‘Fatal Attraction’: How Minimalist Art, Horse Figurines and Messy Cupboards Reflected Alex’s State of Mind

“Fatal Attraction” production designer Nina Ruscio’s visual challenge was taking on an iconic movie, paying homage to it and finding a way to put her creative stamp on it by taking it into 2023.

In the eight-part Paramount+ series, Joshua Jackson stars as Dan Gallagher with Lizzy Caplan as Alex Forrest, roles originated by Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in the original film. And while it’s not a remake, the creative team stressed, it’s an expanded adaptation that provides more insight into Alex’s behavior after an affair with a married man drives her to obsession. The series covers Alex’s struggles with her mental health, but it’s also an erotic thriller.

To tap into Ruscio’s behavior and show her state of mind, Ruscio paid close attention to Alex’s apartment. In contrast, Dan’s world was rooted in the courtroom.

Here the production designer breaks down her ideas behind each set.

The Apartment

There are so many specific retro elements of the film that I kissed onto, particularly in Alex’s apartment and setting it in Downtown Los Angeles. That was really critical to the sistering of the original film in New York, and the idea that you could be in a deep rugged urban environment.

That felt raw and appropriate to place Alex in. And also placing Dan in the court system, and emphasizing the normalcy of all that, in contrast to the slightly heightened reality.

Alex is composing and curating her life. She is very much a victim and a creation of her own imagination. As a storyteller, that felt critical to me to set her in an environment where her imagery was larger than life.

Alex has had burdens and she’s made choices that cripple her. Her move to L.A. is to start with a clean slate. Part of her story is presenting herself to the world as if she’s capable, put together and controlled. Couple with the idea of purity of the white from the original film. Those two things worked psychologically. She’s matching her imposter syndrome. She’s trying to be present, as if she’s got her life completely together, when in fact, all she can do is keep things from unraveling.

Inside the cupboards, everything is chaotic.

There are select objects such as postcards that she loved from her childhood, and horse figurines that are also part of her childhood. Those things are displayed that could be exposed to part of her personality. There’s restricted art in her loft, black and white, not triggering. It’s more about the texture and the surfaces that come through the hopeful vista of Los Angeles.

Her appliances are retro. We kept things calm and that was a lot of the anchoring aesthetics in the apartment. Shauna Aronson was our set decorator on this. If she was to let anyone into her life, they would have to only see what she wanted to expose.

Alex’s loft is based on the idea that she lives on top of the Palace Theatre. The reason that story is powerful is because it’s the fantasy of romance. She wishes she could be a heroine. She’s living on top of a building from the ’20s and there’s a history to the space. And with the loft, in the ’80s, that was the coolest place you could imagine living in no matter who you were. You wanted to live in a loft and it was undiscovered territory because it felt like you were pioneering. And she is a pioneer in a way, coming from Seattle to L.A. The retro appliances such as the old stove, are subtle touches that make sense economically.

The Courtroom

The normalcy of the court world was key. I stand on the shoulders of a zillion people who have designed courtrooms. Those courtrooms need to be ubiquitous and need never trigger you to feel that you’re not in a real place. But those municipal spaces also come from a history of aesthetics that can be really beautiful.

We tried to do was create this normalcy of an environment of a municipal space. There’s marble, tile and stuff that’s in heritage buildings.

Dan can step back into that visual world 15 years later, or 40 years earlier, and it would still be the same visual world because those worlds don’t change.

We wanted it to be luxurious for the eye, but never to make you feel that you were in any place except for a municipal space. So, it’s an amalgam of aesthetics from different parts of the country that, I think make that space feel very much like you’ve been there before, and you’ll go there again.

Inside the courtroom hallways, there’s a frieze all along the upper hallway. We custom-made tiles in all of the palettes from 15 years ago. When you’re looking at it, it feels normal, but we used it to teach everyone about the palette of the time period.

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