The real-life drama behind filming locations for ‘Stranger Things,’ ‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘Only Murders in the Building’ and other Emmy favorites
What do a pub in London, a 113-year-old apartment building in New York City, a former mental hospital in Atlanta, a luxury resort in Hawaii, a sprawling office complex in New Jersey and a mausoleum in one of the South’s largest cemeteries have in common?
On some of this year’s top Emmy-nominated shows, these places play roles as important as any character. And off-screen, they all have their own dramatic stories.
Here’s a glimpse at the real-life locations behind some of TV’s most popular places, and what we learned talking with some of the people who know them best.
A pub where everyone knows your name
On “Ted Lasso,” The Crown and Anchor is the pub where AFC Richmond fans watch and heckle the team’s matches, where Ted wins a memorable game of darts and where he shares many a folksy American one-liner while sipping a pint in a place that’s quintessentially British.
What it is real life: The Prince’s Head pub in London’s Richmond borough
The backstory you haven’t heard: British actor Emmy McMorrow already loved her neighborhood and its local watering holes. But she says it wasn’t until an American tourist asked her to snap a photo of him on a bench there that she realized a TV show was featuring Richmond’s charms on-screen. Now McMorrow leads tours of exterior “Ted Lasso” shooting locations (interior scenes are shot in a studio), and she says the pub is always a favorite destination.
“It’s the thing everyone wants to see…because it’s the heart of the show,” she says. “The pub is like our community center. It’s like the heart of the British community. It’s your friends. It’s your community.”
The team behind “Ted Lasso” built an in-studio version of the pub for filming the show. “It does really, really look like the (actual) pub,” McMorrow says. And visitors to the real location may now even spot bartenders wearing shirts supporting the fictional “AFC Richmond” club.
How history shaped it: The pub’s history in the neighborhood dates back well over a century. It sits on Richmond Green, which, according to a borough history website, has been surrounded by houses and commercial establishments “for 400 years at least.”
A stately New York landmark known for a ‘long history of disputes’
On “Only Murders in the Building,” the Arconia is full of quirky, only-in-New York personalities, with a gorgeous interior courtyard and an unfortunate track record of homicide.
What it is in real life: The Belnord, an apartment building on New York’s Upper West Side
The backstory you haven’t heard: The Belnord spans a full block in Manhattan and, even before becoming the setting for the hit Hulu series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, it was catching the attention of passersby.
“It’s sort of thrilling just to walk by it,” says Julia Vitullo-Martin, who’s lived at the Belnord since 1975 and is the executive director of the Belnord Landmark Conservancy.
“The archways lead to our wonderful courtyard. It’s such an extraordinary amenity in New York, because every square inch counts, and here we have 22,000 square feet of courtyard space,” Vitullo-Martin says.
These days, Vitullo-Martin says many a fan of the show can be seen snapping a selfie near the archways.
At first, she says, many residents of the building bristled at the idea of filming near their homes. But eventually they struck a deal with producers that only exterior scenes would be shot there, Vitullo-Martin says, and that residents of the Belnord would have the chance to be cast as extras on the show.
How history shaped it: Construction of the Belnord finished in 1909. In addition to its beauty, the building is also known for a “long history of disputes,” Vitullo-Martin says. Luxury condos in the building now sell for millions of dollars. But for years, a notorious slumlord who controlled the property wouldn’t even let residents spruce up their own units. “Under the stealth of night people would sneak in a new appliance via 87th street to their apartments. Because what were you going to do?” Vitullo-Martin recalls.
In the 1990s, she says, a new owner found the building in “terrible disrepair,” with its storied courtyard caving in. His investment turned the Belnord’s fortunes around. And now the Hulu show has given Realtors another selling point.
An abandoned mental hospital, reborn as a government lab
In the Hawkins National Laboratory, a secretive government-run facility featured in “Stranger Things,” scientists conduct mind control experiments, subjects are held against their will and its basement tunnels connect to a creepy alternate dimension called the Upside Down.
What it is in real life: “Building A” on Emory University’s Briarcliff Campus
The backstory you haven’t heard: In addition to its pivotal role in “Stranger Things,” the brutalist building has appeared in many other film and television productions. “I had a production designer once refer to Building A as an exoskeleton that’s perfect for making it into just about any kind of institutional setting they need — from a bustling hospital to a sedate bank lobby to a nondescript government office,” the university’s head of film production and management recently told Emory magazine. “And the building’s interiors are so varied you can shoot a number of scenes right next to each other and they’ll look like they’ve been filmed at completely different locations.”
But the building’s days as a popular filming site appear to be numbered. The Emory Wheel student newspaper recently reported that Building A is slated to be demolished as part of plans to renovate the Briarcliff campus into a senior living community.
How history shaped it: The 42-acre property where the building sits was originally the site of the vast estate of Coca Cola heir Asa Candler Jr. The Georgia Mental Health Institute was built there in the 1960s and served as a treatment center for decades. A brochure for the institute once boasted of the building’s “ultra-modern design” and the state’s “forward looking attitude in the field of mental health.”
After the institute shut down, it was used as an office building by Emory faculty. In 2001, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described one professor’s attempts to create a cozier environment by adding rugs, leather furniture and ficus trees to the space, noting there were still “steel grids over the windows that kept the suicidal from leaping and the criminally insane from escaping.”
A luxury resort that found new life during a pandemic lockdown
The resort in “The White Lotus” features numerous beachfront amenities, jaw-dropping views of Hawaii’s natural beauty and brightly colored rooms that reflect the personalities of the characters staying in them. It’s a gorgeous destination, but the show’s protagonists quickly find trouble in paradise.
What it is in real life: Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
The backstory you haven’t heard: The coronavirus pandemic had virtually shut down tourism around the globe, and a state order forced the Four Seasons Resort Maui and other Hawaii hotels to close their doors temporarily. The normally fully booked resort was still closed when an HBO team asked about shooting “The White Lotus” there.
“We took a leap of faith that this was the right thing to do at a really strange time, and it all worked out amazingly,” says Crissa Hiranaga, a spokeswoman for the resort.
Suddenly having a large block of rooms reserved for the show and its production staff “was the best way to reopen the hotel, get people back on the payroll and do it in a super safe way,” Hiranaga says.
There are some big differences between the satire’s storyline and a real-life stay in the hotel, she says — and the room décor is much kitschier than the Four Seasons’ more modern style.
“It makes it look a little bit garish,” Hiranaga says.
Even though “The White Lotus” depicts dream vacations gone awry, Hiranaga says the real-life resort has still seen a recent increase in interest from travelers. And the show comes up frequently with visitors, too.
“You can’t walk around the property without hearing people talk about it,” she says.
At one of the resort’s bars, now there’s even an off-menu cocktail dubbed “The White Lotus.”
How history shaped it: The Hawaiian property, which opened in 1990, was the Four Seasons’ first-ever resort, Hiranaga says.
A research lab that inspired Nobel prize-winning discoveries
On “Severance,” a long driveway and vast parking lot lead Mark Scout back to Lumon’s corporate headquarters every day. He walks through a desolate, modern atrium before taking an elevator into a mysterious world of cubicles and white, windowless corridors.
What it is in real life: Bell Works, a redeveloped mixed use office space in Holmdel, New Jersey
The backstory you haven’t heard: The original aim for the building complex, which opened in the early 1960s, was to “bring about 6,000 of the greatest minds in the world together,” Ralph Zucker says. Back then it was Bell Labs, a famed research hub known for groundbreaking discoveries. Now it’s Bell Works, a redeveloped office complex that includes a food hall and numerous other amenities.
“If you come here on any given day, you might see a flash mob doing a dance routine, you’ll see a ballet class, you’ll see people playing a random pick-up game of basketball right in the middle of the atrium,” says Zucker, a partner in Bell Works and CEO of Inspired by Somerset Development.
On “Severance,” Lumon gets its workers to come back time and again by making them forget what their office is like through a dystopian medical procedure.
Zucker says the Bell Works team is taking a friendlier approach with its 2-million-square-foot building.
“We create a place that people can’t wait to come back to,” he says.
How history shaped it: Before its recent redevelopment, the Bell Labs complex was home to numerous groundbreaking discoveries, Zucker says. Among them, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Nobel prize-winning research on laser cooling. Inside, this legacy endures on a wall that reminds visitors of the many patents from scientists who worked there.
The mausoleum built by a Coca-Cola heir
On “Ozark,” the gothic architecture and ornate doorways of Omar Navarro’s mansion often loom in the background during the drug lord’s calls with Wendy and Marty Byrde, and when the show’s protagonists meet with him in Mexico.
What it is in real life: Westview Abbey, a mausoleum at an Atlanta cemetery.
The backstory you haven’t heard: The building was designed in Spanish Plateresque style, which Westview Cemetery Director of Administration Jeff Clemmons notes was known “for detailed and extensive ornamentation around doorways, windows and arcades.” Its three floors boast more than 70 stained glass windows, its crypts are covered by more than 35 types of marble and grand chandeliers illuminate the space, Clemmons writes in a history of the cemetery. The abbey’s memorial chapel hosts funerals and concerts, in addition to serving as a popular filming location for “Ozark” and other shows.
How history shaped it: Coca-Cola heir Asa “Buddie” Candler Jr. — who Clemmons describes as “an avid yachtsman, car and aviation enthusiast and big game hunter” — ran the cemetery for 18 years and led the construction of Westview Abbey in the 1940s. The mausoleum is one of the largest in the country, with more than 11,000 crypts inside.
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