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From ‘Chicago’ to Oscar

Ryan Carter and Laura Sturza

John Myhre’s Oscar nomination this year for Best Art Direction in the

movie “Chicago” has not hit him as real, although the awards show is

Sunday. Funny thing, since the Glendale resident has spent almost 20

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years specializing in making the unreal seem real.

“I was at my house getting ready to go to work,” he said,

referring to the morning he found out about his nomination. “Three

days later the phone was still ringing off the hook. None of it seems

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real, even just getting nominated. It really never sets in.”

Myhre is the art designer for Disney’s upcoming film “Haunted

Mansion,” starring Eddie Murphy and Terence Stamp, and has been

trolling the prop shops of Burbank’s Disney and Warner Bros. studios.

The shops contain “important pieces of film history,” including

the deep, red Victorian couch used in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,”

which will be the centerpiece of “Mansion’s” library, Myhre said.

As “Chicago’s” production designer, Myhre was responsible for the

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way the film looked, from the backstage dressing rooms of Chicago’s

Vaudeville-era, dingy nightclubs to architecture, furniture, fabrics

and colors.

The themes required characters and visuals that communicated

people being down and out of luck, Myhre said.

“I learned more in the first two weeks of ‘Chicago’ than I’d

learned in the previous three years on other movies,” Myhre said.

Myhre studied the genre’s stages and actual clubs in his effort to

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develop the props, colors and scale that went into recreating a

dilapidated, faded-glory Vaudeville-era nightclub still being used in

the 1920s.

“We wanted it to look gritty and nasty,” he said.

Jobs paying his dues as set dresser, carpenter and truck driver

ultimately led to coordinating art design in films such as “What’s

Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Ali.” He was nominated for an Academy

Award for his art direction in the 1998 film “Elizabeth.”

“My excitement about this is that I’d always wanted to do a

musical,” he said. “I wanted to give the audience an experience of

watching a movie, but feel like they were watching a Broadway

musical.”


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