(Baranski said of her character, “She’s a great snob, but who wouldn’t want to play a snob written by Julian Fellowes?”)
Sets were built on Long Island soundstages, including for the numerous rooms of the Russell mansion, decorated with period-appropriate fabrics and patterns made by some of the same European companies that manufactured the originals in the 1800s. A backyard built at the nearby Museum of American Armor, in Old Bethpage, NY, housed the imposing buildings and lavish interiors that together mimic a stretch of 19th-century Manhattan’s East Side. (The show also uses locations in Troy, NY and Newport, RI)
Bob Shaw, the show’s production designer, said that compared to previous HBO series he’d worked on, including “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” “this is the biggest build I’ve ever made.”
“We kept drawing and doing illustrations, and they kept saying yes,” Shaw added. “You draw a big staircase and you wait for someone to say, ‘Well, how many times do they go up the stairs?’ And that never happened.”
Cast members read favorite Edith Wharton and Henry James novels in preparation for filming, and were taught Gilded Age history, etiquette, diction and social customs.
“Business card culture was an intricate, delicate dance,” Jacobson said. ‘If you went to the opera and you met a lady from the society with whom you want to keep your position, you would drop off your business card at her house. Like, hey, I want to hang out with you – I want you to like me.”