“The marriage is the thing,” shares Carrie Coon about why audiences adore her and Morgan Spector’s unscrupulous characters on HBO’s “The Gilded Age.” The pair play Bertha and George Russell, an excessively wealthy couple elbowing their way into New York society in 1882. The actress admires Bertha’s “no-nonsense approach” to life. Spector concurs, adding that he appreciates “George’s affection for Gladys,” his daughter, since he and Bertha have “realized… the value of a love match.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Coon and Spector have both worked with the words of incredible writers in the past, from playwrights Edward Albee and Arthur Miller to television scribes Noah Hawley, Damon Lindelof, and David Simon. On “The Gilded Age,” they delight in creator Julian Fellowes’ words. The actress notes how his words are “elevated, there’s a real style to what he writes,” commenting that he excels at “enriching the world constantly.” The actor describes him as a “mosaicist,” piecing together a “steady accumulation of fact and feeling” that amounts to something “delightful and powerful and quite rich.”
Throughout the first season, the audience gets hints about Bertha’s humble origins. Although Coon admits that as an actress she believes “everything I need is on the page if something is written well,” she also shares some of the backstory they’ve discussed for the character. “Maybe there was some Southern money, maybe some lost fortune,” suggests the Emmy Award nominee. She adds that Bertha probably saw George’s potential before he had fully established himself as a business tycoon and praises their “very sexy, ambitious, and egalitarian marriage.”
Spector relishes in the fact that the show demonstrates the dire stakes of the Russells’ ruthlessness. “I started out… with a slight fear that we were going to be glamorizing a tranche of society that really benefited from exploiting and immiserating many people and that we wouldn’t feel the cost of that,” reflects the Critics Choice Award nominee, so he feels “really thrilled” that early on in the season Fellowes shows the consequences of George’s actions. In the second half, George finds himself against the ropes, and the actor thinks it “fascinating” how George is ultimately “really alone” as he tries to save his company and avoid going to prison.
George and Bertha’s supportive marriage is one of the highlights of the series, and Coon and Spector discuss why the pairing has been so successful. She observes, “We’re reached an age where basic respect is really sexy,” noting how the audience also relates to how the couple is “taking care of their family and themselves.” He concurs, stressing, “There’s something really sexy about both partners having their own vector.” Both performers have done much stage work over the course of their careers — Coon has a Tony Award nomination for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” from 2013 — and they think their experiences in the theatre have helped them embody the style and “size” of the world that Fellowes has created.
“The Gilded Age” will return for a second season and is in the thick of production now. When asked about what we can expect from the next batch of episodes, Spector coyly jokes, “Lin-Manuel Miranda has written a rap for Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy) that is just phenomenal,” before sharing honestly, “The world is even more excessive than it was in the first season.” Coon adds that the “costumes have leveled up” in the new episodes and takes the opportunity to praise the series’ “extraordinary” design teams. “I can’t say enough about how they contribute to the world that we’re making,” celebrates the actress.
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