American audiences perhaps best know Julian Fellowes for his international television smash Downton Abbey. The Crawley saga ran for six seasons receiving 69 Emmy nominations and 15 wins including two for Fellowes himself. Downton Abbey also spawned two popular feature films the most recent being Downton Abbey A New Era.
So when HBO announced Fellowess The Gilded Age would premiere earlier this year audiences naturally dubbed it the American Downton Abbey. But that reference sells the new series far short. Yes there are inescapable parallels between the New Yorkset series and Downton Abbey. Arguably those same upstairs/downstairs parallels exist throughout his work including his Oscarwinning screenplay for Robert Altmans Gosford Park. Fellowes has always been fascinated with the ruling classes and those who But The Gilded Age is far more than an Americanized take on his persistent themes.
Fellowes and his creative team explore not only the rules of the American social game just before the 20th century but they also place the action within a vast historical context. Fellowess Gilded Age scripts contain realworld characters interacting with fashioned amalgamations of famed Gilded Age legends such as the Vanderbilts. He references major events that shaped New York City and the production design and costumes give us glimpses of this nowgone rarified world.
The Gilded Age explores the conflicts between the old and new money of the era and the underrepresented Black middle class going well beyond Downton Abbeys central themes in a uniquely American manner. Here in an interview with Awards Daily Julian Fellowes reveals his process in recreating this Gilded world and the extensive research he undertook. He also talks about how his series explores both the unspoken but widely accepted social power of women as well as the struggle of Black Americans during The Gilded Age.
Julian Fellowes Well I think a lot of The Gilded Age is very glamorous and some of its quite funny. Its quite enjoyable on that level I hope but it was also a time of high risk a time of danger. People like George Russell [played by Morgan Spector] or Jay Gould or Carnegie or any of them really were making these enormous fortunes and you cant have that culture without a kind of underpinning quality of danger and risk. I felt it was the right moment to remind the audience that this was a dangerous game they were all engaged in. Of course all the men take on George Russell they overestimate their powers and they underestimate his. The whole episode is really lifted from the career of Commodore Vanderbilt where they also tried to trick him. Of course trying to trick Commodore Vanderbilt was a serious mistake and they paid.
There were lost fortunes at that time.
There were suicides and sad endings alongside the glamorous palaces of Newport and it just seemed right to kind of tell that story. I could have chosen [episdoe four] where Marian goes to the Scott house and took some old shoes thinking how useful shes going to be. Of course theyre first bewildered and then insulted and she has completely misjudged the whole thing. Well I thought they all turned out pretty well actually. We were jolly lucky with the cast not the least because Broadway was dark when we were filming.
So the whole supporting cast is basically made up of Tony Award winners. We were very very fortunate to have Michael Engler our director and producer whos also very much part of the Broadway community and has directed on Broadway several times. He was the one who alerted us to the fact that we were sitting in New York and all these brilliant actors and actresses were basically watching afternoon television because absolutely nothing was going on. I suppose you could say we took advantage of that but I hope they enjoyed it.