“A Murder at the End of the World” is a complexly constructed series, hopping between two timelines and uncovering several mysteries. Its sets, by production designer Alex DiGerlando, were equally complicated.
The FX on Hulu series follows author, hacker and amateur investigator Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) to a remote hotel in Iceland, where tech billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen) has gathered a group of elite thinkers to discuss the impacts of the climate crisis. The retreat turns deadly when Darby’s old flame and fellow sleuth Bill Farrah (Harris Dickinson) is murdered. She sets out to find the killer as dangerous weather closes in, traversing the frozen landscape and discovering hidden secrets of the hotel in the process.
Creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij conceived the hotel, constructed by Andy and his wife, Lee (Marling), to survive the end of the world, early on when writing the series. Marling explains there were “a lot of written constraints” to the structure.
“There were things that it had to be able to do and achieve as it moves from being a luxury, boutique hotel to feeling more like a fortress to then feeling more like a prison,” Marling says. “It had to be able to cycle through all those different identities.”
Originally, the story was set in Norway, but FX suggested they look at Iceland, a popular shooting location due to its tax incentives (HBO’s “True Detective: North Country” was also shot there last year). Marling, Batmanglij and DiGerlando were immediately intrigued by the Icelandic landscape during a scouting trip.
“It felt like the beginning of the Earth,” Batmanglij says. “We realized that Andy and Lee’s hotel could be fully off the grid. This thing that looks like a luxury hotel on the surface is actually this palatial bunker. A safe room in a house [is] a thing of the past. The new version is a whole place where you could live for years. That became a really exciting thing to put on screen.”
Constructing the circular hotel
It quickly became clear that an existing building couldn’t meet all the demands of the story, so the team decided to construct Andy’s retreat from scratch. Marling and Batmanglij wanted a circular hotel where all of the rooms looked outward.
“It felt like the circle in the snow was such an important image,” Marling says. “In part because of how much the story wanted to talk about time and the present sending you back into the past. As you remember the past, you rewrite it and then that carries you into the present again differently. We thought of the hotel as the hands of time.”
DiGerlando took inspiration from the Chinese walled villages known as Hakka and English castles, as well as Scandinavian and Japanese design.
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