In season two of “The Knick,” while pioneering surgeon John Thackery (Clive Owen) continues battling personal demons, there’s an expansion into the higher echelon of New York affluence in both production and costume design. This helps broaden the tension between social progress and class disparity in 1901.
This gave production designer Howard Cummings greater opportunities to explore high society in real New York locations. He ventured from Yonkers to Staten Island and everywhere else in between, and even crept into Long Island.
“In season two, we shot in every borough, including a burning building in Yonkers as the new Knick hospital under construction,” explained Cummings. “Location found a Victorian-looking insurance records warehouse built in 1901 and was never completed. But the interior was all brick and fire proof, and they actually set fire to it and shot that at the very end of the schedule.”
Cummings also benefited by the light bulb really taking off in 1901. He “went crazy” with that in the Haymarket [dance hall/brothel in the Manhattan Tenderloin], one of the first venues in the city to use the light bulb.
Location found Cummings a Methodist church hall in Brooklyn’s Bushwick. “I got to install light bulbs everywhere and they had a stage but I added a proscenium arch of metal with an Eiffel Tower feel with light bulbs all around it,” he said.
Director Soderbergh not only continued his use of fluid hand-held shots with the RED on his shoulder, but also did more single takes. And because adjoining sets were built like a location, he could maneuver around very efficiently and combine scenes.
This meant they built sets more like complete rooms at the expanded studio space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “We started doing scenes where Thackery’s in one doctor’s office, moves out into the hall where people are talking and right directly into the next office [for] the second scene. But I had to remove the thresholds on the doorway so Steven could roll through them. He also wanted exterior light to be more prominent.”
When Thackery goes to an amusement hall where he meets a pair of conjoined twin sisters, Cummings had a vision of being in a long hall but they wound up in a Victorian warehouse.
“Steven did everything in one shot, including the outside, which wasn’t scripted,” Cummings recalled. “I actually had to knock a hole in the wall to create a doorway. Fortunately, the building allowed me to put doors back into it and we had a grand entrance.”
Likewise, there was more grandeur to the wardrobes created by costume designer Ellen Mirojnick. “In the second season, we move through different classes and are introduced to Opal [Zaraah Abrahams], the wife of Algernon [Andre Holland, the African-American assistant chief surgeon]. She’s a very independent spirit who comes from Europe and surprises him.”
Thus, French fashion was used in great detail for Opal’s wardrobe, including a pintucked lace dress with tiny buttons and a yoke containing hand-made French lace.
This contrasts nicely with the wardrobe of Cornelia (Juliet Rylance), head of the Knick’s social welfare office. “While there’s a different cultural spin to the layering of the embroidery on Cornelia’s teal velvet dress, it’s as elaborate as the lace on Opal’s costume,” added Mirojnick.
Meanwhile, Thackery continues a transformation after enduring rehab for his heroin addiction. In terms of conveying a rock star image, however, he’s more Keith Richards than David Bowie, particularly with his green velvet jacket.
“As time goes on, he cleans himself up a bit and makes himself more presentable,” continued Mirojnick. “And we try to indicate that by introducing another suit, but it is still a cutaway suit. We give him some different vests that are not part of a three-piece ensemble. And they are more colorful combined with darker shirts and cufflinks that aren’t used…his shirt sleeves hang open. And so they are touches that he plays with [along] with his famous white shoes.”
And Mirojnick acknowledged that there’s an arc to Thackery’s wardrobe as he attempts to prove his latest radical ideas (including hypnosis). “He changes into a very specific striped suit, which serves as the one exclamation point in the arc of his costumes,” she said.