“I do need just a simple favor,” Blake Lively says to Anna Kendrick in the new movie “A Simple Favor.” Her request is easy enough—to babysit her son for a few hours one afternoon—but then, she suddenly goes missing for days on end.
The suburban noir thriller is a gripping cat-and-mouse game of wits between Lively’s Emily, a powerful executive in the fashion world, and Kendrick’s Stephanie, a dismissable homemaker who idolizes her. “Stephanie and Emily are very similar women that express themselves in decidedly different ways, and their two houses want to show that,” production designer Jefferson Sage tells Apartment Therapy. Adds director Paul Feig, “Finding those houses is like finding characters in the movie.”
Shot in Toronto but set in Connecticut, the movie needed a modern mansion to serve as Lively’s onscreen home, complete with the right floor plan to allow for extensive shooting. Feig and Sage—who previously collaborated on four other films and multiple television projects—finally settled on a huge house with an open layout, massive kitchen and cement floor. “It allowed us to go so fast with our dollies and we were all over the place!” says Feig.
Sage opted to repaint some walls (“Some existing tones in the greys were a little too dark, for example”) and replace almost all of the furniture. “We used some beautiful paintings to help bring focus to the architecture,” explains Sage. “A local Toronto artist, Heather Horton, provided several large paintings that fit the space well; her quiet images of women in solitude provided an interesting point-of-view in the house of the troubled Emily.”
The only downside of filming on such a sleek set? “There were a bazillion reflections in there—every single surface is either a glass window or a shiny appliance door, and then the dressing is a bunch of shiny vases,” laughs Feig. “Behind the scenes, it’s all of us ducking behind the furniture—half of the time I’m on the ground with my monitors!”
On the other hand, Kendrick plays Stephanie, a seemingly harmless stay-at-home mom whose overly eager attitude often pushes other students’ parents away. She longs for connection via a homemaking vlog, which she films from her quaint and cozy kitchen. “It’s an amazing device for a movie, to not need a narrator and have something to bend and twist as the story unfolds,” says Feig. “It had to have a fun background that could stand on its own, that was cheery and colorful and bright. We needed to make it so that you could look at a still and say, ‘I know exactly who she is,’ so then we could subvert it.”
Sage found Kendricks’ onscreen home on a quiet and unobtrusive street in Toronto. “This house was intended to be everything that Emily’s was not,” explains Sage, who decided to paint the walls, alter some of the floor plan and change all of the furniture. “Whereas Emily’s house is vast areas of open glass, Stephanie has carefully chosen drapery on her windows. The sleek modern shapes in the furniture at Emily’s become more traditional shapes in Stephanie’s world. What is open and expansive about the space Emily’s house is carefully filled, considered and decorated spaces in Stephanie’s house.”
Sage advises viewers to look closely at the details of Stephanie’s home. “This house is much more given over to the life and activities of her son, but also is intended to show the somewhat manic side of the mother,” he warns. “Her homemaking supplies are all carefully sorted and labeled and shelved; her son’s toys are carefully picked up each night and put away.”
As the plot continues to twist and turn, be sure to pay attention to the clues onscreen—at least as a simple favor to the filmmakers.