Samantha Morton spoke with The Natural Aristocrat about playing Catherine de Medici in STARZ series The Serpent Queen. Morton discussed her own childhood and family’s working class upbringing relating to Catherine’s.
Though Morton said she’s not “Queen of Anywhere”, she was happy to be playing this role at 45 and working regularly, where in the past women were written off acting roles at a certain age.
This Serpent Queen interview with Samantha Morton took place during a STARZ press day roundtable over Zoom.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): Did you meet with Liv Hill prior to filming The Serpent Queen to match Catherine de Medici’s personality traits? Also, is this the first time you’ve had an actress play a younger version of your character on a TV series?
SAMANTHA MORTON: Oh no, I’ve been acting since I was 11. Many, many ‘poor’ actresses have had to play a young me. I did meet Liv over Zoom a little bit, like what we are doing now.
There was lots of conversations and we were talking about our interpretation of Catherine and what compelled us. And you know, our opinions about Henri.
So we didn’t get to rehearse together because we weren’t in any scenes together and because we’re playing the same person. But it was beneficial to have that Zoom time.
Minor spoiler for Episode 1 ahead
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Catherine De Medici lulls not just Rahima but the audience itself into a false sense of security and comfort with the Queen in the first episode (“MEDICI B***H”). I was wondering how much fun it was as an actress to play that slow burn into the twist?
SAMANTHA MORTON: I think there’s a lot of twists in terms of the show. For those that don’t know her (Catherine De Medici) life, it’s really extraordinary.
You can’t believe it’s real and yet it was real. So every aspect of playing Catherine was exciting, very interesting and a joy to play.
Samantha Morton on relating to Catherine De Medici’s childhood:
I grew up in kind of a Northern middle town in the UK that was very deprived. I come from a very, very working class background. My family spent time homeless. My parents worked in factories when they could work.
I left school at 12. I was sheltered from pillar to post. I was in the care system. Interestingly, you have Catherine who was an orphan, also shoved from pillar to post.
Catherine was told she wasn’t worth anything because she was Italian. When she arrived in France, she was kind of owned by other people. When you are owned by the state, you have no say in where you live or who you live with or anything about your life… Until you become legally separate from this state.
I’m not the queen of anywhere, but I’ve achieved a huge amount based on my adverse childhood.
So there were certainly elements of that I could tap into… And go ‘Yeah, I’ve had to be really strong.’ Not to feel sorry for myself. To get up every morning and go ‘don’t let them grind you down.’
You can get through another day and that’s a survival thing, you know? So there were certainly similarities. And the Catholicism when I grew up, I’m Polish, Irish. So there were a lot of Catholics in my family when I was growing up.
There were things that I could relate to in regards to the religious aspect about the role.
Samantha Morton on being 45 as an actress:
I think for me as an actor to get to play Catherine de Medici at age 45 is really exciting. Like a good wine or a good cheese, we get better with age sometimes when we learn our craft.
Whether you are a chef or a gardener or an actor or a musician, we have the opportunity to get better and better if we’re given that opportunity.
And so often in television and films, women were written off at a certain age because you weren’t desirable or the story wasn’t really about you. So for me, it’s amazing that I’m getting to do this and that I’m still working regularly at 45.
Samantha Morton compares Catherine De Medici to playing TWD’s Alpha, costume wise:
I think first of all, I like to know who the characters are on the inside because so often in a scene, certainly even in a period drama… You will be in a costume and you’ll be either The Serpent Queen or in a nightgown giving birth to a baby. You can’t rely on all of that to carry you all the time. You can’t rely on all those props.
You have to know who they are inside. You have to feel it instinctively. I do feel that in The Walking Dead, you have a situation with Alpha whereby Alpha almost has a uniform. Like she’s a soldier.Once she’s got the gear on, then she’s in in work mode.
The same has to be said for Catherine de Medici, that once I get that black dress on, she means business. You know, that you are not the vulnerable Catherine. It’s not the Catherine behind closed doors. It’s the poker face.
It’s the, ‘Okay, bring it on. We’re gonna play this game now.’ So the clothes helped enormously. And the costume design on The Serpent Queen was possibly the best costumes for that era I’d ever seen or worked with!
The attention to detail that Karen Muller Serreau did. And the design of these clothes were just exceptional.
Every day when I had to get them on and get to set, I was like, oh my God, this is so beautiful! You know, the hours of work that went into making them, and then the privilege of getting to wear them was amazing. I can’t keep any, they’re not for me. They’re there for the show and you’ll get to see them at an exhibition one day.
Samantha Morton on powerful women being vilified:
Women have been vilified just for being women, just for being loving or empathetic, or maybe having some attitude. You know, we’re not allowed that. Men in history, wizards are all amazing, they’re so kind.
And their wives, the women are always gnarly and they’ve got cats and snakes. You know what I mean? It’s like, ‘Oh come on! So I think The Serpent Queen hopefully does put a lot of that to bed in regards to that.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Samantha!
SAMANTHA MORTON: Thank you!
About Samantha Morton: Bio
“Multi-award-winning British actress Samantha Morton first garnered international
attention in 1997 starring in Carine Adler’s Under the Skin, earning her the Boston Film
Critics Award for Best Actress.
She has since gone on to work with such acclaimed directors as Woody Allen (Sweet and Lowdown), Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar), Stephen Spielberg (Minority Report), Jim Sheridan (In America), Michael Winterbottom (Code 46), Shekhar Kapur (The Golden Age), Harmony Korine (Mister Lonely), Anton Corbijn (Control), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York), David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis), Andrew Stanton (John Carter), Spike Jonze (Her) and David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
In a highly decorated career, Morton has twice been nominated for an Academy
Award®, twice nominated for a BAFTA Award and in 2007 she received a Best Actress
Golden Globe® for her portrayal of notorious child-murderer Myra Hindley in the
NBC/Channel 4 film Longford.
In 2009, Morton made her directorial debut with The Unloved, a semi-autobiographical film based in the British children’s care system, winning the BAFTA Television Award for Best Single Drama. Recently, Morton hasstarred in the hit Hulu/BBC TV show “Harlots” and AMC’s award-winning “The Walking Dead,” where she played the iconic villain, Alpha.
In 2020, She was nominated for a Best Actress BAFTA for the Dominic Savage drama “I Am Kirsty.” Morton recently finished filming the movie Save the Cinema.”
The Serpent Queen Trailer
The series will also premiere on Sunday, September 11 at midnight on the STARZ app, all STARZ streaming and on-demand platforms and internationally on the STARZPLAY premium streaming platform across all territories.
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