Like the other TV series and movies created by Julian Fellowes, The Gilded Age is very much about the pressures of modernity and about the key moments in history when one period and its mores are giving way to another. And, as is usual with period dramas, part of what makes this series work so well is its cast, who are uniformly excellent in the way that they capture their characters.
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As their filmographies demonstrate, the men and women who comprise the cast list bring a great deal of screen experience to the table.
10 Christine Baranski – “The Good Fight” (2017-)
Christine Baranski has been in many great movies and TV shows, but one of her most high-profile roles is in the series The Good Fight, in which she plays the character of Diane Lockhart. As she always does, Baranski infuses this character with a formidable personality, and Diane is known for her political advocacy and her fierce intellect, though she also has her fair share of troubles and conflicts as the series unfolds. Baranski brings her considerable powers to bear as Agnes van Rhijn, a woman who does not like the changes sweeping New York City.
9 Cynthia Nixon – “Sex And The City” (1998-2004)
Among Cynthia Nixon’s many famous roles, her most significant would have to be Miranda in Sex and the City. Of the four leads, Miranda is arguably the most cynical about the world and about men, and she is also the one with the most hard-headed approach to her professional life.
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However, there is also a sensitivity to her that she brings out as Ada Brook in The Gilded Age, someone who isn’t entirely afraid of the changes sweeping the city.
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8 Carrie Coon – “Fargo” (2017)
Fargo is one of the best dramas to have aired on FX, and Carrie Coon made a notable appearance in the third season, in which she played the character of Gloria Burgle, a member of the police who isn’t going to let anything stand in the way of getting to the heart of the mystery. She brings a similar sort of energy to her character in The Gilded Age. Bertha Russell may be newly rich, but she is going to do everything that she can to earn the grudging respect of the members of New York high society.
7 Morgan Spector – “The Mist” (2017)
In The Gilded Age, Morgan Spector plays Bertha’s husband, a powerful railroad magnate who is more than happy to do whatever he has to get ahead in the world of business, no matter who he has to ruin in the way. Before he appeared in this series, he was well-known for being in The Mist, one of the better Stephen King adaptations. In that series, he played the lead character, a man struggling to survive in a world suddenly torn apart by creatures from the titular mist.
6 Denée Benton – “Unreal” (2015-2018)
Unlike most other period dramas, The Gilded Age actually tackles the issue of race head-on, largely through the character of Peggy Scott, a young Black woman who yearns to be taken seriously as a writer. Benton’s most well-known television appearance prior to this one was in the series Unreal, in which she played a passionate Black Lives Matter leader.
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She brings that formidable energy to bear as Peggy, who has a mind of her own and isn’t afraid of rebelling against her family in her pursuit of her dreams.
5 Taissa Farmiga – “American Horror Story” (2011-)
American Horror Story is widely regarded as one of Ryan Murphy’s best series. Taissa Farmiga, who plays Bertha’s daughter in The Gilded Age, is no doubt recognizable to audiences for her numerous appearances in Murphy’s successful horror anthology. Though she appeared in several seasons of the series, she is most recognizable as Violet Harmon, a member of one of the unfortunate families that moves into the Murder House and beocmes imprisoned there as a ghost.
4 Harry Richardson – “Poldark” (2015-2019)
There have been many great period dramas over the years, and Poldark is widely seen as one of the most important of those. Harry Richardson, who plays Bertha’s son in The Gilded Age, is no doubt a familiar face to many fans of the genre, as he plays the character of Drake Carne. Even though he only entered the series during its third season, he soon became a very important character and cast a spell of his own as a romantic hero.
3 Blake Ritson – “Da Vinci’s Demons” (2013-2015)
The Starz channel has been responsible for creating many great period dramas, including Da Vinci’s Demons which, as the title suggests, focuses on the young life, career, and romantic exploits of Leonardo da Vinci. Blake Ritson plays the character of Girolamo Riario, a ruthless soldier (who also happens to be the nephew of the pope). He has a slightly softer personality in The Gilded Age, in which he plays a young wealthy man who harbors a secret love for another man.
2 Audra McDonald – “Beauty And The Beast” (2017)
Audra McDonald is widely known as one of the most talented stars on Broadway, and she makes a number of appearances in The Gilded Age as the mother of Peggy Scott. Though her career has mostly been on the stage, McDonald has made a number of notable movie appearances, including in the live-action Beauty and the Beast (one of the best of the recent remakes). She plays the memorable character of the wardrobe that befriends Belle.
1 Jack Gilpin – “Billions” (2016-)
As with Downton Abbey, The Gilded Age is just as interested in the lives of the servants as it is in the upstairs members of the household. Jack Gilpin delivers a memorable performance as Church, the Russell family’s most faithful servant (who defends them against members of his own staff). Among his many other credits, Gilpin is most recognizable for his role in the series Billions. He plays the character of Sean Ayles, one of the many characters in the series that understands the nature of power.
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About The Author
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Thomas J. West III earned a PhD in film and screen studies from Syracuse University in 2018. His writing on film, TV, and popular culture has appeared in Screenology, FanFare, Primetimer, Cinemania, and in a number of scholarly journals and edited collections. He co-hosts the Queens of the B’s podcast with Mark Muster and writes a regular newsletter, Omnivorous, on Substack.
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