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The Regime Might Not Be Real, But Its Opulent Palaces Sure Are

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Inside the Palaces of 'The Regime'Miya Mizuno/HBO

The creators of The Regime, the new HBO series starring Kate Winslet as the all-powerful ruler of an unnamed European country, have made sure to stress that the series isn’t based on any one real person or place. “I knew with inventing a country that although we did a lot of research that informed the show,” creator Will Tracy recently told The Wrap. “I had to put it aside at a point and use what I could to make my own field.” But just because the corrupt government the series depicts isn’t exactly real, doesn’t mean that nothing about it is.

When production designer Kave Quinn began working on the series, she says, “I saw that it was in this credible world of a dysfunctional dictator.” Tracy and his team had already begun scouting locations to stand in for the country and the palace where Winslet’s Chancellor Elena Vernham resides; “they had a scout out looking at various locations around Europe for the series, which was initially called The Palace,” Quinn says. “They were trying to find a really grand, beautiful palace to set the story in. With [Vernham] being a very over the top dictator, she would need to have the biggest premises possible to live in.”

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Andrea Riseborough and Kate Winslet in The Regime, airing now on HBO. The series, which depicts a fictional European dictatorship, filmed at real-life locations including Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace.Miya Mizuno/HBO

The production landed on Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, which was commissioned by Emperor Leopold I in 1693 as a hunting lodge, and was finally completed in 1746, when it became a summer residence for Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan, the joint rulers of the Austrian Empire. More recently the palace—which is among Vienna’s most popular tourist sites—has been used as a set for films and TV series including the James Bond picture The Living Daylights and The Amazing Race. According to Quinn, it offered just the right kind of grandeur for The Regime. “We were trying to find the right locations,” she says, “that had the presence a dictator required.”

It wasn’t, however, the only place they filmed. In order to depict Vernham’s world, the production also filmed at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein and Palais Pallavicini. Most of the series’ exteriors, and a number of interior rooms, were filmed in the city, but the production didn’t end there. “From that world, we came back to the UK,” Quinn explains. “Because the idea was that this palace has been around since the 18th century, but there had been additions and the script mentions it had been a hotel, there were lots of things that we could do in the set design to employ other rooms.” Additional spaces were filmed to reflect updates to the fictional palace, including 1930s architecture, a home discotheque, and what Quinn calls “really tacky 1980s interior design.” She adds, “you could go in so many different ways with it, and really make something interesting.”

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Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace was one of the locations used by The Regime to depict a fictional European country and its dysfunctional leadership.JOE KLAMAR - Getty Images

Finding the right places to film the series was a win, but it wasn’t the only thing Quinn had on her plate. Her biggest challenge, she says, “was walking that fine line between the surreal and extraordinary and getting it to be believable. The balance was the thing that I used to sweat about… So that you could imagine that this person could be out there living in our world at the moment, that this is really happening.”

And if Verham’s palace—and, really, her entire situation—feels a little larger than life, well, that’s just fine. “You need big spaces to make to make her character stronger and more powerful,” Quinn says. “Great spaces made for an interesting view into her life; I don't think it would've worked if we'd been somewhere like 10 Downing Street or you just wouldn't have believed it. We drew on Ceausescu’s palace in Romania and places used by Hitler and all these other horrible dictators. There always seems to be a lot of space around them, and space between them and the people they're addressing. Space puts them into what they think is a stronger position of power.”

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