Production designer Jade Healy is doing double duty this awards season. For one, her work can be seen in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” There, she created a world of angst and individuality, making use of negative space as a couple reaches the end of their relationship.
In Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Healy had to create the well-known world of Mister Rogers. Despite it being well photographed, Healy says it was more of a challenge than she initially thought. “There were no blueprints, so it took a long time to piece together,” she tells Variety. “I had to gather all the details, and I had to get it right.”
Healy spent hours going through archive videos and photos to help recreate the world and piece it together. Aside from being well documented, the parts of the original set were on display at the Senator John Heinz History Center. “Take the trolley,” Healy poses as an example. “We could only look at that through a box. We tried to get measurements, but we couldn’t pick it up and touch it.”
The other obstacle was getting the color right. Healy found that archive footage and photos didn’t always align. “The color was so different,” she says. “We looked at the old footage and then we’d look at photos and the colors were always different. You could be looking at photos of the exact same set and the colors would be off.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is based on Tom Junod’s Esquire Magazine article. Rather than tell the story from Fred Rogers’ (Tom Hanks) point of view, it tells the story of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist tasked with writing a story about a hero. The movie is Vogel’s story, as the reporter works through his own emotional baggage and wonders if Rogers (or anyone) can be as nice as they say.
Healy used the cynicism to create two contrasting worlds. Where Rogers’ world is bright and bursting with color, Vogel’s is less flashy, a reflection of his outlook on the world. “We wanted it to be real, gritty and representational of what New York was at the time,” she says. “We didn’t make it glossy. In the alley, we added graffiti and had garbage bags. The loft itself was a really big undertaking. We ended up outfitting this existing loft, but it was four floors up and the elevator didn’t work. We sanded the floors. We replastered. We wanted the color palette to be less colorful than Fred’s house — we wanted Lloyd’s place to show that he’d lost touch. The colors in the space are grey and white.”
In a key scene in the movie, Rogers takes Vogel to a diner what the script notes is a nondescript diner. Healy found the perfect location for that scene via Google Earth. “I was scouting, and we were looking for a diner,” she recalls. “It wasn’t meant to be a Chinese place, but we started looking online and Googling places that could be Downtown. I liked the idea of Fred taking him to a place like that.”
The location, luckily, was perfect. “We went into this place, and it had these colors of pink and blue with big windows that looked out on to the street. You could see people going by.”
Healy also had to create the miniatures, creating a world within a world. “I was so excited,” she says. “I tried to think of it and how a child might think of the world.”
The world extended to miniatures of famous New York and Pittsburgh locations, and she sourced cardboard foam to create the buildings. Her inspiration for the miniatures came from looking at kids’ drawings of New York. “We exaggerated everything,” she says. “Big boats. Big buildings. Everything was much bigger than it should have been.” On closer inspection, Healy says they show the exterior to Vogel’s loft. It was a replica of the exact location. In the movie, we don’t actually get to see it, but we get a glimpse in the miniature world. “Our miniature makers were so good. We had to ask them to take it down a notch because they were so detailed,” she jokes.