B.C. set decorator hopes to cap career with an Oscar
Jim Erickson, Academy Awards nominee for Art Direction/Set Decoration for "There Will Be Blood," poses for photographers at a pre-awards luncheon for Canadian nominees, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, in Los Angeles. Erickson, 62, is in the running along with colleague Rick Carter for the best production design Academy Award, for their work on “Lincoln.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rene Macura
After more than 30 years working in Hollywood, doing set decoration on a wide range of films from "Watchmen" to "There Will Be Blood" and "Lincoln," Jim Erickson of Salt Spring Island, B.C. is almost ready to retire.
There's just one more thing to do: attend the Oscars.
On Feb. 24, Erickson, 62, will be in the running along with colleague Rick Carter for the best production design Academy Award, for their work on "Lincoln."
It's Erickson's second nomination — he was also recognized for "There Will Be Blood" — and he swears the cliche is true: it really is an honour just to be nominated.
"Of course I'd like to win the Oscar, who wouldn't, but it's also just being recognized. To get the nomination — and this is so Canadian of me to say — but to get the nomination is quite wonderful because it's from your peers, it's from other filmmakers, it's not from the public, it's not from the teen idol group, it's from people who work in the business and take it seriously," says Erickson in an interview.
"So it's a wonderful feeling."
He's looking forward to putting on a tux and walking the red carpet again — although he playfully points out he likely won't be strutting alongside Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field or any of the other stars in "Lincoln."
"There are two red carpets, there's the one red carpet that you see on television where there's the stars and the directors and ... the rest of us go down another carpet and no one really cares," Erickson says with a laugh.
"It's red but you're waving at people who don't even want to look at you."
Ask him what he remembers about his first big Oscar night and he's similarly self-deprecating.
"Losing to Dante Ferretti (who worked on "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"), that's about the only thing I remember," he jokes.
"But it's a fun night and also the week up to it there's parties and receptions. The Canadian consulate puts on a wonderful reception for Canadian-nominated people, that was one of the highlights."
Erickson says "Lincoln" offered the perfect opportunity to leave the business with a project he'd remember, including the chance to work with Steven Spielberg.
"I had such a great career and after 'Lincoln' I just said, 'There's just not much else that I can think of that I want to do.' I consciously made decisions on scripts and projects that I wanted to do to get experience and learn about things and the past and the present and a little bit of the future," he says.
"There's a nice broad spectrum of films (on my resume) and I've had a really wonderful career. So why not go out on a high point instead of dribbling out toward the end?"
There were interesting challenges for Erickson in taking on "Lincoln," especially since it was his first project dealing with the Civil War-era.
"You don't want anything to be (historically) incorrect — or at least I don't — but there are times you have to make choices that are for a visual effect," he explains.
"You may choose a colour of wallpaper that didn't exist at that time because you want to say something with that colour, or make a design statement, but it's always important to me to be as historically accurate as I can."
Maintaining the film's dimly lit look was part of the production's commitment to historical accuracy, even if it meant much of Erickson's set decoration work was clouded by darkness. In brainstorming about how the film should look, he brought in some gas-fuelled light fixtures from the era to show the production team just how dim homes were in the 1800s.
"We all sat in the dark and I said, 'This is how much light comes off one of these fixtures. We don't want to light up the whole world,'" he recalls.
"It was one of the first times in my life and in my career that I felt — and this is due to the lighting — that it really felt like what I think mid 19th century houses and interiors and exteriors would look like.
"You can't see everything but you feel everything's there.... I don't expect to see (all the set decoration), it's not necessary. What's necessary is I gave the environment to the actors and the director and they felt they were at home."
He's now planning to enjoy more time on idyllic Salt Spring Island, which has a population of just over 10,000.
"I want to grow some food, I have a dog, I want to spend time here," Erickson says.
"My garlic got blue ribbon at the fall fair here!"