EXCLUSIVE: Denée Benton (Hamilton), Louisa Jacobson (Gone Hollywood), Taissa Farmiga (The Twilight Zone), Blake Ritson (Krypton) and Simon Jones (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) are set to co-star in Julian Fellowes’ The Gilded Age drama series at HBO. The project, which moved from NBC to HBO earlier this year, is a co-production between HBO and Universal TV. The fictional epic of the millionaire titans of New York City in the 1880s hails from the Downton Abbey team of Fellowes, producer Gareth Neame and director Michael Engler. They join previously announced cast Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Amanda Peet and Morgan Spector.
Created, written and executive produced by Fellowes, The Gilded Age centers on a period of immense economic change in America, of huge fortunes made and lost, and the rise of disparity between old money and new. Against this backdrop of change, the story begins in 1882 – introducing young Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a Southern general, who moves into the home of her rigidly conventional aunts in New York City. Accompanied by the mysterious Peggy Scott, an African-American woman masquerading as her maid, Marian gets caught up in the dazzling lives of her stupendously rich neighbors, led by a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife struggling for acceptance by the Astor and Vanderbilt set. Will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path in this exciting new world that is on the brink of transformation into the modern age?
Benton will play Peggy, who was a young child when slavery was abolished and her parents were freed in West Virginia. Raised in NY, she is among the first generation of African Americans who never really knew slavery first hand. She has a past which she is not anxious to share with anyone, but like Marian, she is in need of a friend and a new start when they meet in Charleston. They travel to New York together and decide that Peggy will pose as Marian’s maid until she can decide what to do next with her life. Her dream is to become a writer, but she has difficulty in expressing this because she thinks she will be perceived as foolish for having such a desire.
Jacobson is Marian Brook. Our principal heroine. Lovely and strong. Born to an old southern 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 Charleston to New York City after her father dies to live with her estranged aunts.
Farmiga portrays 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.
Ritson plays 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.
Jones portrays 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. He will take a risk, exposing his rival in the Russell household, Church, by digging up his unsavory past and humiliating him in front of the staff he commands.
Fellowes, Neame, Engler and David Crockett executive produce and Engler also directs.
Benton currently stars as Eliza in Broadway’s Tony-winning musical Hamilton. On television, she starred as Ruby in season 2 of Lifetime’s hit series UnReal and filmed the pilot 25 for CBS. Upcoming, Benton will appear alongside Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck, and Jason Segel in indie feature The Friend. which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Jacobson shot the FX pilot, Gone Hollywood, opposite John Magaro and Judd Hirsch, written and directed by Ted Griffin and produced by Scott Rudin. On stage, Jacobson recently starred as Juliet in The Old Globe’s production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Barry Edelstein.
Farmiga’s recent television credits include FX’s American Horror Story and The Twilight Zone for CBS All Access. She can also seen in features The Nun and Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. She will also appear in Quibi’s upcoming anthology series, 50 States.
Ritson was most recently seen playing DC Comic’s super villain, Brainiac, in Syfy’s Krypton. Other previous credits include Indian Summers for UK’s Channel 4 and Starz’s Davinci’s Demons, along with starring roles in the miniseries Upstairs Downstairs and World Without End with Cynthia Nixon.
Jones is best known for his portrayal of Arthur Dent in the radio, television and stage adaptations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. He also appeared as Bridey in miniseries Brideshead Revisited, and as Sir Walter Raleigh in Blackadder. He was seen most recently in the feature film version of Downton Abbey.
Benton is repped by Perennial Entertainment, WME, and Schreck Rose Dapello Adams Berlin & Dunham LLP. Jacobson is repped by CAA and Brookside Artist Management. Farmiga is repped by ICM Partners, Anonymous Content and Peikoff Mahan. Ritson is repped by ICM Partners, Authentic Talent and Literary Management, Curtis Brown in the UK and Peikoff Mahan. Jones is repped by Innovative Artists and Roger Carey Associates.