HBO’s ‘The Gilded Age’
Litchfield County talents help bring it to life
By Linda Tuccio-Koonz
The much-anticipated second season of HBO’s historical drama “The Gilded Age” arrives Oct. 29. But did you know three Litchfield County residents, including actors Christine Baranski and Jack Gilpin, are part of what makes it so binge-worthy?
“Gilded Age,” from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes, tells a tale of the clash between old money and new in 1880s New York. Baranski, a “Downton” fan who relishes her role as aristocrat Agnes van Rhijn, says, “I always longed to do a period film.”
Years ago, after learning Fellowes wanted to dream up an American version of “Downton,” she approached him at an HBO after-party. “We had a great talk about the Drexels, my late husband’s family on his mother’s side. They were prominent in the Gilded Age,” says the Emmy and Tony winner, known recently for TV’s “The Good Fight.”
Gilpin, who plays Church (the loyal butler of a nouveau riche family, the Russells), enjoys that his character is multilayered. The stage, film, and TV actor (Showtime’s “Billions”) says he was drawn to “Gilded Age” because it takes place during “a fascinating historical period, with a lot of strong parallels to contemporary American society and politics.”
Wealth inequality is among them, but another involves traffic. That’s where Terryville’s Ken Wood comes in; he’s among the series’ many drivers of horse-drawn vehicles. “It’s New York City in the 1880s when there were no cars—it was all horses and carriages,” says Wood, who has filmed in locations from Troy, N.Y., to Newport, R.I.
Wood, of Wood Acres Farm, drives everything from produce wagons to passenger carriages. “We really don’t get to talk to the major actors because they’re focused on what they’re doing. They know their lines so well, it’s unbelievable.”
Baranski and Gilpin have performed in the same projects before, but they weren’t exactly “together.”
Gilpin explains: “Christine and I were in a movie [“Reversal of Fortune,” about the Claus von Bulow case, in 1990] and I did an episode of ‘The Good Wife’ about ten years ago, and we were in the same evening of one-act plays at the Ensemble Studio Theater in New York about 35 years ago, but in none of those were we actually in any scenes together. So ‘The Gilded Age’ is the first time that’s happened (and so far, it was only her storming past me in the front hall of the Russell House).”
So, what can fans expect when the new eight-episode season debuts? Fearsome van Rhijn will still be wearing her beautiful jewel-toned corset dresses, but changes are coming.
“The character had to start off very rigid since it is her class that is being threatened by the nouveau riche,” Baranski says. “We see her struggle to cope with the changing world and the entrance of her rebellious niece into the family.”
Gilpin adds, “I can’t share anything about season two, except that I’m absolutely sure you’ll enjoy it at least as much as you did season one.”