‘The Regime’ Production Designer Was Inspired by Dictators and an Ex-POTUS for the HBO Limited Series

Hard-pressed as one would be these days to think of a situation in which a bungling dictator turns a nation inside out (wink, wink), HBO’s savage satirical comedy “The Regime” takes this idea to the mat.

Kate Winslet assumes the role of an ill-spoken, environmentally paranoid but impeccably appointed chancellor who runs an unnamed nation in a compound-like palace with the help of a rough-and-tumble soldier (Matthias Schoenaerts) whom she tasks with everything from odd jobs to sexual gratification.

Production designer Kave Quinn used massive interiors to create a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of rooms and catacombs. “The project involved a lot of research and the observation of the ridiculousness of, for instance, a picture of Vladimir Putin addressing some of his colleagues, and how far away they have to be,” Quinn said. “I’ve seen interviews with him belittling people, so I think the use of space is quite critical.”

Kate Winslet in “The Regime.” (HBO)
Kate Winslet in “The Regime.” (HBO)

The limited series — created by Will Tracy and directed by Jessica Hobbs and Stephen Frears — is unsparing in its parody. And most arrestingly, the grand citadel at the center of the story serves as the primary locale for all of the series’ action, with its spaces including a full library, a dungeon-like jail, a garden and even a discotheque.

“We filmed in some of the grand interiors in Vienna and Schönbrunn Palace and then added set extensions to make it look bigger,” Quinn said. “We wanted the building to appear a bit like Nicolae Ceaușescu’s palace in Romania.” (It’s not a coincidence that Winslet’s character is named Elena, the same as Ceaușescu’s spouse, who was executed with him on Christmas Day, 1989 for crimes of genocide.) “But then we also added to all her personal spaces, like her apartment, bedroom, her bathroom wall and the cabinet office, which were all set builds.”

Deepening the sumptuousness of “The Regime” is a distinct color palette, with nearly every backdrop, costume and even lighting gel shimmering in some form of red, white and blue. The colors are a canny nod to America being the major adversarial disruption in Elena’s plans, presented in human form by a bullish U.S. senator played by Martha Plimpton.

“The starting point was the flag,” Quinn said, noting the tri-colored appendages in the show’s opening credits, immediately signaling a skewed point of view. “We looked at lots of countries that put animal emblems on the flags as well, and how we could incorporate the leopard into it. And [the colors] all had to tie into whatever Kate was going to be wearing. And then in her apartment, I thought it’d be quite good to go dark since it’s her inner sanctum. If she’s decorating, that’s what her taste is.”

Similarities between Winslet’s character and real-life politicians pontificating in over-appointed rooms at, for instance, Mar-a-Lago, is intentional, according to Quinn. “(Mar-a-Lago) was one of my references as well as other obvious ones,” she said. “We looked at a Kremlin New Year’s party that was televised with all of these strange people. It was a real gift from Will (to ask us to design) these really interesting spaces where people were either convening or partying or plotting.”

This story first ran in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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