EXCLUSIVE: HBO is rounding out cast for Julian Fellowes’ period drama The Gilded Age. Joining in recurring roles are Patrick Page (Hadestown), Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Amy Forsyth (Beautiful Boy), Taylor Richardson (All Together Now), Kelley Curran (The Blacklist) and Ben Ahlers (When the Street Lights Go On). Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married) is set as a special guest star.
The Gilded Age, which is a co-production between HBO and Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, comes from the Downton Abbey team of Fellowes, producer Gareth Neame and director Michael Engler. It is an epic drama that follows the millionaire titans of New York City in the 1880s.
The story begins in 1882 — introducing young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), the orphaned daughter of a Union general who moves into the New York City home of her thoroughly old-money aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). Accompanied by Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), an accomplished African-American woman, Marian inadvertently becomes enmeshed in a social war between one of her aunts, a scion of the old-money set, and her stupendously rich neighbors, a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George (Morgan Spector) and Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon). In this exciting new world that is on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society or forge her own path?
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Page will play Richard Clay, George Russell’s loyal secretary. Sills portrays Monsieur Baudin, the stylish, particular, and sometimes hysterical chef of the Russell house. Forsyth is Caroline “Carrie” Astor, the handsome daughter of one of the most powerful women in New York City.
Richardson portrays Bridget, a combined housemaid, kitchen maid, and lady’s maid in the Brook house. She’s a decent and hard-working immigrant girl from Ireland who has come to America to build a new future, though she has low expectations of life because of a troubled and abusive past.
Curran will play Turner, Bertha’s ambitious American lady’s maid, who, though grudgingly accepting of her position in the Russell house, does not intend to be a servant all her days. Her loyalty is skin deep and she is always looking for a way out.
Ahlers is Jack Treacher, a footman/hall boy/jack of all trades in the Brook house. A perfect footman in those days would be 5’10” or taller, as height was desirable, although Jack would not be considered the perfect anything. He does whatever jobs no one else wants to do and doesn’t complain.
Irwin portrays Cornelius Eckhard. Though Ada hides it well, her interest is piqued when Cornelius reappears in her life after many years. A former beau from her days in Pennsylvania, Cornelius and Ada haven’t seen each other since the Civil War threw all of their lives into chaos. Cornelius makes his interest in rekindling their friendship clear, and while Ada’s niece Marian is thrilled at the idea of her aunt finding romance, Ada’s sister Agnes remains dubious about his motives.
They join series regulars Christine Baranski, Carrie Coon, Cynthia Nixon, Morgan Spector, Denée Benton, Louisa Jacobson, Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, Simon Jones, Harry Richardson, Thomas Cocquerel and Jack Gilpin. Previously announced recurring cast includes Kelli O’Hara, Donna Murphy, Michael Cerveris, Debra Monk, Katie Finneran, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Kristine Nielsen and John Douglas Thompson, and special guest stars Audra McDonald and Jeanne Triplehorn.
The nine-part series was created, written and exec produced by Fellowes with Gareth Neame and David Crockett also exec producing. Michael Engler and Salli Richardson-Whitfield are directors and exec producers with Sonja Warfield as writer and co-exec producer. Bernie Telsey and Adam Caldwell from Telsey + Company are casting directors.
Character descriptions follow below.
Christine Baranski as Agnes van Rhijn — Agnes is a proud and stubborn aristocrat who will never accept that the world has changed, and that ancient values are being replaced by new ones. She found herself penniless as her parents’ fortune was foundering, but she managed to catch a husband just in time. Agnes has a son named Oscar, whom she worships, but her worship is not returned.
Cynthia Nixon as Ada Brook — Unlike her sister Agnes, Ada never found a husband and was forced to rely on her sister’s charity. She is not naturally confrontational, but she is capable of standing up for what she believes.
Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell — Bertha comes from the ordinary middle-class. She backed her instincts when she set out to catch her husband George, the son of a merchant family who has proved to be a financial genius. She is determined to use her money and position to break into a society that resists change at every turn.
Morgan Spector as George Russell — A classic robber baron of his own time, Russell is pleasant enough in company. He’s fond of his wife and his children, but utterly ruthless in business. He has already acquired millions, and billions will follow. In every challenge, George must win.
Denée Benton as Peggy Scott — Is a young, ambitious, writer. She was raised in New York and educated at the prestigious Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. We meet Peggy at a crossroads. She’s haunted by her past and lingering questions that she’s unable to find answers to, so she chooses to leave Pennsylvania and return home. She meets Marian at the train station. Both women are seeking a fresh start and form an unlikely friendship as they begin this next chapter of their lives in New York, but Peggy’s secret will eventually be revealed causing a tectonic shift in her world.
Louisa Jacobson as Marian Brook — Our principal heroine. Lovely and strong. Born to an old Pennsylvania family, but her father has left her without a penny. In one way, Marian knows that her probable fate will be to marry as well as she can and survive, but she wants more than this. She is of her own time, and so curtailed by the rules then obtaining, but there is a modern streak in her, too. She wants to do something with her life. She wants to be fulfilled. She moves from Doylestown to New York City after her father dies to live with her estranged aunts.
Taissa Farmiga as Gladys Russell — A classic, innocent and lovely child of the rich who doesn’t want a governess or for her mother to treat her as a child anymore, she wants to be out in society meeting suitable young men. She doesn’t really know how her father made his money, and she doesn’t much care, but she is used to it and wouldn’t know what to do without it. She has an independent streak, but her petulance is no match for her mama. Her mother uses her as a tool for her own ambition and forces her toward socially advantageous situations.
Blake Ritson as Oscar Van Rhijn — Agnes van Rhijn’s charismatic son. He’s decided it’s time to settle down and has become obsessed with money while on the lookout for a serious heiress who will allow him to live, as he would put it, properly. Smart, attractive, poised, charming and mischievous, he enjoys witty banter. He is one of the few who will stand up to his mother and will not listen to his mother’s advice which will cause her a good deal of frustration.
Simon Jones as Bannister — As an English immigrant, the Van Rhijn’s butler likes to give the impression that he is immensely grand but in fact he was the son of a poor cobbler from the English midlands, whose grandmother paid for him to sail on an emigration ship when he was fourteen years old. He came up the hard way, learning how to speak, how to dress, how to behave, changing jobs each time he felt he was ready for the next step. He joined the van Rhijn household a year before the death of Mr van Rhijn and so, for the old lady, he is a link with her own past.
Harry Richardson as Larry Russell — Appealing and good natured with an easy charm, Larry is a recent Harvard university graduate eager to make his way in the world. Above all, Larry is his mother’s child, her Achilles’ heel, the one person she loves without limit and he loves her as well. He is protective of his little sister, Gladys, and like her he is a classic child of the rich. He thinks he doesn’t care about money, because he has always had plenty of it.
Thomas Cocquerel as Tom Raikes — Tom is a sensible young lawyer from Doylestown, PA. He’s been a solitary and career-driven practical man but is smitten when he meets Marian, his late client’s orphaned daughter. He relocates to New York City in pursuit of a relationship with Marian. Tom understands that Marian’s family, specifically her two aunts, are very conservative and he’s careful not to overstep any boundaries along the way. He’ll put up a fight to get what he wants, but he’s an appealing, charming gentleman above all else.
Jack Gilpin as Church — Church is the Russell family’s butler. He is American, from a dismal background, but evades his past by excelling at his job. He has no time for nonsense in the workplace due to his attention and care for his job. Above all, he’s Bertha’s ally and he intends to stay reasonably true to her every step of the way, unlike her own maid.
Jeanne Tripplehorn as Sylvia Chamberlain — Mrs. Chamberlain is a tall and beautiful enigmatic figure. A genuine expert in the creative arts and a great art collector, she is entirely excluded from high society because of her suspected past until Marian is kind to her.
Audra McDonald as Dorothy Scott — Is a devoted wife, mother and accomplished pianist, but her life is unsettled because her family is in turmoil. She and her husband Arthur are estranged from their daughter Peggy. Dorothy’s fervent desire is to reunite with her only child and put the past behind them. However, she soon makes a shocking discovery that disrupts and jeopardizes any hope of family reconciliation.
Kelli O’Hara as Aurora Fane — Aurora Fane is Agnes van Rhijn’s niece by marriage and takes Marian under her wing when Marian makes her entrance into New York Society. Aurora is naturally elegant, likeable, honest, loyal – but above all, Aurora is aware of the social game she must play to maintain her place amongst the upper class.
Donna Murphy as Mrs. Astor — Imperious and commanding, Mrs. Astor is the most prominent American socialite of the time. As the chief gatekeeper standing in the way of the Russell family’s acceptance into New York society, Mrs. Astor’s approval is something that Bertha Russell is willing to achieve at any cost.
Michael Cerveris as Watson — Though George Russell’s valet is as steadfast as he is stoic, in private moments a mysterious past, and fall from grace, is suggested. However, this does not keep him from expressing an optimistic attitude about the Russell family and their potential for success in New York Society.
Debra Monk as Armstrong — As Mrs. van Rhijn’s maid, Armstrong enjoys an elevated position amongst the staff of the Brook House. Armstrong’s deep social biases, coupled with her need to be on the inside of every secret, promises to get her into trouble. Unfortunately, her private life is already fraught with trouble…
Katie Finneran as Anne Morris — Anne is the haughty and unforgiving wife of city alderman Patrick Morris. She’s established her place in this small circle of wealthy women and is determined to keep that circle closed to new money interlopers.
Celia Keenan-Bolger as Mrs. Bruce — As the Russell’s new housekeeper, Mrs. Bruce comes highly recommended – but not without something to prove. As a senior member of the house, she has been tasked with assisting Bertha with hosting social events worthy of New York high society.
Kristine Nielsen as Mrs. Bauer — A German immigrant, Mrs. Bauer has found her career as a cook for Mrs. Van Rhijn. Blessed with maternal instincts that stretch beyond the kitchen, she acts as a mother figure to the younger members of the Brook House staff, especially young Bridget.
John Douglas Thompson as Arthur Scott — As a freed slave living in Brooklyn less than 20 years after the end of the Civil War, Arthur has used his education and his ambition to open a successful chain of pharmacies and provide for his wife Dorothy and their rebellious only child, Peggy. When he reunites with Peggy, it is clear that her rebellion is based on deeply rooted bad blood.