BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
Setting Up The Story
In 1958, at the El Royale resort near Lake Tahoe, an anxious man buries a duffel
bag beneath the floorboards of his room. Later that night, someone pays him a
visit-and leaves behind a corpse...
A decade later, soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) arrives at the El
Royale with a suitcase full of guarded optimism. In a yellow dress dulled by a
transparent trench coat, it's as if she's always expecting the universe to rain
on her parade. Yet, as a woman of dignity and poise, broken but not yet
vanquished, she holds her head high. "Darlene's raincoat says everything about
this woman," explains costume designer Danny Glicker. "She's trying to protect
herself from the world, but her defenses are so low. She's coming from the world
of those wonderful girl groups like the Supremes who had a real sense of
formality and demureness to the way they groomed themselves. It wasn't flashy
and ostentatious; it was very ladylike and elegant. When we first meet Darlene
in the parking lot we're seeing a lady. But she's also a woman traveling alone,
and as the movie progresses we learn that she's had a pretty traumatizing past.
Her incredibly polished front is her trying to maintain something she's in
danger of losing."
For Erivo, the yellow dress symbolizes Darlene at her core: "Yellow is such a
bright color, and I think that's almost like her aura. That's the color she is
on the inside; it's like she's wearing her heart on her sleeve. She has been
through a lot, and she needs to do something that makes her feel confident
again-to find out who she is on her own, to keep the love of music that she has
because it's the one thing that keeps her going. Music keeps her pure."
As Darlene walks the border of the parking lot and resort-also the border
between California and Nevada-she comes across a priest, Father Daniel Flynn
(Jeff Bridges), looking lost and confused. "On first glance," says Bridges, "you
see a priest of the people, the kind of priest that wouldn't seem out of place
in a soup kitchen. But there are little things that are off that might not be
obvious at first, like how my jacket and pants don't quite match and the fit of
my collar is a little loose. I'm not exactly who I appear to be. There are
little hints there if you pay attention."
At the unmanned check-in desk, Darlene and Flynn meet traveling salesman Laramie
Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a boorish Southerner dressed in a rumpled shirt and
shiny tie beneath a loud plaid jacket that mirrors his gift of the gab. (And it
proves no surprise that he insists on occupying the equally garish Honeymoon
Suite despite being a bachelor.) Through his rambling near-monologue, we learn
the El Royale was once the hotspot of Tahoe. The country's most famous
celebrities and politicians comingled in and around the resort's casino, bar,
bungalows and pool.
But like the decade itself, the good times came to a close. The El Royale lost
its gambling license, the celebrities moved on, and things went downhill, fast.
Now, in the resort's lobby where the shine has faded and the laughter fallen
silent, Flynn, Sweet, and Sullivan are eventually welcomed by the resort's
20-year-old general manager and sole employee, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). In
an ill-fitting dress shirt and hand-me-down corporate blazer, Miller looks
cobbled together, as if someone left him there years ago and forgot to call his
"Miles is a bit of an odd bird," says Pullman. "He's uncomfortable in his own
skin, nervous and clearly not totally in control. You don't know how long he's
been there or why he came to the El Royale. It's like this weird purgatory where
he's waiting for the inevitable to happen. And as the tale continues, he becomes
like a Russian nesting doll. You just keep discovering new dimensions of his
story and character."
As Flynn and Darlene each decide which room, and therefore which state, they
wish to stay in, a muscle car screeches into the parking lot. Into the motel
hurries hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), whose clothing and assertive
manner indicate she's a woman embracing the second wave of feminism for all it's
worth. "Emily embodies the self-made woman of 1969," says costume designer Danny
Glicker. "She's on a mission. She's had to fight her entire life for her
strength, and so she has a lot of swagger; she's not afraid of being bold."
Dressed in tight jeans, a sleeveless vest, and fringe leather jacket, "she has
this incredible physicality, powerful and exciting." Emily demands a room, slaps
her money on the counter, grabs the key and exits the lobby as quickly as she
Four guests, one strange host -- and two more characters yet to be revealed.
Along with many more twists, turns and secrets. At the El Royale, the bad times
are just about to start...
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