HBO’s The Gilded Age brings the scope of creator Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey to 1882 New York City, following a young transplant, Marian (Louisa Jacobson), from rural Pennsylvania who moves in with her wealthy aunts, Agnes (Christine Baranski)and Ada (Cynthia Nixon), who live across the street from a couple with new money, Bertha (Carrie Coon) and George (Morgan Spector). Marian arrives with a new friend in tow, Peggy (Denée Benton), whose journey reflects her identity as a Black woman in the era.
Awards Radar had the chance to speak with Fellowes, who also serves as writer and executive producer, and who Coon described in our earlier interview as a “world builder,” about what interested him in this era of American history and how he approached telling this story. On the decision to focus on two neighboring houses with radically different occupants, Fellowes shared:
“I was fascinated by the battle between old New York and these new arrivals, and the new arrivals with the fortunes from railroads and shipping and copper and coal, all of it. There was quite in a way demure aristocracy that had lingered on from the first settlers. They were quite modest, they had descended largely from the younger sons of gentry families. They weren’t the children of dukes, they were sort of respectable. And they lived their quiet lives in Washington Square, and nobody could object to anything. But that wasn’t the way of the new men or their wives.”
On the differences between Downton Abbey and The Gilded Age, he elaborated:
“I think they’re different in essence. Downton is essentially a warm show about the decline of the aristocracy’s power, and this is traced in various ways that they’ve had to get behind the wheel more and be sensible and make business decisions, all of this stuff. They do it with reasonable goodwill, and we love that, but we know that kind of England is likely on the way out. Whereas The Gilded Age has a totally different energy. This is not about the end of anything, it’s about the beginning of the years that America would dominate the world.”
Listen to the full conversation below:
Season two of The Gilded Age is currently in production. Season one is available to stream on HBO Max.