Monica Sotto was elevated to production designer on “Drunk History” after Chloe Arbiture left the Comedy Central series between the fifth and sixth seasons. Earlier this year, Sotto took home the variety, reality or event special production design award from the Art Directors Guild for her work on the lip-synced historical comedy after being responsible for creating the sets for all 16 episodes of the sixth season. The season finale, “Bad Blood,” was a specific point of pride and is being submitted for Emmy nomination consideration.
“Bad Blood” depicts Egypt and Rome as Mary Mallon spreads typhoid fever and Cleopatra’s sister schemes for power. Both are locations done many times before on-camera, so how did you want to depict them differently?
We definitely have a cap for the budget so that plays a large part in what we can do. Egypt was shot over three days. Luckily L.A. has a lot of “desert.” We filmed at Blue Cloud Movie Ranch that had a street that was made to look like Afghanistan. It had enough there where we fixed it and added props. It’s surprising how easy it is to find Ancient Egypt and Rome in our show biz city of Los Angeles.
The Typhoid Mary plot seems extra fitting to our world today.
I loved that story. I loved that she was this asymptomatic cook in New York. Our New York was the “Gangs of New York” era. She never washed her hands and infected all these people with typhoid. For the upcoming season, we were going to do an episode of [physician] Ignaz Semmelweis, who also discovered that washing your hands is also super important.
What goes into your research?
I wish I had more time at the library, but the internet is so good. Fan sites are amazing: The Victorian enthusiast sites are incredible. By the time I’m scouting, I’ll pull out my iPad of a photo that I’ll have and say, “This looks like the Alps, let’s do this.” I owe a lot of my creativity to historical photography. There’s also so much old beauty in L.A. We find private homes and old estates that have European and Asiatic architecture.
What was the inspiration for the “Bad Blood” episode?
Creators Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner are such cinephiles and often they’ll watch random films. In this instance, it was “Assassin’s Creed.” It shows this lush Egypt era that wasn’t pyramid heavy. It was all about silks, trade and Roman goods. We did a greenscreen thing to expand the sets to make it look a bit like “Assassin’s Creed” and pay homage.
How do the various actors who come in for only an episode affect what you do?
We shoot the drunk narration first, and that becomes the script. The show has thrived on this concept of doing one historical story a day, so you get that really awesome actor for a day who comes in and does that part. From there, we do our prep work. Our Egyptian bedroom looks amazing, but if you’ve got Aubrey Plaza in this great wig, you can totally believe you’re in Cairo.
What did winning the Art Directors Guild Award mean to you?
I’m speechless. I was not just a woman, but a woman of color. It was just me and the “Parasite” crew. The win was huge. If the world wasn’t so traumatic right now, I’d still be on cloud nine.