There were many things to admire about "True Detective," HBO's limited series that brought together two tastes that worked great together: Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. But one of the biggest surprise breakouts of the show was … the prop Big Hug Mug that sat next to McConaughey's character Rustin "Rust" Cohle during his nearly season-long discussion with police detectives.
"The show is so dark, you try to look for places to add a little bit of levity into the proceedings," production designer Alex DiGerlando told me during a recent chat. He was in charge of designing the sets down to the smallest details, and sometimes, as he noted, the smallest details are what pop for viewers.
"It's sort of realistic," he said. "There's so much weirdness in the world. I didn't keep the original one; it didn't occur to me it would be a popular thing. Then when the show aired, I thought, 'Shit, I should have bought up a few of those things."
Indeed: The mugs were going on eBay at one point for over $80.
DiGerlando is up for an Emmy award in September, and it's possible the Big Hug Mug could push him over the edge — after all, how many other props from TV shows can you recall? But it's all in a day's work for the production designer, who says he keeps his eyes open for those everyday rhythms that make a fictional set feel like something a person can just walk into.
"What happens naturally in the course of people living and going about their day is more exciting than anything I could come up with," he says. "It's the little things."