As the winter grows closer, we’ve been catching up on comfort with our favorite shows here at The Cosmic Circus, including The Mysterious Benedict Society. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Cynthia Charette about her work as the show’s production designer.
Who is Cynthia Charette?
Cynthia Charette is one of the creative minds behind Season 2 of The Mysterious Benedict Society. She’s the show’s production designer – the person responsible for coming up with the visual look and language of the show and the world. In our chat, her care and dedication to her craft shined through.
Charette has an iconic career and has worked on projects that are cultural touchstones. Her resume spans the worlds of television and film. Charette was the production designer for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Scary Movie 2. In television, she was the production designer behind Season 1 and Season 2 of Jane the Virgin. And Charette recently helped bring Season 3 of Netflix’s You, with Penn Badgley, to life.
If you’d like to learn more about Cynthia Charette, check out her website at CynthiaCharette.com.
About The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Mysterious Benedict Society is Emmy-nominated and has been a success for Disney+. It’s loosely based on a series of children’s adventure books by author Trenton Lee Stewart. The show and the books follow four gifted children recruited by the mysterious and strange Nicholas Benedict in his quest to save the world from his evil twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain.
The show is a fun adventure series with jumpsuit-clad henchmen, hijinks, and perilous and exciting stakes. And all of this happens in this vaguely retro-ish time period. It evokes both Wes Anderson’s filming style and the world of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Looking at the whole picture, it’s not hard to see how the books and the show have been so successful.
The books inspire the show, meaning each season’s arc doesn’t align precisely with what’s on the air. This interpretation gives the creative minds behind the show a ton of storytelling freedom. It also preserves the characters and their journeys, so it’s true to the spirit of the books. And because all of that emotional core is maintained, we are still rooting for the quirky youngsters to succeed.
The show stars Tony Hale as both Benedict and his nefarious twin, L.D. Curtain. Hale pulls off this double role with skill – and you wouldn’t be the only one to have to do a double take while watching on screen. The Mysterious Benedict Society also features the kids at the heart of the story– Mystic Inscho, Seth Carr, Emmy DeOliveira, and Marta Kessler. In addition, Kristen Schaal is Number Two, and Gia Sandhu is Ms. Perumal.
Take a look at some highlights of our interview below with Charette, and then listen to the full interview here, or head to your podcast app of choice to listen to the whole conversation.
[Note: some quotes have been edited for length and clarity]
On getting her start in film:
Charette’s origin story begins in the theater, but she got her first big break in the film business while in Georgia.
“I was in theater design, I wanted to work in theater. So theater is very, you know, you create worlds at a set design, and that was my dream. And then, as soon found out, it’s really hard to make a living in theater. And I was able to, by a friend of a young director from USC, who I knew got his first low-budget film, and I came to do it. And in Georgia, that was my first break. I was young young young, and I was maybe 24-25 years old. And that was the beginning of my career, and from there, I moved from Georgia to Los Angeles and started trying to work in the film business.”
On creating an immersive world:
Charette believes the little details matter when world-building for a show or film. They help create the beauty of the project. And collaboration with other departments and teams on the show is key to that.
“And again, I’m a detail person… not only do you build the set, but it’s what… I always say to a prop person or a decorator, anything that they see, you know, the wallet is just as important as the set… the eyeglasses, the tablecloth, the plate that it’s put on, the way things are, what is every single detail. When you see these, these projects, and they look so beautiful, it’s not by, at least in our case with my team, it is not by luck. We work on it together. And that’s what creates the beauty. You must be all in together.”
The show’s extraordinary visual success isn’t by luck but because of an excellent guided plan.
“I’m so happy [chatter] to see how the show turned out because of all that finessing about every little detail, and a team working together and costumes, and you know, props and the transform, everything… When it turns out that way, it’s because there is a guided plan.”
On the color aesthetic for the show:
One of Charette’s superpowers is color, and she wields that with incredible skill and precision in the show. She talked about building on season 1 and working with the other creative folks on the show for season 2 to ensure that the color vision was consistent.
“I really studied Season 1. But then after that, season 2 is different. But we took things of Benedict from [season] 1. There was a lot of greens, and a lot of sort of ambery green, amber palette. We kept that palette for Benedict. And then on season 1, there was for Dr. Curtain, there was a lot of blues. You know, again, you do not disrespect what has been done and created. You carry that message through. Because this is the book, this is the world.”
During production, Charette would even make quick trips to the costume trailers to ensure the costume colors were consistent with their palettes.
“The trailer for costumes was right next to me, and I would run sometimes, I would have to work from them. It was all about, like, okay, she had to get a costume made. She knew the palette. So if she had to get her wardrobe made first, I would run over there with my paint chips. Hold them up to her fabric To work together so that we knew that it was all working.”
On creating a whimsical European world while filming in Los Angeles:
The Mysterious Benedict Society season 2 takes place in Europe “somewhere,” but it was filmed in Los Angeles. Cynthia Charette talked about creating a world away from California for the show’s viewers.
“Well, it was fun. It was definitely a challenge because imagine going through Europe in Los Angeles. [laughter] So we went to far points of Los Angeles. Everywhere was, I mean, so far away. But a lot, a lot, of research. Again, honing in because, with television, you have a second to get the location, especially for our age or a child, to put them in that world.
So Portugal, what are the colors of Portugal? What is iconic without being just a tourist map? What can we say so we know we’re there immediately? And this is again when I learned even doing Austin Powers anything… shows for a second, you’re out, and then you’re in the storyline. So our job is to put you into that world as fast as we can.”
On working with such a talented team of folks on The Mysterious Benedict Society:
Creating television and film is collaborative, and Charette was quick to praise everyone she worked with for the show.
“Again, incredible team, I want to say across the board. Best you know, decorating, costumes, props, construction, paint crew. I mean, I’m so grateful we got to do it in Los Angeles. I had the best team, transportation, special effects, everything. Visual effects, look how good they came out. I work a lot with them. Then sketches and renderings, and then we go on so you’ll see more of the stuff.”
You can watch new episodes of The Mysterious Benedict Society weekly on Disney+. And if you’ve already checked the show or the books out, please share your thoughts. Join the conversation with us on our Discord or on other social media.