Love & Death’s Candy Montgomery is a story is known to many, but recreating the world of her suburban Texas life on screen is no small task. The documentation of Candy’s life outside of the Gore house is sparse, leaving production designer Suzuki Ingerslev in a unique position to capture the essence of this true crime story in the spaces that defined her life.
Ingerslev discusses in our conversation the decisions surrounding what scenes were able to be shot in locations around Texas and what her and the production team decided were best served to be stage sets. She points out some of the most prominent spaces in Candy’s life and the attention to detail that was embedded in these locations to enhance the 70s atmosphere and reflect Candy’s personality.
Read my full conversation with Love & Death production designer Suzuki Ingerslev below.
Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I am very excited to be speaking with Suzuki Ingerslev. She is the production designer for Love & Death. Suzuki, thank you so much for joining me today. I am very excited to talk production design for this visually stunning show.
Suzuki: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here.
Of course. And first of all, congratulations on your work. Like I said, this show has so many sets and so many locations and it all really comes together and builds the atmosphere of this series. But to start it off, of course, we’re looking at a true crime series here. So, what I’m curious about is how much were you looking at documentation early in the process? What were the early conversations about how you were going to build this world?
Suzuki: You know, for me, I just wanted to be able to kind of tell this American tragedy story through what really happened to these people and who they were. So, the spaces were important. There’s not a lot of information on Candy [Montgomery] out there. I never found what her house really looked like, just some descriptions of the neighborhood. The Gore house is very well documented, at least the outside. So, for me, it was more important to get in my mind and read all the articles that I could about who these people were. So, I felt that Candy was the more aspirational, the wealthier, living in the dream house and the dream mother and the dream life, while Betty [Gore], on the other hand, is caught in that kind of heavy 70s world. She’s depressed. She’s not able to do what she really wants to do. So, through architecture, I was kind of able to tell those two stories.
Yeah. I love hearing that. I’m actually a practicing architect myself during the day, so that’s why I love talking to production designers because I feel like we speak the same language when it comes to design. So, I’m curious, how many sets – I’m sure there are a ton of sets – but just how many sets were there because there are so many locations in the show.
Suzuki: If you really get down to it, even the little things, the lie detector tests, everything, there was over like 100 sets and locations. And we pretty much lived in a car for a long period of time because we were just constantly prepping in every which direction outside of Austin. So, there were a few things shot in Austin, but we were really searching out that vintage architecture in the outskirts of town. And I went to architecture school too!
So, how many of these places that you were shooting did you build from scratch for stage sets versus how many locations were you looking at shooting on location?
Suzuki: The biggest builds, obviously, were the Montgomery and the Gore houses in the beginning. And the Montgomery is a split level, so there were three different – so, basically, three sets started us off, and then the two motel rooms. And then the rest of it was just stuff that we built kind of on locations and added to and changed. And then we built the huge courtroom at the last minute. We were like, “Can we shoot it at a historic courtroom?” We looked all over Texas but couldn’t really find anything. And, honestly, didn’t feel safe bringing that many people onto a balcony in an old historic courtroom with cameras and disrupting town, so we ended up building the courtroom.
Yeah, of course. This takes place in sort of suburban Texas, so how did you, through the production design and through your collaboration with the creators, start to kind of build this world that felt like this idyllic town where “nothing could go wrong,” but, of course, something does.
Suzuki: You know, there were so many small towns that were interesting in the outskirts of Austin. I feel like time hasn’t touched a lot of them. So, we had kind of a field day of scouting all these different towns. Smithville ended up being our favorite. It’s just like one main drag, and the stores had so much character to them. You could just see that you are in this old world without even having to do a lot. So, again, you always think you’re not gonna do a lot, but then you end up doing a lot. We redid all the windows, we did the signage, but then when you bring in the cars and the wardrobe and the people, it really transformed that whole town into a great world, the world that we wanted. And it felt safe. When you do the montages of the kids eating ice cream and sitting on front lawns, it all adds to that atmosphere. I feel like that created that idyllic world for us.
Were there any specific places where you were shooting where you kind of uplifted or renovated any locations to fit more into the tone of the show that you were going for and fitting your color palette and your themes and tone?
Suzuki: I would say most of them. When they go to the marriage encounters, we redid a lot of the interior of where they actually had the conference, adding the Tudor style to it all. The police station that you see, it’s in Smithville, but it was an abandoned bank. It was run down and there were cockroaches dead in there. We didn’t really enjoy that part of it, but we cleaned it up, and it had great bones, and then we ended up painting and recarpeting. And I made the bank teller part into kind of the front part where you check into, like a city hall where there’s the police and you get your permits and all that stuff. So, that was a tremendous amount of work doing that. And the beauty salon had the wallpaper we liked, but we ended up reflooring, repainting, and putting the ceiling in. The problem is that you do find all this great, dated stuff, but it’s dated, and it’s been around the block, but it should look pretty new for its time when we’re in that period, so everything needs some touching on our part.
Was there a research process for you in sort of building out what types of furniture, and what types of decor were popular at the time of this show in the late 70s into 1980? Was there a research process building what that interior atmosphere would feel like?
Suzuki: Yes, I actually lived some of it, too, so that helps, and so did my decorator.
Suzuki: But, you know, I like to do a lot of research before I even design anything. I just like to put things in my head like a think tank and jumble it all around. I have great vintage design books from all periods of time, and I pulled all of the 70s and 80s ones just to kind of get some flavor going. And Pinterest and all that stuff. It was so funny – I even had this one book that was plants in the 70s. It’s amazing how many plants were in houses, and we added all that kind of detail to it. Again, the Montgomery house was the more current furniture. It had the technology. She was a designer. Betty, on the other hand, as I was saying, was like a Sears Catalog shopper. She doesn’t really go out and shop. It’s a tract house, so it just wasn’t as aspirational.
Looking at the Montgomery house in particular, what were some important aspects of that house, exterior and maybe interior as well, that you had to really focus on to make sure [were] reinforcing Candy’s personality and reinforcing the quality of the show that you had to go for? Basically, what was the thought process behind the Montgomery house?
Suzuki: The Montgomery house, we really wanted it to feel special. We wanted it to be like you wanted to live there. It’s the happy homemaker’s house. So, it’s probably one of the nice houses in the neighborhood. It’s in a better neighborhood than the Gore house. We found one that was on a hill, and we were able to do the grass scene with him mowing the lawn because it seemed like every other day he was mowing the lawn outside there. So, those bones all came together. We wanted it to be beautiful architecture, and to me, that house has those great bones of the midcentury look. The interior, the most important thing, I kept reading it, and it felt like she was in the kitchen all the time. So, in order to shoot somebody in a kitchen, most kitchens are fairly small, but I wanted this one to feel a little bit more luxe. So, she had the Sub-Zero in there. I don’t know if you noticed that. But we actually found a vintage Sub-Zero. I don’t know how she did it. We had the island, and we had the little breakfast area, so you could really get back, you should shoot her in all directions, you could look in all directions. Certain shots from the kitchen, you can look all the way down to the bedrooms. So, the house is a little bit more elevated. The ceilings are higher. It’s perkier colors. I feel like that was Candy. Like, that’s what made it special. In the real house that we shot at, the interior was pretty different than what we built, but again, it’s built for the scenes, so you have to prioritize what that’s going to be. As far as the Gore’s, their house is more in the flats. It’s more in a tract neighborhood. It’s very dark. It’s very the traditional spindles and it has even that bottle glass in some of the cabinets. So, we had some fun with that. We made her feel a little bit like, “I didn’t redo this house, this is how I bought it.” It came with the wallpaper. Then, when she orders things, it’s through the catalogs and she’s like the matchy-matchy person. It’s important to her to have family photos up of the ancestors but then also her wedding pictures and her wedding cake topper. We have that in there. So, she’s more traditional and Candy’s a little bit hipper and more fun.
Was there a collaboration process between you and other departments finding the right atmosphere early on, finding the right color palettes that you were going to use to represent this show – maybe with costume, with makeup, with your set decorators. What was that process like?
Suzuki: Of course. That’s a huge thing. I did a presentation when I interviewed to get the job and I kind of put down on paper what my aspirational thoughts on the show would be. And Lesli [Linka Glatter] and David E. Kelley all liked it and Per Saari. So, we were able to go forward with the look, so then I sent that to everybody just to get us started. And once we all kind of knew, Gaby [Villarreal], she was my decorator, she found the most amazing things that matched to some of the old books that I had. She went on to Facebook Marketplace. She found a place in like Alabama that was closing out and she found old pantyhose in their original packaging. She found shoeboxes with the original shoes in them. She scored. And she had a lot of friends in and outside of Austin that were willing to give us some of their stuff because their houses still had the old details, like sconces or doorknobs. So, we were able to replace a lot of it with new stuff and they gave us the old stuff. So, she was amazing in this. And Audrey Fisher, the costume designer, we’ve worked together on True Blood and stuff, so we have this shorthand. We love working with each other. I always send her the color palette that I’m doing. And then when we did our presentation, she’ll actually take her costumes and put them into my sets, my little renderings that I do, so that we know that the colors all work together. I think a great collaboration is when they go to the hotel rooms and what she does with the negligees and what we did with the room. It all seamlessly comes together.
And one thing that you mentioned, the hotel rooms, I’m curious to hear a little bit of the process behind the scenes of what your vision was with those spaces because it’s darker, it’s dimmer, it has a little bit of a maybe sleazier attitude about the furnishings. So, how did you visualize that in the way that it was important for Candy and Allan [Gore] to feel like it was a different world from their own lives.
Suzuki: Well, it was so fun. When they first test the waters and they go to the Continental, I wanted that one to feel like it’s a romantic moment. It’s their first time out. It’s a nicer room. It’s more light. It’s more fun. It’s where you can see them having their first picnic in her great lingerie. And then, when she tries to save the $5 or whatever she saves, it’s like, okay, well, $5 was probably a lot of money back in that day. It is quite a step down, so visually I wanted to tell the story that it’s not as fancy and they’re having some fun with the sleazy aspect of sneaking around. It’s described in the script as a velvet bedspread and I had that flocked, great wallpaper and heavy paneling in there. It just felt like a secret, more of a secret, that continued on.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And moving to the second half of the show, one character in particular that really stands out in the way that you shape him through your production design is, of course, Don Crowder. So, how did you visualize him in a similar way that you wanted to represent Candy in her home. How did you do that with Don in the office? The famous office.
Suzuki: He is so funny. When you read the script, you’re like, we can have some fun with this guy. He was our show pony, basically. He tans himself and he’s the wealthiest of all of them, so you really want to show the scale of wealth in Texas. Right? You go to his house, it’s a big property, it’s a big house. We brought in all the taxidermy and all the fun stuff that really is Texas. Candy wouldn’t have taxidermy, Betty wouldn’t have taxidermy, but for him, we could go to town. We could do the great leopard couch. We could do all the stuff that makes him kind of a more individual, fun guy. So, that one we really had a lot of fun with. And the famous desk that we have. Gaby found the desk, and it was in some man’s office, and all the taxidermy was kind of going bad in there. It gets those bugs in it. So, he sold it to her, and she cleared it all out and then we created like a diorama inside there with the natural woods. Then we added the snake, and we added an armadillo and a pheasant. So, that desk got a lot of attention. I remember she and I were discussing it and we were like, “Oh my god, is that just too much?” We were like, “No. Nothing’s too much for Texas.”
That’s fair. That’s fair. Before we wrap up here, were there any particularly challenging sets or locations, whether that was with sourcing the interior decor or just the build in general. Was there anything that really stood out as a challenge that you had to overcome?
Suzuki: I do have to say, anything that we built was a challenge. It was still the tail end of the pandemic.
Suzuki: So, we were not able to get tile. We had to order it from other states. We could not get enough wood. We could not get enough slab doors for the motel rooms. When we did the exteriors of the hotels, I had to change out all the doors. I painted them all those fun colors, but then I had to get rid of the hardware because we have the key fobs now. So, I had to switch it to real hardware. Finding multiples of anything during that time period, we called city after city. I couldn’t find a drafting table for my draftsman. Sourcing everything at that time was hard. The easiest thing was that wallpaper. I was so happy that I went to Astek Wallcovering before I left LA and I just gathered so many samples. I had a world of things that I could choose from, and he could print anything for me. So, that availability was perfect, but everything else was a little bit of a struggle.
Yeah. Well, it looks beautiful, and I think it all really culminates in making this show really special. So, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it. And congratulations on this show, which is all available to watch now!
Suzuki: I know! I can’t wait. I haven’t seen the last episode yet.
Oh! Yeah, it’s wonderful. So, congratulations. Thank you for your time and hearing a little bit behind the scenes. I really appreciate it.
Suzuki: Thank you so much! Bye.
This interview has been edited for clarity.