So much filming takes place at Caesars Palace, it’s almost become a Hollywood rite of passage.
Sunday’s episode of “Ray Donovan” (9 p.m., Showtime) is the third series that executive producer Lou Fusaro has shot at the hotel, following a couple of trips to Las Vegas for a seasonlong story arc on Showtime’s “House of Lies” in 2013 and a 1997 episode of ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show.”
“We have a very good relationship with Caesars,” Fusaro said of himself and producer John H. Radulovic. “We’ve left a few dollars there. We’ve taken a few with us.”
The upcoming episode, simply titled “Las Vegas,” is a flashback to the 21st anniversary of L.A. fixer Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) and his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson).
“I mean, what do people wear in Vegas?” Abby asks while excitedly packing for their Caesars Palace getaway. Ray ventures a guess: “Spandex?”
Ray goes all out on the anniversary trip, booking the hotel’s Cleopatra Villa and dinner at Restaurant Guy Savoy.
“We wanted to show off and do a postcard, if you will, or a love note to Las Vegas,” Fusaro says. “John and I being very familiar with the Caesars property, we pretty much knew exactly how to tie it all together. And the Cleopatra suite had the view of the Eiffel Tower at Paris, as did the Guy Savoy, which we sort of frequent whenever we can afford it.”
What makes this episode of “Ray Donovan” stand out, though, is the journey, not the destination.
Fusaro and Radulovic dragged Schreiber and Malcolmson out to Jean for a scene where Ray’s pumping gas when he gets a call from his brother Terry (Eddie Marsan).
“The gas station, we just wanted something with a great view,” Fusaro says. “We just really looked for something close enough that we could drive to in the day and make that work.”
That phone call leads to a trip to the Nye County Sheriff’s Department to bail Terry out of jail for an incident that happened at Sheri’s Ranch, then the trio sets out for the Pahrump brothel.
Abby: “You’re gonna talk to a hooker in a brothel?”
Abby: “On our anniversary?”
Abby: “I wanna watch.”
Fusaro praises the way the Sheri’s sign stands out in the desert and says the cast spent a day filming there.
“Sheri’s Ranch was happy to have us. It was a little product placement for them,” Fusaro says. “We loved the way it looked.”
The only scenes during the trip that weren’t shot on location were the ones that take place in a bedroom inside Sheri’s. The production team had to build a set for that, because none of the real rooms were big enough to accommodate filming.
The other bit of fakery involves the show’s many driving scenes. It’s too difficult to shoot them with the actors in a moving car, so they’re done in front of green screens. One of Radulovic’s jobs was to oversee filming of the scenery on the route from Jean to Pahrump and, ultimately, Las Vegas, that would be inserted later.
Radulovic also worked on the “House of Lies” episodes that filmed at Caesars, and he’s become accustomed to filming around crowds on the casino floor. One morning, Schreiber’s Ray goes downstairs to get some coffee, and even a scene as simple as that, he says, requires meticulous planning.
“We work very hard with (Caesars) scheduling-wise to try to shoot when we’re a little bit off peak hours,” Radulovic says. “So when Ray Donovan goes to get a cup of coffee, we shot quite late at night, but there’s (still) a lot of people there.
“But most people are pretty respectful. They’re not gonna start screaming and hollering. You ask the group that assembles around you, ‘Please, no flash photography. Please don’t yell and scream.’ And people are usually very good about it.”
It’s the show’s second trip to Southern Nevada in the past two seasons. The crew spent nine days in Primm last year filming parts of three episodes while Ray’s dad, Mickey (Jon Voight), hid out and ultimately stole $4 million from Buffalo Bill’s.
Production on the series is moving to New York next season, so Sunday’s episode may be the last to feature Southern Nevada. But if it is the end, “Ray Donovan” goes out with a bang by continuing to showcase locations rarely seen on TV or movies.
“Well, we pride ourselves on doing that,” Fusaro boasts. “We try to do something other people aren’t doing.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.