You don’t get to establish the overall look when you’re hired to work on a TV show that’s a season or more into its run, but the gig can still be creatively rewarding, says production designer Judy Rhee, who scored back-to-back jobs on two high-profile series in progress: “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” in its second season and “Better Call Saul” as it embarked on its fourth.
“To keep the visual continuity or the visual thread of the show intact while also introducing a different signature, or different take on the world, is always an interesting challenge,” says Rhee.
In the case of “Jessica Jones,” one of the tasks that intrigued Rhee most was creating a new living space for Jones’ ally Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer, played by Carrie-Ann Moss. “That, for me, was a big factor in taking the job,” she says. “I knew that was going to be a lot of fun.” The producers of the show, which airs on Netflix and is set in New York City, envisioned the high-powered attorney living in a loft.
That said, “it was pretty open for interpretation,” Rhee says. “I went for a more traditional Tudor City look, which feels more established and slightly more masculine with the dark woods and the darker jewel tones. I was trying to avoid what people think when they hear ‘loft’ — everyone thinks more modern; everyone thinks SoHo or TriBeCa. I just didn’t see her living like that.”
Rhee joined the AMC series “Better Call Saul,” set in Albuquerque and surrounding areas, further into its run, knowing that Season 4 was going to open with the tragic aftermath of Chuck’s house fire. “I have done fire damage before, but not to this degree,” says Rhee, who consulted with firefighters to learn how a house would burn overnight after a lantern had been kicked over. The production designer says she achieved most of the burned effects through scenic means at the site of the home in Albuquerque that stands in as Chuck’s residence, noting that the visual-effects team removed the upper level of the two-story house in post-production.
Rhee also created different work environments for the show’s Jimmy McGill as he finds his way to becoming Saul Goodman. One of her favorite workplace concepts: the offices of Neff Copiers. Rhee constructed the shop, which needed to look like it had been around since the 1950s, inside an empty space once occupied by a hair salon. “It was fun to create a history you could see in the present-day space,” she says,” showing how it was once a thriving, bigger business in its heyday and showing evidence of its history and decline through the architecture and decor.”
As for what will appear next on her IMDb page, Rhee, whose credits include the Amazon Studios series “Patriot” and films such as “2 Days in New York,” says no matter what the genre or medium, it all comes down to whether the script sparks her imagination. “If I connect to the writing,” she says, “it makes it exciting for me to start to think, ‘How can I interpret what’s on the page? What does this world look like?’”