happen to be the vice president for this particular term at the organization. So, we certainly have known each other for a number of years, and I have a pretty good reputation about being able to work as a second for other people. It just was very easy. We did know each which helps, but you really never really know how people work until you work with, but it was great.
Kim: It was amazing that we had planned for David and I to split up the sets. I knew that I was going to deliver at some point, I just didn’t think it would be the night before he started! (Laughs). To David’s credit, he really jumped into the deep end alone. We obviously talked about things, and he got comfortable with Jim (Gloster) pretty quickly, but he really jumped in there for the last episode. I came in like a week later to try to finish some of the sets that I was lucky enough to get a jump on. Because with Veep we never have set lists that are shorter than 20 sets. I would say the most being 43. Which was insane. You have got to give David a lot of credit. It’s not an easy show to just get into and he hit the ground running.
David: None of us actually do everything on our own. It’s all very much a collaborative effort. But there is a certain vocabulary that each show has. I wanted to try to do it in the same vein that Kim would do it. When I work with someone that’s what I try to do. We try to do it in their voice, so to speak. Fortunately, there was enough research, and I’ve seen the show, and there were enough things standing that I knew essentially to what degree things were done.
In the last episode – and Kim had warned me about this – you do a lot of work that just plays for a split second or sometimes not even seen fully in its entirety at all. We had an example of that specifically in the convention center where the campaigns each had a booth in the hallway and you do see bits and pieces of it, but just for split seconds. You don’t see all the work that went into it, with all of the banners, and the posters, and the printed hats, and the campaign buttons. But you know it was there, and really, we do as much as possible as we can as set decorators to make the environment seem real and comfortable for the actors. It added a lot. Even if you didn’t see it on camera as they walked through the convention center.
AD: David, you worked on Vice as well, correct?
David: I did. Jan Pascale who did the original pilot along with Clayton Hartley for Veep was the Set Decorator. I’ve been Jan second Set Decorator on a couple of projects. Argo included. Veep actually supplied some things to Vice. Because Jan had known that she had made some things for the pilot. Kim, you should jump in now.
Kim: It’s such small world in a sense. She had some desks and things made and for the pilot and knew that they existed on Veep. Luckily, they were shipped to us when the show came here, and we used them for season 5. She they asked if they could use them for Vice, and I was like, well, they’re yours! (Laughs). We do have the opportunity to purchase a lot on Veep. Some beautiful furniture came with the show, and I was able to purchase some really beautiful pieces for the White House, the red room, the green room, and I want other people to use them. I want them to be seen, because it’s the appreciation of the furniture, and the style that sometimes you can’t find rented. So, yeah. The set dressing was loaned out to Vice when that was being filmed.
AD: Was having that experience on Vice helpful to you, David?
David: One experience always helps the other experiences that are about to come. It did. I can’t give you a specific thing. I didn’t do very much of the offices or the White House at all. Jan Pascale did all of that. I did do one particular office that got changed over for another office. I did do the east room of the White House, which had some of the Veep dressing. I certainly saw the White House. It’s always fun to be on set and on stage and to walk into the oval office. Whether it’s a version of its at Warner brothers for The West Wing or Vice. Warner Brothers has this whole collection called the White House collection in the prop house that just gets rented all the time by people. It’s great that it exists. Sometimes I think we do the research and the movies themselves become the research.
AD: Looking at the world that we’re in now, the show seems less like a satire is much less like a satire than it did when it when it originally started. In the beginning, Veep was like an extreme version of reality and now it’s hard to keep up with reality.
Kim: I’d rather live in the Veep world. (Laughs).
David: We are living in the Veep world. (Laughs).
Kim: I think this is like a spin-off I don’t want to watch. (Laughs)
David: That’s great.
Kim: I think it’s sad. I don’t think it’s funny. We were filming the night of the election. Everyone was really happy that day and then it just got sourer and sourer. Going into work the next day it was like somebody died. It was like a funeral. It was silent. A lot of people didn’t come to work. it was really somber. That’s a light word to describe how it affected the show. I think it affected the writing on the show, and gradually the last year and a half. It had to. I don’t know they did it, but they didn’t take current events and then make fun of them. They kept their own story and tried to still make it as absurd as they could, without it reflecting what was actually going on. And I think bravo to them for not taking an easy road and using specific Trump things. It’s so smart.
AD: Kim this is your fourth nomination, and David your third. Does it ever get old?
David: It is my third prime time nomination, although I have four daytime nominations as well. But no, it doesn’t get old. I think it’s a tremendous honor because the nominations are made by our peers, and it’s pretty darn exciting.
Kim: It’s really fun, and it isn’t it is important in the sense that you’re voted on by your peers. I always take that really to heart. It’s a great little roller coaster ride up until your name isn’t called. (Laughs). But I appreciate every moment of it.