From ‘Ripley’ in Italy to ‘True Detective’ in Iceland, How Locations Were Key For Top Emmy Contenders (2024)

Michael Schneider

·4 min read

From ‘Ripley’ in Italy to ‘True Detective’ in Iceland, How Locations Were Key For Top Emmy Contenders (2)

I think I can say this on behalf of the entire collective of reporters who cover television: Nothing makes us groan more than when a series star or producer refers to the setting as another “character” in their show. (Actually, I take that back, something else causes even heavier eye rolls: When a performer says their co-stars are “like a family.”)

And yet, I may have to temper my cynicism. Because in the era of prestige TV, often quite a bit of work and effort goes into making the show’s location pop — so much so that I’m almost as excited to watch the background as I am the action.

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Could it be that the cliché is right? It certainly feels that way in some of this year’s Emmy contenders, much to the credit of the production designers and location scouts who make that happen. For example, watching Giancarlo Esposito take control of his life through any means necessary in AMC’s “Parish” is powerful — but the fact that he’s doing it in New Orleans makes it an entirely elevated experience. (Watching “Parish” right before my family took a spring break trip to the Big Easy definitely gave us something to think about.)

You can feel the cold and the unsettling sense that you’re isolated way up north in HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country” and FX’s “A Murder at the End of the World,” both of which shot in Iceland. (Iceland played itself in “Murder” and Alaska in “True Detective.”) And besides taking me on a visual trip back to Chicago, Season 2 of “The Bear” gave us a crash course on the hottest Windy City restaurants of the moment.

But of all the series out there right now, Netflix’s “Ripley” might take viewers on the most glorious trip. Perhaps I don’t want to bump into Tom Ripley (although star Andrew Scott makes for a good Variety cover), I do want to jump into the screen and experience 1960s Italy the way he does.

I rang up “Ripley” production designer David Gropman to let him know that I’m desperate to get to Italy after watching his series — and get some travel tips on how to find that specifically 1960s-era version of the country that he re-created for the limited series.

Gropman had already worked in Italy, for Hulu’s limited series “Catch-22,” when his old pal Steve Zaillian (they worked together on “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and “A Civil Action”) recruited him for “Ripley.” Gropman was scouting Italy for “Ripley” in January 2021 at the height of COVID, which turned out to be the perfect time to get out there and turn Zaillian’s script into reality. Because the country was on lockdown, it was like exploring an empty canvas.

“We were living in [the] Italy of 1960 in 2021 because of COVID,” he says. “The streets were empty. We scouted Venice and there were no people, or even pigeons, in Piazza San Marco. We got to see everything without a single tourist. And without a lot of Italians. We got to be in train stations that weren’t bustling and crowded. So yeah, It turned out to be a bit of a blessing — which is an unfortunate thing to say with the situation.”

Gropman says he prefers to design a city setting in the actual place — and will sometimes turn down jobs that require faking one city as another, particularly when the city plays an important part in the project.

Period pieces are another challenge, even in U.S. cities like New York, which has visually changed so much over the years. “The amount of work we had to do for the little bit of New York that you see in ‘Ripley’ is really heavy,” he says. “Italy was so much better, there’s plenty of untouched moments, and there’s just so much great architecture there to take advantage of. It’s just so inspirational. Because you’re in Italy, and because of the culture and talent that surrounds you, you can’t help but be a little bit more expressive in your work. If I dare say, I feel like a little bit of opera snuck into the design of the series.”

An inspiring location that leads to beautiful design? Sounds like a great character for a TV show.

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From ‘Ripley’ in Italy to ‘True Detective’ in Iceland, How Locations Were Key For Top Emmy Contenders (2024)


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