This story first appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, director Guy Ritchie’s stylish remake of the 1960s NBC classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (out Aug. 14 from Warner Bros.) stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as a dynamic spy duo fighting the forces of evil (in a twist on the original, the two hail from natural enemy camps: the CIA and the KGB, respectively). Re-imagining the world of ’60s spy-versus-spy fell to production designer Oliver Scholl (Edge of Tomorrow), whose initial research involved a marathon weekend of bingeing on black-and-white reruns of the original show, which ran from 1964 to 1968.
Scholl, 51, who studied industrial design in his native Germany, built more than 90 sets, mostly in the U.K. — ranging from a recreation of the Berlin Wall to an industrial underground laboratory to a sleek Italian neo-fascist-styled company headquarters. “The whole movie is in Guy’s style: very cool, understated, tongue-in-cheek and suave,” he says.
The distinct worlds of Berlin and Rome set the international tone for the three-month shoot, with England’s Greenwich Naval College and Chatham Docks standing in for East Germany. “Berlin doesn’t look like that period anymore, so we had to build the sets,” explains Scholl. Rome locations included the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Grand Palace Hotel; iconic Italian films such as L’Avventura and La Dolce Vita provided further aesthetic inspiration.
For period spy caper authenticity, Scholl also looked to TV’s Get Smart and the James Bond series (Pussy Galore’s helicopter from Goldfinger makes a memorable appearance in U.N.C.L.E.). “Our modern computers and cellphones have killed the spy movie. Sixties technology is clunkier,” he notes. “Back then, they had to figure things out.”