In the psychological thriller "The Gift," which opens nationwide Friday, writer-director and star Joel Edgerton taps into a specific strain of Southern California property lust: Midcentury Modern architecture. The story revolves around businessman Simon (Jason Bateman) and interior designer Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who move from Chicago to a dream home in Los Angeles only to encounter a most unwelcome old acquaintance named Gordo (Edgerton).
"I wanted to be in the hills, in a place that was both architecturally specific to Los Angeles and yet felt distinctive as a film location," says Edgerton, who landed on a 1962 Sherman Oaks post-and-beam home with vast window walls designed by David G. Clark. "It had to feel like a desirable, aspirational dwelling that could move from being inviting and beautiful to something sinister. Being in a house with so much glass can be terrifying at night, and as the narrative vise tightens, the house becomes a glass-bowl prison for Robyn, who is at home alone most of the time."
Edgerton drafted production designer Richard Sherman, whose credits include "Gods and Monsters" and "Beautiful Creatures," to transform the residence. "Everything had to feel domestic," Edgerton explains. "We wanted the house to have the elegance of a person of Robyn's skill and good taste."
"I am not a big lover of the Midcentury movement," Sherman says. "I think it can be cold, so it was important to make it feel warm and attainable." To help balance the starkness of the glass, cement floors and wood paneling, the designer had the walls painted in earth tones and the expansive windows filtered with mesh sheers custom-made from material purchased at Diamond Foam & Fabric in Los Angeles.
Working with a budget of less than $80,000, Sherman and set decorator Matthew Ferguson created drool-worthy rooms, renting contemporary upholstery from the Warner Bros. prop house and 20th century American and Danish Modern furniture and accessories from some of the city's top high-end design galleries, including JF Chen, Blackman Cruz, Eccola and Blend Interiors.
"We also got the bedroom chaise from Crate & Barrel and sisal rugs from Linoleum City and found the marble coffee table in the living room for $125 at one of the vintage furniture stores on Melrose east of Highland," notes Ferguson, who found inspiration for the film's of-the-moment style in Elle Décor and The World of Interiors magazines.
"Nothing is matchy-matchy," Sherman says. "It's a worldly mix of styles and periods and materials that works well together, like Robyn had spent a month going to flea markets searching out interesting things."
By contrast, the Encino house where Gordo entertains the couple heightens his mystery. "Simon and Robyn have judged Gordo unworthy of such a fancy residence," Edgerton explains. "And it is decorated in a way that just seems off and odd. It almost has a menagerie jungle feel. The note I gave the design team was 'too many ceramic animals.'"