Skulking in the Scullery — Design Secrets of ‘The Traitors’ Castle

Peacock’s Emmy-winning “The Traitors” is a reality series with the surprising aesthetic of a glossy Hollywood murder mystery — think Kenneth Branagh‘s Hercule Poirot movies or Rian Johnson‘s “Knives Out.” According to production designer Mathieu Weekes, the resemblance is entirely intentional. “Once I’d seen the location, the first thing that sprung to mind was ‘Knives Out,'” Weekes told IndieWire. “It was an obvious starting point in terms of that brooding, slightly menacing look, with the slightly dark undertones of the dressing and production design.”

After he studied “Knives Out” for its palette and set decoration, Weekes embraced a different kind of reference point: the board game Clue, which felt like a natural fit for the castle setting of “The Traitors,” with its many rooms in which the contestants engage in duplicitous behavior and Alan Cumming peacocks in high fashion. Just as each room in Clue has its own distinct personality, Weekes wanted the different areas of Ardross Castle (the nearly 200-year-old Scottish property where the show films) to work both interdependently and as unique, easily recognizable locations.

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“We’ve always been quite strict on the different colors between the spaces,” Weekes said. “It was always really important to the producers that as we cut from room to room, it’s very obvious and apparent to the viewer that they’re looking at a different space so that they get a very quick sense of the different characters gossiping or scheming. That’s where the Clue reference comes from, having really clear palettes defining each space.” Weekes also wanted “The Traitors” to have the slightly sinister quality one associates with both Clue and “Knives Out,” which made Ardross the perfect location. “It’s such a great gothic location, with such a strong look.”

While Weekes credits the castle with giving “The Traitors” production value that exceeds the show’s budget, he also acknowledges the limitations of shooting in a preexisting location. “In many aspects, you’re kind of locked into a look,” he said, “though this location was very, very close to what was in everyone’s minds before we set out scouting.” The biggest challenge for Weekes and his team is finding ways of hiding or integrating production equipment into the preexisting structure so that it isn’t visible on camera, as one of the guiding principles of “The Traitors” is that the fourth wall is never broken.

THE TRAITORS -- "Knives at Dawn" Episode 208 -- Pictured: (l-r) Sandra Diaz-Twine, Peter Weber, Phaedra Parks, John Bercow, Mercedes “MJ” Javid, Parvati Shallow, Kevin Kreider, Kate Chastain, Trishelle Cannatella, Shereé Whitfield, Chris 'C.T.' Tamburello -- (Photo by: Euan Cherry/PEACOCK)
“The Traitors”Euan Cherry/Peacock

“The biggest drawback of the location is the practicality of getting all of that tech into the space and hiding it,” Weekes said. “Coming up with ways of hiding the seam between the scenic elements that we introduced and disguising those amongst the genuine architecture so that it feels like one coherent space is also a challenge.” The wall murals that adorn several of the rooms are one example of an element brought in by Weekes for both aesthetic and practical reasons. “Many of the walls in the castle are paneled with mirrors, which is a nightmare for shooting because all you’ll see is the crew in the back of the shot. We conceived of the wall murals to block the mirrors in order to create a look of our own, but also to hide the fact that there are so many reflections in there.”

Ultimately, Weekes takes the starting point of the castle as his guide for the look of each individual space. “You can’t introduce anything that clashes with the genuine architecture,” he said. “So that often drives the decisions in terms of palette or dressing style.” For Season 2, Weekes refined some of the previous season’s spaces — like the breakfast room, which has adopted a more subtle, less self-conscious design — and introduced a couple of new ones. The most notable addition is the “scullery” set, which grew out of the desire for a new space to capture conversations outside the main narrative of the show. “I had a really strong idea of what the room should look like, and then we found a room in the castle that had previously been locked up and not used on Season 1. It worked really, really well in terms of flow and access in relation to the other spaces. The look of it and how it would work were quite apparent. It was one of those rare and joyous moments where the set almost designed itself.”

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