Taissa chats The Gilded Age with Digital Spy
Interviews The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age’s Taissa Farmiga on Downton Abbey and – yep – American Horror Story comparisons.

On the face of it, Taissa Farmiga’s latest TV role is worlds away from the scares of American Horror StoryThe Gilded Age is supposed to be about romance and beautiful gowns, after all. But, if you scratch beneath that rich, luxuriant surface, you’ll find that The Gilded Age has a few horrors of its own too.

Almost everyone is trapped in a life they never chose for themselves, whether it’s Oscar, a gay closeted man forced to hide his identity, or Marian, who had to give up her life back home after her gambling addict of a father died. And then there’s Gladys. Poor Gladys is practically confined to her home, as beautiful as it is, and she’s entirely robbed of her agency by overbearing parents who don’t even try to understand where she’s coming from.

Digital Spy caught up with American Horror Story icon Taissa Farmiga to chat about Gladys’ plight in more detail. Along the way, we also discussed everything from those luscious, yet uncomfortable costumes to the possibility of a return to American Horror Story in the very near future.

First off, we have to talk about the costumes. Was there a standout favourite you enjoyed wearing on set?

It’s always such a hard question because, you know, so much attention and detail has gone into every single piece of every single outfit – from the buttons, to the stitching, to the colour of the ribbon, to the texture of the ribbon.

Over Gladys’ arc, the costumes sort of mirror where she’s going. She starts off in a very innocent place and a place where her mother has a lot of control over her. So she’s almost doll-like in a sense, or her mother dresses her up and manipulates her.

And towards the end of the season, she’s able to attain some freedom and find some independence. The costumes sort of mimic that. So towards the end, there are some really beautiful, beautiful pieces that I’m excited to see – they’re extravagant.

There’s one that I’m thinking of that is just large and random, in all meanings of the word.

But were the costumes sometimes uncomfortable to wear?

One hundred percent. There were absolutely times when it was ridiculously uncomfortable, and I just wanted to be off my feet, to not be in the corset. I think the hardest thing is getting used to living 12 or 14 hours a day in a corset.

I think overall, “Costumes” was accommodating. If you were like, “This is too much, I can’t take it” – they found a way to make it look beautiful but also… we do live in 2020 – or, at the time it was 2020. I need a little bit more comfort in my life [laughs].

What sets The Gilded Age apart from other costume dramas like Bridgerton?

One of the reasons I was stoked about this project from the beginning was that it was going to be done by HBO. And HBO, when they put their stamp on something, it’s done so, so well, in the way they invest in it, and the people they choose, the expertise they have, and the amount of money they can put into it.

I think there’s a lot of care and attention to detail. I think that makes a huge difference. I haven’t seen Bridgerton, so it’s hard to compare, but I think it’s a different time period and a different location. I think it’s just unique in its own way, because especially the people that you choose, they put their own stamp on it, while trying to stay true and dedicated to the accuracy of that time period as well.

With Julian Fellowes’ involvement in this and Downton Abbey, how do you feel about the comparisons viewers will inevitably make between the two shows?

I don’t mind comparisons. I think people are going to love different things, and maybe there are certain aspects that might feel similar. It’s all coming from Julian Fellowes’ mind, and he’s had a say in all of it.

I think part of it can definitely feel like, “Ugh, it’s Downton Abbey lifted and set in New York – set in an American backdrop, with American pieces of American history.”

How does somebody in the modern-day relate to a time-period thing anyway? There are a lot of universal themes, and I think the nuanced characters that Julian writes – it’s the relationships.

The relationships bring so much drama. While reading the scripts, was there ever a moment that you found particularly juicy or shocking?

Looking back – I was attached to this in 2019, and we were supposed to film in 2020, and there was the pandemic, so it got pushed a bit too late [in] 2020 and 2021. But I finally got to watch the first couple of episodes.

And since there’s been a bit of time since I’ve seen it, I actually got to watch it almost like an audience member. So I’m having those same moments of: “Wait, what happens next? I want the next episode. Oh, wait, I only have three.”

It’s the same experience. I think that’s what’s so fun about it. One aspect that’s really fun about Julian’s writing is how he draws you in at the end of it. It’s like: “I need more.”

One of the key relationships for Gladys is obviously with her mother, and it’s quite a fraught one. What was it like to play that out on set with Carrie Coon?

Oh my god, oh my god. I adore Carrie Coon. I don’t think I have enough positive things to say about her. She’s a phenomenal actress, but she’s also, as a person, one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve met, while, at the same time, she’ll bust your balls, and then also compliment you. And you’re just like, “I love you!”

Working with her was phenomenal. The relationship with the mother was definitely one of the biggest draws for me for Gladys. I really related to her desire to step out from her mother’s shadow, to step out from her grip, and experience the world independently, to form your own opinions on things, and such.

I think that Carrie bettered me as an actress, being able to go toe to toe with someone who was so talented, and also so real, and always so present.

Carrie and Morgan [Spector] have great chemistry, so any family scenes, I feel like they flew by. It just happened so naturally. And as an actress, that’s a very, very fortunate thing to be able to have and say.

Period dramas tend to be very precise when it comes to dialogue and how people behave. Despite that, were you given the chance to improvise at all on set?

I feel like it was mostly scripted. I know there were a few moments here or there. It wasn’t necessarily improv, because it was sort of in the moment or in the day it was figured out with the director or whoever – if they had a writer helping out. Or when Julian had a line changed from afar. Because with Covid and everything, Julian wasn’t physically on set, but he was present, and he was watching, and he’d comment.

He’d either have a slight line change, or a critique for how you’re holding your sherry glass or your dessert fork.

But honestly, I love it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I love continuity. It’s one of my favourite things in acting. So the dinner scenes, I loved, because we had to do everything specifically, like the way you hold the wine glasses, or any of the glasses you can only hold it from the stem, or the way you’re supposed to cut and transfer the fork… there were so many rules.

What are some of your favourite memories from working on season one?

For the most part, we kind of stayed in our little groups. So I think some of the best memories were when we had the ensemble scenes, which are sprinkled in throughout the season.

But when you get to have almost everybody of the, like, 25 series regulars or whatever it is in the same room – that was wild. That was a really humbling moment, to look around, and see everyone – they’re awesome. But to be like, “Oh, shit, I’m a part of this. We’re all in this together.” It was really, really cool.

I think my second favourite thing is all the dinner scenes, because Carrie and I, love to eat, and the food was so good. You’re doing dinner scenes, and you have to eat. They have to make it look beautiful for set decoration, right? And it tastes so good. So good.

They bring out these decadent desserts, and I was like, “Oh, I ate too much of mine. I need more.” And in between, you see us eating. It was a problem for the corsets, but we were very happy.

Would you be interested in returning for season two?

Definitely interested. I speak for most of the cast, that we had such a phenomenal time together, that we would love to jump back into this world and keep living it together.

I think for me, personally, I’ve done quite a few seasons on TV shows, but I’ve never been able to go back for the subsequent season with the same character, and the next year, with the second arc, and see how they grow.

On American Horror Story season one, I had Violet – I didn’t do season two. On season three, I had Zoe. Obviously, there was a moment where I went back for one episode and what have you, but it’s not the same.

So that would be phenomenal. Absolutely in a heartbeat, I would want to play Gladys again.

Are you planning on returning to American Horror Story one day? And if so, do you envision it as another cameo or would you rather take a lead role again?

It’s such a hard question to answer because American Horror Story is just a part of who I am. I played Violet when I was 17 when I was first getting into acting, and I was discovering myself. So whenever anyone mentions Horror Story, it’s like, “Ah, it’s a bit of home.”

It’s like a timing thing. I know there were talks previously, but then I was filming on this, and Covid, and the travelling and all these protocols.

So, yeah, I can never say no if it’s the right time and the right opportunity. And it’s like, sure, the idea of a cameo is fun, because we get to go in and meet up, and be like, “Hey, it’s me.”

But then it’s also like, I’m still best friends with some of the hair and makeup people, and the crew. You hear them talking about the show. And I’m like, “But I miss it.” It’s a funny mix of all those feelings, you know?