When Jordan Peele began talking about Nope with his Us production designer Ruth De Jong, he had not actually written the script yet. "It's so funny going back and reading my notes, because we started talking about a year before we actually started the physical prep of figuring out what Nope is," she tells A.frame.
Those early conversations led De Jong to research the "origins of horseback riding in Africa" and go down other rabbit holes that may not have directly influenced the final product, but which helped De Jong create the incredible world of Nope — specifically Jupiter's Claim, the Old West theme park run by Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun), which De Jong's team built from scratch.
"Jordan said, 'I'm not location shopping. I am building this,'" she says. "I think Universal and the producers were going, 'Budgetarily, it'd be great if you guys found a Western town and painted it.' And Jordan was like, 'Nope.'"
Peele was also adamant that they build the Haywood Ranch — where siblings O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) live — so that is exactly what De Jong did. "We built the two worlds entirely, which was wonderful and so much fun," she says. "It was incredible to be able to deliver ground-up builds."
The close proximity of the sets ultimately allowed De Jong and her team to design and construct Jupiter's Claim while Peele was filming at the Haywood Ranch. "The way we laid out the schedule, we decided to shoot Haywood Ranch first. That gave us 14 weeks to build the town," she explains. "Jordan could pop over at the end of the day, new ideas could marinate, and we could run on those and change things."
As for what inspired her vision for Jupiter's Claim, De Jong says it was a mix of Knott's Berry Farm — an amusement part in Southern California — and Western towns staples like "the post office, the brothel, the salon," and so forth. (Her experience on There Will Be Blood, on which she worked as the assistant to Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk, also proved invaluable.) What she originally came up with was, admittedly, a bit more extravagant than what ended up on screen.
"We had our dream town, which quickly had a sticker shock to it, but it was great because you throw it all out there," De Jong laughs, explaining that they built a computerized model of the park that allowed them to envision what it would look like once it was built. She worked closely with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema to make the set as shootable as possible, and the two would cut certain building from the set "as we dug into the core of what the town needed to be."
Once they narrowed down which building were essential to Jupiter's Claim, De Long did the work of designing what they would actually look like. "It was months of brainstorming," she recalls. "I remember I locked myself into my office for two days and picked all the colors, the trim, the buildings. Jordan came out and was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I said, 'But have you seen anything like this before?' He was like, 'No.'"
The end result was a fully functional theme park, so detailed that a recreation of Jupiter's Claim now lives as part of the Universal Studios Tour, alongside the house from Psycho and the Jaws ride. "I think we're still in shock that it's real," De Jong said. "It's incredible."
Take a look at The Academy's visit to Jupiter's Claim with Tiffany Haddish below.
@theacademy The word of the day is #NOPE brought you by #TiffanyHaddish at Universal Hollywood’s newest attraction, Jupiter’s Claim! #horror #universalstudios #nopemovie #jordanpeele #filmtok #hollywood #fyp ♬ Spooky space (beats) (heart sounds) - TMW
Reporting by Erica Bardin