Bringing a Slim Aarons Photo to Life in ‘Palm Royale’

Do not underestimate Tate Taylor’s commitment to “Palm Royale.”

The director and executive producer of Apple TV’s star-studded period dramedy — about Kristin Wiig’s have-not fighting to break into the ranks of Palm Beach society — took his job as director of the first episode so seriously he was asked to leave. Not the show; Taylor was kicked out of an actual Palm Beach club.

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Taylor and production designer Jon Carlos went on a 42-hour trip to Palm Beach to get a feel for the town. “The club that the Palm Royale [the fictional club that gives the series its name] is modeled after is very exclusive,” Taylor told IndieWire. “And so I said, ‘I’m going to break in. And I want to get kicked out.’ And I did! I went through the doors, I looked at all the people — of course, I was in board shorts and flip flops — and I got kicked out.”

In that moment, Taylor and Kristen Wiig’s “Palm Royale” character, Maxine, became one. When we first meet Maxine, she’s sidling through a hedge to gain entry into the Palm Royale, “the most exclusive club in the world.” She’s not in board shorts and flip-flops, but she is wearing a colorful housedress with a headscarf knotted under her chin. Compared to the queen bees who rule Palm Beach society — played by Allison Janney, Julia Duffy, Leslie Bibb, and Claudia Ferri — Maxine might as well have arrived on a turnip truck. And she has the deep-fried accent to match. Naturally, she’s asked to leave. But that’s only the start of Maxine’s determined efforts to crack Palm Beach society over the course of 10 episodes.

The accent was Wiig’s idea, but Maxine’s roots came from Taylor. (The man who directed “The Help” knows a little something about Southern women of a different era.) “I suggested to Abe [Sylvia, the creator and showrunner], ‘Let’s make her from Chattanooga. Her being a pageant girl from the South is going to give us license to do so much automatically.'”

As the director of the “Palm Royale” pilot (and the Season 1 finale), Taylor was in a position to lay the groundwork for the look and tone of the show — which is akin to Jackie Susann on poppers. With a murderer’s row of actors and a deep bench of talent below the line, Taylor modestly claimed he did little more than give permission. The starting point for the show was mid-century society photographer Slim Aarons (the lacy white outfit worn by the blonde actress in the introduction to the Palm Royale is an exact copy of one seen in an Aarons photo; unable to track down the designer, costume designer Alix Friedberg created it from scratch). From there, it was a matter of letting everyone run wild.

Kristen Wiig in Palm Royale, a new comedy series on Apple TV+
Kristen Wiig in ‘Palm Royale’Courtesy of Erica Parise / Apple TV+

“I’ve never had so many toys,” Taylor said. “And that’s rare. I think the beauty of making something is you don’t force it into what it’s going to be. You let it tell you what it wants to be.” One example he cited was Palm Beach society’s favorite designer, Grayman (Dominic Burgess). “We had Grayman’s assistants,” Taylor said, “and Alix came into my office and showed me their outfits: white turtlenecks and black pants. And she goes, ‘Too much?’ I go, ‘No! Abe, come look at these outfits.’ And we were like, ‘Well, they’re a part of the show now.’ So that just kept happening.”

That ethos extended to the cast, as well. As actors said yes, Sylvia kept returning to the writers’ room to adjust the script to play to their strengths and what they could bring to the roles. And one of the true joys of “Palm Royale” is seeing Carol Burnett in a series regular role, still scoring laughs that no one else could have found.

“Carol is just, god, she’s good, man,” Taylor said. “She’s smart. She just loves the work. You know what I love about Carol Burnett? And I love it when actors do this. Octavia Spencer is the same way. They don’t go to their trailer. They just sit in a chair between a set-up and watch what’s going on. Because you’re learning. And I love that. I mean, Kristen Wiig needed to nap. We about killed her. Can you imagine how hard she worked? I mean, I think we almost broke Kristen Wiig.”

New episodes of “Palm Royale” premiere every Wednesday on Apple TV+ through the May 7 season finale.

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