(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/12; via Pam Green; Photo: Denée Benton, left, and Louisa Jacobson during filming of the coming HBO historical drama “The Gilded Age.” Benton is one of many celebrated stage actors in the cast.Credit…Alison Rosa/HBO.)
New and returning TV series like “The Gilded Age” and “The Good Fight” have been a lifeline for celebrated theater actors during the pandemic. Will TV, or theater, ever look the same?
Back in March, the actress Kelli O’Hara arrived on Rhode Island’s Gold Coast. A company of theater heroes, with enough combined Tonys to crowd a mansion’s mantels, met her there. “It was almost like Broadway said, ‘We’re shutting down,’” O’Hara recalled during a recent telephone interview. “So 20 of us got together and said, ‘Let’s go do a play in a seaside town.’”
But O’Hara — and colleagues like Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Debra Monk and Cynthia Nixon — hadn’t come to Newport to for a summer stock job. Or even for the clam cakes. They were on location for “The Gilded Age,” a robber baron costume drama from Julian Fellowes that will premiere on HBO in 2022.
With Broadway theaters closed since last April, “The Gilded Age” joins current series like “The Good Fight,” “Younger” and “Billions” and upcoming ones like “The Bite” and a “Gossip Girl” reboot in providing a glitzy refuge for theater stars during the shutdown. Broadway performers have always appeared here and there on scripted series. (No 2000s Playbill bio was complete without a “Law & Order” credit.) But this past year, television work — which is typically better paid than theater and more luxurious in its perks — was pretty much the only show in town.
“People are just really excited to be working and to have human contact and to be on set and telling a story again,” Allison Estrin, the casting director of “Billions,” said. “Every actor I’ve talked to has just expressed nothing but gratitude and excitement for being able to work right now.”
And because every stage actor was suddenly available, television has never seemed so theatrical. (You could cast a credible Sondheim revival with actors on “The Good Fight” alone.) Will television ever look the same? Will Broadway?
A year or so ago, casting directors would have had to compete with — or maneuver around — Broadway commitments. “It was always a scheduling nightmare to work around people’s curtain times,” Robert King, a creator of “The Good Wife” and “The Bite” said.
“Sorry to say it, but it worked for us,” he added about the shutdown, “because we could schedule more freely.”