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‘The Looming Tower’ Production Designer on ‘Striving to Be Faithful’ to the Book

With a resume that includes “The Night Of,” “White Collar” and “Sneaky Pete,” production designer Lester Cohen expanded his number of hit projects this year by taking on “The Looming Tower,” a Hulu miniseries that centers on the rising threat of Al Qaeda in the 1990s and the response of the FBI and CIA. Cohen spent 10 months working on the show’s sets, traveling all over the world for its filming and doing some “daunting” research on the Middle East.

What was your process for “The Looming Tower”?

We had all of the scripts right at the beginning, [which] necessitates absorbing a lot of information and getting it all straight in my head. The first month was just research, research, research — just trying to figure it all out.

How much did Lawrence Wright’s book, which the show is based on, influence your vision?

My one regret is we never had the opportunity to really tell the story [in] early chapters of the book, which is the birth of the fundamentalist movement in Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. There’s a quick montage in episode five or six that goes into that, but not fully. I learned a lot about that and that’s a story I wish we had told in more detail, because I think most Americans don’t know that story. But the book was a big blueprint for us. We were all striving to be as faithful to the book as we could.

How much creative freedom did you have versus going off of facts and photos?

There were certain things, like the Nairobian embassy bombing, we always knew we were going to be cutting in some other footage so there wasn’t a ton of freedom there. Other things like the design of Alec Station, because there were no real photos of that, that was an interpolation of a bunch of information and then also taking some dramatic license because we wanted to contrast the CIA and Alec Station and their resources with the FBI. We made [I-49’s] space tonally warmer with earth tones, and then Alec Station is very cool and hard-edged.

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