By Terry Trucco
From North by Northwest and Sleepless in Seattle to Crocodile Dundee, it’s hard to imagine a hotel with more Hollywood screen time than The Plaza. Last year alone the hotel racked up vivid cameos in The Great Gatsby and American Hustle.
How vivid? Both films snapped up Academy Award nominations for Production Design.
With American Hustle burning through theaters with its roller-coaster riff on the Abscam scandal, I checked in with The Plaza to learn how the city’s renowned Gilded Age hotel got down for the disco era.
Turns out The Plaza only posed for exterior shots. (The hotel’s deep-dish 2009 renovation
wiped out all traces of the 1970s.) But the hotel worked closely with the production team to make certain no anachronisms, like Lexus SUVs or guests talking on cellphones, were anywhere in sight the day of the shoot. “We closed off the front entrance and cleared our cars for a few hours in the early morning so their crew could come in and recreate the entrance a la 1970’s. It was a lot of fun actually,” a hotel spokesperson says.
The hotel interiors, all dizzying hues and flocked wallpaper, were recreated in a studio in Woburn, Massachusetts by production designer Judy Becker, whose design credits include Silver Linings Playbook, Brokeback Mountain and The Fighter. The sets included two suites – the “crummy suite” too humble to impress bigwigs, and the sprawling “General Sherman Suite,” where the action unfolds.
I asked Becker how she dreamed up — and kitted out — The Plaza for its Studio 54 turn.
Did you study pictures of the Carter-era Plaza or did you simply imagine how those prewar rooms might have looked in the days of flocked wallpaper?
We did study pictures of The Plaza rooms during the 60s and 70s. We based our design on this research, then expanded beyond exact literalness to meet the needs of the story and the visual world we were creating.
How difficult was it to recreate the two suites?
It’s always a challenge when building such a large set to create a realism that will draw the audience in. In that regard we paid enormous attention to detail, the degree of wear and tear the hotel would have had, period accurate décor and decorative architectural details.
The flocked wallpaper captures the zeitgeist of the movie. And I love that it’s navy instead of red.
I wanted a high contrast wallpaper so that the flocking would be noticeable and chose navy on a pale blue instead of black and white as more period accurate. Also, blue was a strong part of our palette. The palette we chose for the movie was primarily blue and yellow, based on the period and the glamorous world we were conveying.
The wallpaper deserves its own credit. Was it made for the movie?
My decorator Heather Loeffler found a wallpaper manufacturer who was able to customize the colors of the flocked pattern. We experimented with the navy on several different shades of very pale blue and tested them with the cinematographer and costume designer before coming up with the final version.
Are there any cool details a viewer might miss?
We added a thin line of gold leaf trim to most of the moldings when it seemed appropriate. The viewer might see not this consciously, but subliminally it adds a layer of luxury.