‘Queens’ Production Designer Goes Inside the ABC Drama, Teases Changes for Eve’s Pregnancy
ABC’s Queens immediately won us over with its memorable premiere and its continuous balance of drama, heartfelt moments, upbeat musical scenes, and beautiful camaraderie. And while they may be overlooked, the incredible sets of the Los Angeles-set series shine while simultaneously supporting the actors.
The reunited hip hop quartet — Brianna (Eve), Naomi (Brandy), Valeria (Nadine Velazquez), and Jill (Naturi Naughton) — navigate the music industry twenty years after the height of their fame. We see stage concerts, music videos, and the musicians’ day-to-day lives in their homes and hotel suites.
TV Insider caught up with P. Erik Carlson, Queens’ production designer, and dove into the intriguing behind-the-scenes work that we don’t often notice while watching our favorite shows.
What changed from your initial plans for Queens during the season?
P. Erik Carlson: The biggest change that has affected us that has now come out in the press would be Eve’s pregnancy. All four women are in just about every single scene together [and] because of that, design elements have changed a ton to compensate. Even things like her permanent sets have had to change quite a bit. I can’t talk about too much of it, the way that they are going to deal with her character.
When it comes to the homes, what do you want them to say about each of the characters?
Eve’s character, Brianna, is probably the best example of that. The show mostly takes place in Los Angeles and, currently, she and Nadine’s character, Valeria, are the only two that technically live in Los Angeles. Naturi’s character, Jill, and Brandy’s character, Naomi, are basically both in hotels for the first several episodes. Knowing we wanted to emulate how [Jill’s] coming out of her shell and becoming a sexier, more confident character, we put her in a hotel suite that reflected that.
Brianna’s [home], that’s a permanent set, both the upstairs and the downstairs. That’s really where we got to delve into her character a bit more and focus on the chaos that goes around having five children and more or less being a single mom. The set decorator, Tasha Clarkson, did a great job. She found a local Atlanta artist that does these amazing quilt art pieces that add interesting pops of color in the background that could be highlighted in a lot of different scenes.
How does the choreography and the movement within the performances and the music videos impact the design of the space?
[It’s] mostly in terms of the amount of space we want to provide the dancers. We try to coordinate as much as we can on the short timeline that we have with Fatima [Robinson], who is our dance choreographer. She is able to look at a plan that I create and let me know if they need more space or want a section where there could be a height difference so they can have dancers up on a platform or be able to create the movement coming down from a platform.
Where did your inspiration for the arena set come from?
In the script, it basically just said a heart and crown. We went through about four different design ideas for how to incorporate that. The writer, Zahir [McGhee], said he was somewhat picturing a Kanye [West] concert, just very loosely he had referenced it. It was more the three-dimensional aspect of the set piece. It was just trying to make it more of an object as opposed to a two-dimensional flat piece, whether it’s up on a screen or down on the stage floor. That was one of the big motivational aspects of the design.
How would it translate to work on an actual live performance set after creating these sets for behind the camera?
Interesting, I’ve never thought about that. I see it the same way I see theater. I’ve never done a Broadway show or a theater piece, just because that feels like such a different beast than what I’m used to, designing for the frame of a camera. I know concerts, much like working on commercials, are very fast-paced as well. It’s a totally different world and one that I’m not familiar with at all. In our situation, we have to put it up and then take it down so we can trash it when we take it down. Those situations, you have to do a design and fabricate those pieces so that they can go up, come down, be packed up, shipped to the next location, unpacked, and re-set up over and over again.
What has been your favorite set to design on Queens so far?
That’s like choosing one of your children. I’ve been really happy with the sets that we’ve designed for this show. I would say right now I’d probably be leaning towards our recording studio set. I like the warmth. It feels like a very moody, intimate space. Because of that, we have written more scenes in there, not just for specific characters, but in general, we’ve brought a lot of scenes in there. Our cinematographers have done an amazing job with the lighting in there to accent the ceilings.
You always get asked as a designer, are any ‘Easter eggs’ in a set? There’s a 24 track, two inch tape deck that recorded the original Thriller album [in the studio]. It turned out a neat set with some great back stories.
Is there anything specific from your past projects that you found useful for your work on Queens?
Yes and no. I didn’t come from that world. I’m a 48-year-old white guy from Seattle, Washington, so what do I know about the hip hop world in Queens, New York in 1993 to present day? I wanted to do the show, but I also wanted to do the show justice and I knew I would put a lot of pressure on myself to make all of the details right. It’s funny, [I was told] “Actually you have done this show before. This show is sort of a mix of Desperate Housewives meets Empire. Take that Desperate Housewives world and just mix in the musical aspect of it.”
Queens, Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC