(Baranski said of her character, “She’s a marvelous snob, but who wouldn’t want to play a snob written by Julian Fellowes?”)
Sets were built on soundstages on Long Island, including for the myriad rooms of the Russell mansion, decorated with period-appropriate fabrics and patterns made by some of the same European companies that fabricated the originals in the 1800s. A backlot constructed at the nearby Museum of American Armor, in Old Bethpage, N.Y., housed the imposing edifices and opulent interiors that together recreated a stretch of 19th century Manhattan’s East Side. (The show also uses locations in Troy, N.Y., and Newport, R.I.)
Bob Shaw, the show’s production designer, said that compared to past HBO series he had worked on, including “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” “This is the biggest build I’ve ever done.”
“We kept drawing and doing illustrations, and they kept saying yes,” Shaw added. “You draw a grand staircase, and you’re waiting for someone to say, ‘Well, how many times are they going to go up the stairs?’ And that never happened.”
Cast members read favorite Edith Wharton and Henry James novels in preparation for filming, and they were given lessons on Gilded Age history, etiquette, diction and social customs.
“Calling-card culture was an intricate, delicate dance,” Jacobson said. “If you went to the opera and you met a society lady who you want to maintain your position with, you’d drop your calling card off at her house. Like, hey, I want to hang out with you — I want you to like me.”