The Gilded Age brings Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes' brand of upstairs, downstairs drama to the U.S., with New York City as the setting for an opulent time in American history. During the 1880s, there was the well-established society, represented in the show by Christine Baranski's Agnes van Rhijn, and "new money," represented by robber baron George Russell and his wife Bertha. Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon have the responsibility of bringing these two "cunning and charming" characters to life in the HBO series.
The Russells are the outsiders at the start of The Gilded Age, with Bertha doing whatever she can to win break into "old money" society. In some ways, they help the audience learn the often arcane rules of New York society at the time. "They're the interlopers and that's always fun," Coon told PopCulture.com in a recent interview. "I mean, don't we all feel like outsiders, at least when we're teenagers? It's a feeling I think everybody can relate to. And it's also a source of dynamism in the plot."
Coon and Spector both agreed that it was fun to play these two characters. In Spector's case, he may be an outsider, but he has immense power as his company seeks to put his railroad competitors out of business. "I think there is something just innately pleasurable about having characters who are both outsiders... but actually also have a tremendous amount of power," the Boardwalk Empire star told PopCulture. "So it's a way to have it. It's kind of both ways that can only really happen in a fiction, which is nice."
Bertha and Russell are the perfect couple, as the two seem to have this great ability to turn on and off their charm at will. This "certainly makes them more three-dimensional," Coon noted. The two characters could tell they were right for each other immediately. They are both "very plain-spoken, even as they are also cunning and charming... but there's a kind of straightforwardness about them I love," the Ghostbusters: Afterlife star noted. They can also say how they really feel, which is one of the advantages of being outsiders.
Just as Downton Abbey gave audiences a view of an England that no longer exists, The Gilded Age does the same for New York. The production team recreated homes with incredible attention to detail. "The elements that you're seeing are elements that did exist in these homes that are no longer with us," Coon said. "And so it's really exciting to get to walk into those rooms and to invite the viewers to see them as well."
The production also visited many of the great summer homes that still exist in Newport, Rhode Island. "I'm looking forward to going back if we have the opportunity to do another season," Coon said. "And I hope that more people will go and they can enjoy these places firsthand. They're open to the public and that's just not something I knew about growing up in the Midwest."
Coon was also recently part of another major New York-set project when she appeared in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. While a sequel hasn't been greenlit just yet, Coon said she would love to make one. "Hey look who are you going to call? Hopefully me," she joked. "I'm looking forward to the possibility. It seems like the movie did pretty well and we got to hurry up and make one before the kids are 30."
The Gilded Age debuts on HBO Monday, Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. ET. New episodes will also release on HBO Max.