Creator/Showrunner, EP, and Screenwriter Justin Haythe & EP Erwin Stoff spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the stunning castle shots in The Serpent Queen and the premiere’s voyeuristic ‘consummating marriage’ scene.
This interview took place during a STARZ press day roundtable over Zoom for The Serpent Queen.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): In the first episode (“Medici B***h”) there’s a line about the importance of presentation. The detail of the costumes and the ‘Goose Egg’ carriage in particular were visually stunning. For the castle landscapes, are the backgrounds CG generated or all filmed on location?
ERWIN STOFF: It was very, very real. Those were the actual places. And we shot in the actual halls, gardens, and rooms that Catherine lived in.
JUSTIN HAYTHE: We shot the show under a lot of duress because it was in the middle of COVID, but it afforded us some opportunities. One of which is these buildings were closed for the first time to the public. And they have thousands and thousands of people who visit these palace, these châteaux every day. But we had it to ourselves.
We were wandering around in these spaces, the scale of these châteaux are ridiculous. I mean, they are so gorgeous, so ornamental, and they were built, I think as acts of presentation. Acts of the power as a presentation.
This is a time when people were living in caves and subsistence farming and down the road is this incredible palace. I think so much about royalty was managing their image. And I think Catherine was masterful at managing hers.
ERWIN STOFF: One of the castles that we shot and had 400 rooms, it was built as a hunting lodge. King Francis, I think visited it twice.
JUSTIN HAYTHE: They spent two weeks there. And the amazing thing is when you wander around in the back rooms, there’s graffiti all over the walls. You look closely and it’ll be 17 something, somebody would scratch their name.
ERWIN STOFF: Yeah, François was there in 1683.
JUSTIN HAYTHE: And they used to carry their furniture from house to house. They’d come and they would move from Château to Château and eat everything that was available and drink… And then move on.
I mean, it was like, Led Zeppelin coming to town. Everyone was like, lock up your children and put your beer away, cuz the scale in which these people lived was just amazing to watch.
Minor Spoiler Ahead for Episode 1
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): What was the atmosphere like on set for that voyeuristic scene where Young Catherine and Prince Henri consummate their marriage? The tension was so palpable and nervous looking it seemed almost like the actors became non-actors for a few minutes.
ERWIN STOFF: You know, those things are always sort of weird because they become like bits of choreography. I mean look, the actors were wonderful, but it’s all ultimately about a camera capture.
So you would think that there’s a tremendous amount of self-consciousness, but the truth is there isn’t. Your hand has to go here. Your foot has to go here.
You got to look over there. Et cetera. And then they just acted. So there’s no real weirdness about it.
They become very technical things and what was great about it was there was a great camaraderie on set. Partly because of this huge cast and a lot of people with a theater background. And partly because we were doing it in the middle of COVID.
JUSTIN HAYTHE: Liv Hill and Alex Heath who played Henri were really good friends. So between takes, they would discuss the choreography.
They’re being all ‘Right mate! Can you hop over here, hop over there?’ It was very kind of fun and congenial.
And then in the audience you had Pope Clement (Charles Dance) who was incredibly funny, just riffing. There’s a scene where he says, ah, the Germanic position, safe choice, that’s all Ad-Lib.
So it created an atmosphere of, ‘It was safe. It was funny.’
ERWIN STOFF: If you want to talk about weird in real life, they were 13 and 14 years old.
JUSTIN HAYTHE: Yeah, I mean, even watching these two actors in their twenties do it, you think, God! You can just put yourself in their position. It’s so painfully awkward.
But you know what interestingly enough, I would say that because it’s a scene about awkwardness and about exposure in a way.
It’s easier to achieve than a scene where you’re trying to create incredible romance or intimacy. That really does feel false with the crew around it.
In this situation we’re playing the absurdity of being in a room full of people.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thank you!
– Be sure to read our Interview with Samantha Morton on The Serpent Queen!
The Serpent Queen – STARZ Series Trailer
The Serpent Queen will premiere on STARZ at 8:00 ET/PT on Sunday, September 11 in the U.S. and Canada.
The series will also debut 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.
About Justin Haythe – Bio
(Showrunner, Executive Producer, Director 106, 108)
“Justin Haythe is an American novelist, screenwriter, executive producer, and now, – director. He has written and produced several acclaimed films, but “The Serpent Queen” is the first television series he has created and run.
Haythe earned a degree in English Literature from Middlebury College before he got his MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.
His first publication was a short story in Harper’s Magazine. Soon – after, he published a novel that was long-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize. Haythe began his film career as the screenwriter for The Clearing, starring Helen Mirren and Robert Redford.
He went on to write the film adaptation of Richard Yates’s acclaimed novel, Revolutionary Road. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road was also nominated for a USC Scripter Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Switching genres, Haythe co-wrote and executive produced the 2013 action-thriller Snitch, starring Dwayne Johnson. Haythe also co-wrote the 2013 western, The Lone Ranger, starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. In 2016, Haythe reunited with director Gore Verbinski to write and executive produce the psychological horror A Cure for Wellness.
In 2018, Haythe adapted Jason Matthews’ spy thriller Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence. Haythe also executive produced the 2018 musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
Haythe is also developing and writing a new adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as he wraps up the first season of “The Serpent Queen.”
Born and raised in London, Haythe resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his two sons, Lucien and Theo.”
About Erwin Stoff – Bio
“Producer and manager Erwin Stoff founded the production company 3 Arts Entertainment in 1991. Since its inception, 3 Arts has produced acclaimed series including “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” and “The Mindy Project.”
In film Stoff has also produced The Matrix, Edge Of Tomorrow, The Blind Side, I Am
Legend, Unbroken, The Lake House, Constantine, Water For Elephants, and 13 Hours, among many others.”
More STARZ Series Coverage on The Natural Aristocrat®
– Fan of costume designs? Be sure to read our interview with Mrs. America, Mulan costume designer Bina Daigeler on researching every detail.
– Then check out our interview with Mulan hair, makeup, prosthetics designer Denise Kum on the creative process!
Dive into more exclusives in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interviews section.