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Kristen Wiig, Team Talk Crafting Period Comedy

Kristen Wiig, Team Talk Crafting Period Comedy

Palm Royale got a lot of mileage out of its impressive cast, notably the women. But Kristen Wiig, Allison Janney, Laura Dern and even the legendary Carol Burnett needed help to create the titular Palm Beach private club and 1960s-set high society that Maxine Dellacorte Simmons (Wiig) spends the first season trying to infiltrate. That shared assignment fell to a collaborative group including creator and showrunner Abe Sylvia, director and producer Tate Taylor, set decorator Ellen Reede and composer Jeff Toyne. With 10 episodes of the lush Apple TV+ comedy in the books, that foursome joined Wiig, also a producer, and supporting player Josh Lucas (Maxine’s complicated husband, Douglas) for a discussion about the lengths they went to in crafting the show — breaking and entering, whale calls and all.

How much did this ensemble that you landed inform the arc of the show — and where all these characters ended up going?

TATE TAYLOR On a daily basis.

ABE SYLVIA It impacted it tremendously. When Carol Burnett agreed to do it, I had to go back to the writers room and say —

KRISTEN WIIG “She has to wake up!”

Was there a version of this show where Carol’s character is just comatose the entire season?

SYLVIA Correct. We had already massaged it in that, slowly but surely, [her character] Norma would become aware of what was going on around her. But once we got Carol, we had to turn that up.

TAYLOR It’s a testament to these ladies that Carol Burnett said, “When I heard who was in this, it was an automatic yes, because these are my heroes.” And to have a 90-plus legend speak of these women as her heroes? It was pretty cool.

Can you talk to me about establishing the visuals? You obviously couldn’t shoot in Palm Beach … or the 1960s.

ELLEN REEDE It was really important to us that there were these lush, incredible environments that would support the characters. The ladies always shined, but that environment had to support that.

TAYLOR And you can’t shoot in Palm Beach, unless you’re CNN in front of Mar-a-Lago. That’s it.

SYLVIA And sometimes, not even then.

REEDE It started with a trip Tate and Jon Carlos, our production designer, took down to Palm Beach. A lot of it’s changed, but seeing the history that was there … trying to break into The Breakers.

TAYLOR I said, “We got to go look in [the hotel].” But it’s like our show, our Palm Royale. You can’t go in. I was in board shorts and flip-flops, and I broke into the club through a back door. I was caught and kind of roughly escorted out. But I did it for the art.

Jeff, what was your mission statement with the music?

JEFF TOYNE I just had to live up to what was on the screen — so many layers and details and vibrant color. That allowed us to dig into some of our favorite music from the ’60s, because the stuff that we loved also did that — had terrific color and scope.

SYLVIA We wanted it to feel like a movie from 1969 that broke the studio. Before transitioning to the Easy Rider mindset, they were spending more and more on these movies — big orchestras, big production. So we have a full orchestra, and Jeff was able to record many of the songs in the studios where Henry Mancini recorded — in this mission of maximalism.

JOSH LUCAS How does that impact the process, being in a space like that?

TOYNE Inspiring, to say the least. And having live musicians, in some ways there’s more work, but there’s also less work because the music gets mixed in the room.

There are a lot of fantastical elements at play here, a beached whale, an astronaut falling from the sky, many wild coincidences. What kind of guardrails were there in the writers room to make sure the show remained grounded?

SYLVIA The guiding principle for everybody is, “Make the choice that delights yourself.” If it delights you, it will come through onscreen. When we were developing the arc of season one, the idea was being on the journey with Maxine. She’s trying to get into this world that she knows all about, but the audience doesn’t. So you’re learning about these people in real time. And as she gets into the world, the things that she has to do to keep up appearances become more and more absurd. She’s on this sinking ship, and she’s just plugging the holes as fast as she can. That’s where the absurdity comes from, and it’s a human absurdity.

WIIG It’s also reflective of movies and sitcoms from that time. You would just go to the movies and this thing that would never really happen, you’d just accept it because it’s in the movie. We love that sort of escape, so we wanted to embrace that and pay homage to that kind of storytelling.

Josh, your character — or at least what we know about him — changes the most during 10 episodes. How do you work? Did you want it all laid out for you or to learn it episode by episode?

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LUCAS It was learn as you go — also developing and changing. So, for Douglas, it was a particularly interesting challenge because I don’t think he’s very bright. But he’s from this world. He exists within it. He’s totally comfortable within it. My big takeaway from this show is that so much of what we’re seeing in entertainment these days has a message. This is like Pillow Talk, just a work of joyful entertainment. I do think there’s terrific subtext to it, though, this world where people are living inside a cataclysmic time in America and totally don’t care. They don’t even want to care.

Kristen, is that how you work — or does being a producer not give you much of a choice?

WIIG I did need to know where she ended up in order to know how to get there. Producing it, too, I did want all of the information. But in every scene, you find new things — or a person you’re doing a scene with will do something surprising. There’s little tweaks along the way, which I find really exciting, because you don’t want to know everything.

Tate, what was the most challenging scene or episode to execute, of the ones that you directed?

TAYLOR Well, the pilot was hard because Ricky Martin is barely in it. That was challenging. But the finale was really tough. There were a lot of things coming to a head that had been brewing all season, and it all goes down in one night. And we were in one location. As a director, you don’t want it to feel like you’re in one room the whole time. So I worked with Jon Carlos and you guys and we came up with ways to make that tent feel like it had different parts. And we have mermaids on trapeze.

Kristen, what required more prep, learning whale calls or singing like Peggy Lee?

WIIG I think whale calls. I actually googled [them] and practiced in my house. I really wanted to sound like a whale.

SYLVIA The preparation paid off. You did it in one take.

This feature was produced and curated by THR editors and is presented by Apple TV+.

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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