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Immersed in Movies: Production Designer Galvin Talks Recreating the White House in New Orleans for 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood August 16, 2013 at 1:37PM

Tim Galvin jumped at the rare opportunity to design nearly a century of the African-American experience, both inside and outside the White House, with "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
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Oprah Winfrey in "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Oprah Winfrey in "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

"Eisenhower [Robin Williams] had drapery left over from Truman and he kept it, and he added those cornball paintings that he did and put those in there, but it was kind of Truman's office, in a way. When Kennedy [James Marsden] came, he kept it that way for a little while and then he got the famous desk that Obama uses now. And the decor changed because Jackie [Minka Kelly] did some redecorating and after six or eight months that place got overhauled. It's not that well known, actually, that right before the assassination she had designed a whole other scheme for the Oval Office. 

"LBJ [Liev Schreiber] just kept it, really. He brought in a different desk and got these TVs. He was crazy about TVs and a maniac about the media. He had three TVs always on in the Oval Office with the different networks. Then he eventually got some different sofas. Nixon [John Cusack] used the Oval Office for ceremonial purposes and had another office over in the executive building, where all the Watergate tapes were and stuff. There was some talk early on about having an Obama office, which has a different scheme. But it ends well."

For the volatile scenes in the Gaines household, Galvin says Lee was very insistent on certain style elements, favoring an integrated look in some of the clothes and settings, which they would try to match. For instance, if Winfrey's Mrs. Gaines wore orange or red or pink that would be reflected in the decor.

"I hope the general public will dig it because it's not a take-your-medicine kind of history lesson. It has humor and drama and I don't know that I'll see another script like that again," Galvin asserts.

This article is related to: Lee Daniels' The Butler , Lee Daniels, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.