Playing Marian in The Gilded Age has, for Louisa Jacobson, been ‘simultaneously exciting and horrible’. Exciting because it’s the 31-year-old’s first (and very well received) television project. And horrible? Because of the family she comes from: Louisa is the youngest child of Meryl Streep and the renowned sculptor Don Gummer. Online, the comparisons with her mother were inescapable, as were the scabrous suggestions that she had only landed the role of Marian as a result of nepotism.
‘It’s going to be a constant thing throughout my life,’ Jacobson says, with the thoughtful gravity that marks her out. ‘It has been since I can remember – this issue of “Do I deserve what I have?” But I think about Jane Fonda and how she made a name for herself. And there’s been plenty of [other] people who’ve been able to carve their own path – like Sofia Coppola. I think it just takes time and not reading Twitter and just focusing on what I want to achieve as an artist.’
Jacobson’s crisp, perfectly modulated tones suggest a childhood of speech and drama lessons. Her style is minimalist chic (a white linen sleeveless dress, trainers and simple silver hoops in her ears), her frame petite; her auburn hair is worn loose. ‘This profession requires you to be thick-skinned when it comes to that [online] stuff and really thin-skinned when it comes to being on set and being permeable to other people’s emotions.’ Still, she says, ‘There were moments when I wasn’t sure I was coping.’ She more than coped as Marian Brook in The Gilded Age. The first series aired in January; the second is currently filming. Jacobson plays the ingénue niece of two very grand and very rich sisters, Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook, arriving in New York City from Pennsylvania after her father’s death leaves her unexpectedly penniless. Her character also has an at-times complex friendship with Peggy Scott (played by Denée Benton), an aspiring young journalist who – for the moment – is working as Agnes’s secretary. Beneath the gloss and glamour of high society, corruption and inequity roil the city.
Portraying that gloss wasn’t always fun. Throughout series one, Marian sports high-necked, bodiced gowns bedecked with bows, buttons and frills. While the fashion may have been a visual feast, Jacobson confesses that long days laced into corsets had both a ‘psychological’ and ‘physical’ impact on her. ‘If it’s tied too tight, as it was last year, and you wear it for, say, 13 hours a day, every day for seven days, with each passing day, your body starts to temporarily hold that form. You get kind of used to it and you say, “I think you could pull it a little tighter,” and it’s easy to get carried away. [A corset] makes you yawn every time you put it on and you can’t really eat too much because you feel ill – so it wrecks your digestion. Psychologically, it’s just the feeling of being stuck and pulled and kept…’