We recently gave the trippy and buzz-generating Netflix show "Russian Doll" the Brick Underground “Reel Estate” treatment. In this recurring column, we reality check the real estate featured in movies and television shows set in New York City. (You can read how the series fared here.)
Lucky for us, our story made its way to someone who actually lives in one of the houses used as a location in the show. Upper West Side resident Raj Maheshwari got in touch with us to politely let us know that the “Lower East Side” brownstone inhabited by Ruth Brenner (played by Elizabeth Ashley), a therapist and surrogate mother to the main character, Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) is, in fact on 104th Street. (We were fooled and thought it did, like many of the other locations in the show, actually exist Downtown.)
Brick jumped at the opportunity to talk to Maheshwari and learn more about what it’s like to have your house serve as a set for a television show. Turns out, Maheshwari and his wife—who is, in fact, a psychiatrist—are veterans of the location game, having provided their 20-foot-wide by 60-foot-deep 1890 brownstone for numerous productions over 15 years, including an episode of "Madam Secretary."
“It’s a big, vast space so you can mold it any which way,” he says. “A lot of the original detail is there which is why they were there." (The room that served as Ruth’s office in the show is actually the bedroom of Maheshwari's eldest son, who no longer lives at home.)
He told us how his brownstone achieved fame, what having an army of strangers in your house is like, and even invited Brick to come see the magic happen should the series be renewed. (Given "Russian Doll’s" positive reception from both critics and viewers, it seems likely that the show will be re-upped, although Netflix has yet to confirm its plans for the series. For what it’s worth, we read it was pitched with a three-season arc.)
How did the production find you and your house?
There are these location scouts who come around...When the director says, 'I need this [type of space]' the location scout recommends X houses and [the director] picks one out. They know my number now.
They always do a walkaround, and then negotiate the dates and then they file with [NYC] film and television department because they block off the whole street. They take all the parking spots...Sometimes neighbors get upset [about the parking] so we make [productions] give a donation to the block association in compensation for everything.
What did they do to your house?
They did a very good job filming. It was amazing I didn’t realize it takes 100-plus people to film scene like that. They used a lot of our furniture, they used a lot of the props, a lot of kitchen utensils and stuff. They did cover some of the walls with a few things.
[Crews] bring their own A/C sometimes because camera equipment generates to much heat so they have to pump in extra air. And sometimes they pump in extra air from both sides, from the front and the back...The urns [containing the ashes of Ruth’s exes] we thought were amazing. We still laugh about them...We often think about getting his and her urns.
How do you prepare for shooting?
We have to prepare by not being in the house from basically 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., when they are there. They ask you not to move in and out so much but we have multiple floors and they were only using two floors. It wasn’t that big a deal for us.
What was it like seeing your house in the show?
It’s very surreal to see how they use it and what an amazing job they do making these places look like what they don’t look like normally. The crew, especially this one, was very professional. In fact, I really liked the people...Normally a lot of people complain [about crews shooting in their house]. I had no such complaint I thought they were amazing.
How long were they in your house?
They were here for two-and-a-half days, and then one-and-a-half day over a period of four to five weeks.
You get paid, right?
Yes. And they pay you decently. It’s not a poor wage.
What is your favorite thing about the process?
To see the afterward, how they decorate it in the end. And what scene they created.
[In the "Madam Secretary" scene], while the actress is drinking coffee out of our coffee maker, the husband has a stroke and dies in our house. I thought that was kind of morbid. All I’m saying is [it’s interesting] what the scene is used for.
Do you have any tips for people interested in breaking into the business?
Get rid of your clutter. Stop caring about your cheap furniture so much—unless you have really worthwhile stuff or things of enormous sentimental value (in which case move it somewhere secure during the shoot). Open your home and enjoy the filming. They are very careful but shit does happen.
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