Production designer Martyn John has been a frequent collaborator with director Guy Ritchie, working on the 2019 film version of ‘The Gentlemen’ that preceded the new Netflix hit series of the same name. The latest iteration, an 8-episode spin-off series starring Theo James as Eddie Horniman, the second son of the Duke of Halstead, and Kaya Scodelario as Susie Glass, the woman behind the weed empire secretly operating on the duke’s property, is outstanding in its design and attention to the source material.

Opulence is the key word in Ritchie’s recent filmography, which includes The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, and John understood the task at hand. Production used the large country house Badminton, a Grade I Listed Building in Gloucestershire, England, as their lead characters’ family estate to emphasize the immensity of the lavishness.

“We couldn’t film at Badminton for more than two or three days at a time, and I quickly came to the assumption that I have to build the rest of Badminton. But the trouble was getting the scale and the level of detail,” says production designer Martyn John.

‘The Gentlemen’ is an entertaining and engrossing crime saga about the upper-class Horniman family turning to a life of crime. Recreating the aristocratic lifestyle was a fun challenge for John, who visited many country houses and worked with private collectors, art dealers, and weed sellers to bring the Horniman estate and the weed farm fully to life. Every detail mattered, even down to the wine labels in the duke’s cellar.

“Guy Ritchie is a man of incredible taste, and he is notoriously fussy about his wine and what he drinks. Everything’s under the microscope,” shares John. John spoke to Awards Focus about recreating the historic Badminton House, having real royal portraits done of the actors Edward Fox and Joely Richardson, and that expensive silk wallpaper he took a gamble on.

Awards Focus: How do you go about building a fake weed farm?

Martyn John: I don’t smoke, and I had no idea these weed farms existed. It’s interesting, in London you have shops that sell all the equipment, so I sent my assistant off to look for lights and hydroponics. You can buy seeds, and you can buy it all. As we got more into it, we found out that there are houses with sellers full of weed or roofs full of weed. Then I found a weed man, a guy called Marco, who hires fake weed plants to the industry, and I said to him, “Can I go and see a real weed farm?” and he said, “Oh, I don’t think that’s very safe.” But I asked if he could go instead and take pictures for me, and he did. And it was astonishing the world that’s out there.

We went down the route of finding real plants, they grow it in southern England. It’s fine, you can buy it, but you can’t move it. So, if you buy all the products, you can’t move them; you need a license to move them. And then, if you move it from one studio to another, you need another license, and all these licenses, of course, take months, so we took the decision to make fake plants. We got them made in China, the leaves printed on silk, then we put them together with seed heads which we 3D printed, and hence you have a weed farm.

I took one of the original plants and put it in my bathroom in my house, and every time somebody goes to the loo, they have to touch it, and then it’s a constant source of discussion at dinner. It’s really funny.

AF: You have the real country house, the Badminton, but people live there, and you can’t use it all the time. Could you tell us about recreating Badminton and the challenges that came with it?

John: We couldn’t film at Badminton for more than two or three days at a time and I quickly came to the assumption that I have to build the rest of Badminton, the rooms we need. I found a disused building which we used on the film and for the television series I booked it for the whole period, and we built the drawing room, the office, the hallway and then most of the action happens within that.

But the trouble was getting the scale and the level of detail and the historicalness, and putting that into this space, so that was a big problem. Hence, I spent a lot of money on silk wallpaper because all of these beautiful private houses were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, and they spent a fortune decorating them. All of these aristocrats went to Italy and Spain and saw all these amazing palaces and wanted that for themselves and they had unlimited funds when they came home and they spent fortunes on their houses, as a production designer I spent a fortune on this wallpaper [laughs] but it was so worth it.

AF: Let’s talk about paintings because obviously, it’s such a huge part of the aristocratic life. Could you talk about the process of having portraits done of the actors Edward Fox and Joely Richardson?

John: This was a big thing because, notoriously, casting is very late. I have a portrait artist, Rachel, I work with, and I had to get pictures of the actors, but we didn’t get Edward Fox till very late. I spoke to casting, and they said it’s possibly Edward Fox, so I got the artist to do a mock-up painting before he was cast because it took two and a half weeks to paint. But the real problem is getting it to fit in a period frame. I bought a lot of period frames, and then we chose which one, and then Rachel had the canvases. She did the body first for about 2 weeks, and then we added the head in afterward, so it could have been anybody. It was a real process.

Whereas with Joely [Richardson], we found a beautiful photograph of a Ralph Lauren picture, a woman in a hunting top hat, and it was so exquisite, it’s very American, but I wanted to capture that in an oil painting of Joely Richardson. Once again, Rachel based it all in, and once Joely was cast, I worked with a costume designer, and she put a top hat on Joely, and we took a few photos, and then that went off to Rachel, and she managed to get quite a beautiful likeness.

AF: Talk about creating fake money, there’s a lot of cash that goes around on the show.

John: I can’t really tell you. We’re not allowed to print fake money. It’s very difficult to print double-sided and I’ve got lots of one-sided fifty-pound notes in my house that I’ve kept as a memento. It is amazing how little space 1,000,000 pounds takes up. It’s basically an attaché case.

AF: There’s this great chase scene in episode two where The Horniman brothers and Geoff chase after Jethro in the forest, and I’m just curious from a production designer’s standpoint: is this a day off for you, or would people be surprised how much work goes into a scene like that?

John: We were in the forest, and there was this mound of trees, and we had four or five paths. They went up one, down the other, we had dogs, we had smoke. But the problem was, “How is he [Jethro] going to get hit by this tree?” I had to get a rubber branch made, and then that was suspended out of shot, so he could run into it and not hurt himself. He also runs through a barbed wire fence, and we had to get rubber-barbed wires so that he didn’t hurt himself when he ran through. There were cows in the field, and we had to take the cows out. It was one of those nightmare days when you think there’s nothing to do but it turns into this drama. [laughs]

AF: Was the silk wallpaper the most expensive item in your budget, or was there something else that trumped that? Perhaps in terms of its historical value?

John: The silk wallpaper was by far the most expensive. I can’t believe they actually let me spend that amount of money on wallpaper. Everything else is reproduction, it’s all hired from hire companies. The drapes were expensive to make, but at the end of the day, I stuck my neck on the line for the wallpaper, and I think it paid off.

AF: I know you went to a lot of country house auctions and used private collectors and art dealers, but I think people would be surprised to know that in addition to that, you also used IKEA and TJ Maxx.

John: It just depends on what’s in stock in IKEA or TK Maxx. Sometimes, I’ll change the color of things, or I’ll wood grain it. You can get away with quite a lot.

For instance, in the bathroom scene where Freddy’s doing cocaine off the toilet seat, that wallpaper is from a really ordinary Home Depot place called B&Q. It’s £10 a roll, whereas the wallpaper in the drawing room was like 45,000 pounds, so you can get away with blue murder if you’re lucky. And I love the wallpaper in the bathroom because if you ever go into these posh houses, the front-of-house rooms are incredibly sophisticated, and then aristocrats have a really weird sense of humor, and sometimes they’ll have bonkers wallpaper in the loo, so I chose to use it.