Perhaps you’ve dreamed about lounging at Central Perk with the Friends or hanging on the dingy couch with the kids from That ’70s Show. But here’s one Hollywood set we bet you’re not dying to experience firsthand: the ”prep room” on HBO’s funeral-home family drama Six Feet Under. Located on Stage 3 at L.A.’s Sunset-Gower Studios, the Fisher basement is where dead bodies are drained, preserved, and otherwise readied for the afterlife. ”It’s a little Silence of the Lambs-esque,” observes Michael C. Hall (mortician David Fisher), ”but the more time I’ve spent here, the more it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this is where I work.”’ Indeed, the area isn’t designed to evoke only the willies. ”I wanted it to seem timeless — a bit of mad scientist, a bit of hospital, a bit of work space,” says SFU creator Alan Ball. Adds original production designer Marcia Hinds: ”There’s a lot of texture in the room — a lot of tile, a lot of brick — so even though it’s a sterile environment, architecturally it still has warmth to it.” Guess if you’re willing to overlook the carcasses and emergency eyewash station, this is a place you could call home.
1 G’head, poke him, tickle him, give him a noogie. He won’t feel it. Why? Because he’s silicone, silly. Most of Six’s ”corpses” cost about $20,000 and take one to two weeks to construct. ”It’s tons of labor because we have to get in there and paint every freckle, every little crack — every hair is hand-punched in,” says Todd Masters, whose special-effects studio creates the bodies. ”You want to make sure this stuff is dead-on, so to speak.”
2 Wound filler. Body plugs. Dental simulators. Eye caps (to help keep those pesky eyelids closed). The items here are actual morticians’ products. Okay, except for the bloodied skull fragments in the tray — those are plastic. ”We don’t touch any of this stuff,” insists Freddy Rodriguez (mortician Federico). ”Maybe if we were playing computer hackers or something like that, we would be like kids in a toy store. But not here.”
3 This embalming machine — purchased for $75 and filled with Gatorade to simulate embalming fluid — was once used in a mortuary. All pre-owned equipment ”was supposed to have been cleaned,” reports original set decorator Susan Eschelbach, ”but the smell of death was so strong, we had someone come out and do professional sterilizing.”
4 Reading the labels on these embalming products is a fun time killer. ”Between scenes when we’re standing around, you can’t help but look over and say, ‘Firm dry cavities every time? Okay!”’ says Rodriguez. And did we notice…deodorant? ”Even when you’re dead, you need deodorant powder,” explains Peter Krause (funeral director Nate). ”If I’m having a long day, I’ll use it.”
5 David keeps all postmortem paperwork here, including autopsy reports, and funeral-products catalogs (e.g., wearable urn lockets called ”keepsake jewelry”). On the wall is a growing collection of death-themed newspaper cartoons (”It was one of those little things that was more for us than anyone else,” says current set decorator Rusty Lipscomb) and expired mortician licenses. ”If anyone notices that,” notes Hall, ”we’re obviously not doing a very good job, because they’re not paying attention to us.”