A great change! Fans have been immersed in the historical drama of HBO Max’s The Gilded Age since its season 1 debut.
The TV series, created by Downton Abbey showrunner Julian Fellowes, is set against the backdrop of 1880s America amid the “Gilded Age,” a historical period of immense economic change. The show — which premiered in January 2022 — follows Marian Brook (played by Louisa Jacobson) as she relocates from rural Pennsylvania to glamorous New York City to live with her wealthy aunts (portrayed by Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon) after the death of her father.
As Marian begins to experience life in the Big Apple, she inadvertently finds herself torn between her family’s old-money traditions and modernity, unsure whether she’ll follow her aunts’ stubborn ways or forge her own path.
“I [was] interested right away,” Jacobson told Vogue in February 2022 of her audition process. “The details I had about my character, Marian, at that stage were pretty limited. She’s described as an innocent country girl who moves to Manhattan after her father dies and leaves her penniless. She’s quite wide-eyed about the high society in which she finds herself, but there’s a boldness and a fire to her that’s slowly coming out, too.”
She continued: “The first day on set felt a bit like being shot out of a cannon, to be honest. I’m such a history geek, though — that’s a wonderful part of being an actor, digging into other periods you have never studied before.”
While Jacobson’s Marian is new to the world of New York high society, Baranski and Nixon’s characters (Agnes Van Rhijn and Ada Brook, respectively) are old professionals.
“One of the things about The Gilded Age that excited me most was that I would get to use [the] training I haven’t used in so long because I’ve played contemporary characters,” the Good Fight alum told Town & Country in January 2022. “Just say the words ‘Julian Fellowes [is] doing a TV show for HBO’ [and] I mean, OK, sign me up.”
Baranski added: “It actually felt a lot like theater … and I say that in the best possible sense that there we were doing this play on film.”
“I’m very interested in American history, which I think is very rich, and I think the Gilded Age period in many ways was a precursor of 20th century America [and] the very high-gloss, high-glamour, high-consumerist America that would flower with Hollywood and all these various other aspects was really being laid and rooted in the Gilded Age, in those super-prosperous years after [the] end of the Civil War,” Fellowes told The Hollywood Reporter of his TV inspiration in March 2022. “These [Gilded Age] people were very confident and they believed in themselves, they believed in their preeminence. … They were the one power on Earth that for the 20th century you needed on [your] side in any kind of cultural battle, you needed America’s team on your team. And I think that was emerging now as they define the new way of being rich, a new way of having society, a new way of living life.”
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Scroll below to see what the Gilded Age cast looks like in real life — sans corsets and period garb: