Known for reviving the anthology genre, American Horror Story has risen to the challenge of creating heightened theatrical television. Mark Worthington, the show’s intrepid production designer since season one, has applied his skills to the show’s most extravagant set yet. The “set” in fact is a misnomer, as Worthington and his team designed and built a real hotel: an actual 360 degree world with ceilings on everything.
In the story, the hotel was built by James Patrick Marsh (Evan Peters), the most prolific serial killer of his time. With this premise in mind, the production team set about reflecting the owner’s dark sensibility through the details in the true to life lobby, hallways, secret rooms and a 1930s Art Deco working bar. Such a specific tone lent itself to the eery atmosphere the crew was able to create within seven weeks time! Worthington stated, “Ryan (Murphy) describes the tone and feeling he wants, and the crew intends to convey the narrative as palpable.” The textures and saturated decadence help the hotel become a character in itself. For instance, the lobby carpet (a nod to Stanley Kubrick‘s film, The Shining), with it’s chaotic, geometric pattern, heightens a feeling a vertigo as soon as one enters the building. Despite the magnificently planned details, Worthington related that it all came together in an astonishingly short time because, “It isn’t just people who are skilled, but who work well together.”
The harmony of the workmanship shows in all departments, especially under the auspices of makeup artist, Eryn Krueger Mekash. A three time Emmy winner, Krueger Mekash has collaborated with Ryan Murphy for thirteen years. Their projects include Glee and the film, Running With Scissors. “Freak Show was so massive because of the sheer number of actors, but Hotel was a different concept because of the large amount of creepy creatures.” The show is also known for its bloody slashed throats, which she explained is created by rigging tubes with fire extinguishers.
Of working with Lady Gaga, who played The Countess, Krueger Mekash noted, “She was so lovely, creative and optimistic.” One of the makeup artist’s favorite scenes was working with Gaga and the actor Finn Wittrock, who portrayed both Tristan (The Countess’ lover) and Rudolph Valentino (the true love of the Countess’ life). The audience was already familiar with Tristan and his modern day model/punk look, so she and her crew turned him into the iconic Valentino with contacts and an intricate prosthetic nose. They simulated 1920s era tone and used stylized makeup to turn Wittrock into the idolized Latin lover.
The costumes, which spanned from the 1920s to current day, added to the sumptuously decadent theme. Costume designer, Lou Eyrich, who has also worked with Murphy for fifteen years, explained that, “People who have come to the hotel get stuck in time. Some characters died in the 1930s and some in the 90s.” The designer employed uniquely high styled fashion to depict the different eras, especially in dressing The Countess. Reams of designer haute couture were flown in for Lady Gaga, and the entertainer even generously offered some of her own jewelry and accessories, which production would never be able to afford otherwise.
One of Eyrich’s most notable challenges was designing for the episode, “Devil’s Knight,” in which she went about recreating specific looks for a roundtable of some of the most depraved serial killers of our time, including Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy in clown costume and the manic Aileen Wuornos.
Lily Rabe‘s aesthetic while playing Wuornos was especially memorable. Eyrich noted that she “worked closely with production design, hair, makeup and props to really make the audience feel as if these people lived on.” The culmination of the crew’s talent has indeed made American Horror Story’s Hotel installment one of the most indelible shows in recent history.