By Maria Estevez, MWN
The public is transported to 16e century in France with the gripping new drama “The Serpent Queen” on Starz. This ambitious and lush production explores the life of one of the most fascinating queens of all time, Catherine de’ Medici.
From her humble origin story to her long reign as a royal, Catherine was a survivor from the start and her trajectory from commoner to influencer was defined by fearless courage and a willingness to take matters into her own hands.
The show is led by the amazing Samantha Morton as the queen. In this thoroughly modern series, the characters break the fourth wall, giving viewers a taste of what drove one of history’s most infamous leaders in an edgy, dark, and completely unexpected take.
Metro spoke with Morton to find out more.
What drew you to this part and what did you want to bring to its story that we hadn’t seen before?
I think a combination of elements drew me to the role. When I was younger, I was told I didn’t have a period face and wasn’t cut out for costume drama. But I was always fascinated by history at school. It was and is something that I find very fascinating. And history was mostly written by men. So there was the aspect of a historical drama that really interested me. And then working with Justin and Erwin is when I saw their names on my agent’s email, I was really excited because I knew who they were.
I mean, it’s Catherine de Medici, it’s the dream role. His story is incredibly fascinating, complex, seductive and devastating. So for me to have the opportunity to address all of these issues, relationships, decisions and work with all of these incredible actors who were also cast was a dream role and I feel honored to play Catherine for the team.
Did you work with Liv Hill (Young Catherine) from the same research material?
I think we obviously both had the same storyline, conversations with Justin and Stacie Passon directing, and then luckily we hung out together on Zoom. We were shooting this during the time of the COVID lockdown, so it was very difficult for us to meet outside of this. And I was shooting something else. So we talked on Zoom about how it must feel for Catherine to talk about her childhood. We talked about the religious aspects and the connection as actors. We both come from a similar area in Nottingham, well, a bit outside of Nottingham, but we had a connection before. And I think Liv and I share very similar elements when we play.
Also, I didn’t want Liv to feel like she had to be glued to anything. I wanted her to have total freedom so that when I arrived on board Catherine had this strength of character. And I didn’t watch any sequences before playing old Catherine. It was also trusting the casting process, and trusting Liv and she trusted me.
Liv is extraordinary in this role. I’m a big fan of Liv Hill anyway, so when I found out she was cast as young Catherine, I was so excited but also intimidated because it’s hard to follow. But I think it went well. And I think people change too, hugely from 14 to 30 and 40, but not so much in their minds sometimes. And I think Liv and I have created a real similarity that if you haven’t seen the show yet, I really hope you feel it when you see it.
Catherine is very calm and sometimes very naughty. Was it your choice to keep his voice low?
I think my interpretation of Catherine is a combination of early conversations with Justin and my interpretation of the scripts. I feel like she was, in a very traditional way, keeping in mind that she’s Italian, or almost like a don in “The Godfather.” He is a very reserved person. She thinks. She doesn’t always feel the need to have instinctive reactions to anything. So calm is more cunning and I would argue on the wrong side. But that’s our interpretation of Catherine de’ Medici.
You were still a teenager when you starred in Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë movies, and now you’re in this one. What was it like having a quick start like that and acting in another period-like epic like this now?
I don’t feel the same because I’m not the same. I am 45 years old. I have three children, including a 22 year old who acts herself. I’m a different person and I’ve lived many lives. So to be able to have experienced the youthful aspect of playing Jane Eyre or Harriet in “Emma,” and those are all pretty big roles, has been amazing. But coming back and doing that later in life, playing a terrific queen, in some ways I have to say, and that might sound weird, but kind of connects me to the story because personally I had a very complex that I had to face. I was homeless as a teenager. I’ve had a lot of situations that aren’t so desirable. So when I was reading about Catherine’s background and history obviously I’m not royalty and I don’t rule but this idea that this person could have absolutely nothing and then progress towards what they do in the story… It’s a real person that we have to remember here, it’s not just a novel, even though it’s a great book that it’s based on.
It’s amazing to have the opportunity to still work at 45 and play a very important role in history because, and it’s a credit to Justin and Erwin that they want to tell this story and Starz that they want to do that because we need more women’s stories and we need more stories that actually look at history and say, “Is that really what happened ? Because that’s often the male perspective of the story. So, I’m incredibly proud of this series and, yes, thrilled to play Catherine.
We know that Catherine does not care about the judgment of her peers. Is she concerned about her perception of herself?
This is a very good question because obviously there is the Catholicism side of things and just the spirituality aspect. Does she care what other people think? No, quite frankly, she doesn’t. I think for her, she’s here for the long game. She’s looking X years into the future and she has to see everything from different angles all the time and be so far ahead of everyone else’s game. I think she is struggling with her relationship with God, faith and spirituality.
But we look back in history and women who were midwives, knew herbs or qualities of certain mushrooms, or prayed under a full moon, were called witches. Men are smart. Oh, they’re alchemists, they’re scientists, they’re astronomers… they’re very smart. But I think history writes that women are evil or devilish simply because they are incredibly smart and crafty. There are lines about getting into the dark arts. I think she certainly pushes the envelope when it comes to fulfilling her destiny and just listens to her instincts.
“The Serpent Queen” is streaming now on Starz.