Nina Ruscio remembers seeing the blockbuster psychosexual thriller “Fatal Attraction” when it was released in 1987 and the controversy that followed it, the “deep psychic weight” and “issues of misogyny and mental health” that surrounded the hit about marriage and infidelity that starred Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer. “It crossed a lot of the wires of psychic intensity at the time,” she recalls. So when the opportunity arose for Ruscio to serve as the production designer on the new eight-part “Fatal Attraction” reboot for Paramount+, she knew that if she signed on, there was some risk she’d find herself in the middle of a new firestorm. But she trusted her instincts in saying yes.
“I was attracted to (showrunner) Alexandra Cunningham’s intention to actually reset the story in a contemporary time look and at Alex’s reasons for her circumstance,” Ruscio says, “and Dan’s for his, and the choices they make, neither of which were deeply explored in the original film. That, and addressing the state of mental health in the country today. Those were attractive aspects. I was trepidatious stepping into a project of this historical impact cinematically, but I felt it was in the right hands.” See our exclusive video interview above.
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Alex is Alex Forrest, memorably played by Close in the feature and Lizzy Caplan in the series. Dan is Dan Gallagher, portrayed by Douglas in the film and Joshua Jackson in the series. They fall into an ill-advised, ultimately ill-fated extramarital affair that winds up in Dan convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. As the series opens in the present day, he’s been paroled and looks to restart his life, with the details of their relationship and his previous life as a successful lawyer and adulterous husband cavorting with Alex told in flashback. But unlike in the movie, there is less clarity in the reboot as to assigning blame. In fact, the audience sees things from both Alex’s and Dan’s point of view, as well as that of Dan’s wife in the flashback, Beth (Archer in the movie, Amanda Peet in the series). That also appealed to Ruscio.
“Both Dan and Alex are trying to live their best life (in the flashback to the early 2000s),” she observes. “Alex comes down to Los Angeles from Seattle to start over. Dan is on the rise (in his career), he thinks to become a judge. Each is rising in their own personal and emotional success, but they get everything knocked out from under them due to the very bad choices (they make).”
So how was this reflected in Ruscio’s design work on the show? She designed a beautiful Downtown L.A. loft for Alex to live in, “an environment that made it feel like she was (dedicated to) a fresh start and an idealized life. It also paid respect and homage to the meat market area where Alex lived in the original film. The loft isn’t triggering for her and and presents as if she has everything under control.” In terms of Dan’s world, he’s hanging around a beautiful, modern home in the flashback, working in a sleek courthouse setting, and hanging out at a high-end restaurant for his food and booze. “In his world, he’s king of the hill,” Ruscio explains of her designs for his character.
Ruscio believes in full build-outs on her designs, interior and exterior. Both the courthouse and courtrooms (as well as the hallways) and the loft sets were built from scratch. She doesn’t do found locations even though it might be easier and cheaper. To her mind, it’s all about being able to tell an authentic story visually. “My job is background, but it’s also to subtly impose upon the viewer the psychological state of the characters and the settings,” she believes. “I hope to be a visual storyteller, and the supplement and complement anything written on the page. You really should be able to watch a film or a series and really watch it – with no sound and no dialogue – and really be able to tell the same story that the directors and producers are trying to tell.”
The limited series reboot of “Fatal Attraction” streams on Paramount+, with the final two of eight episodes now premiering.
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