‘The Gilded Age’s Morgan Spector Knows How Much You Love the Russells


Editor’s note: The below interview contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 6 of The Gilded Age.

The Big Picture

  • The fan response to George and Bertha’s relationship is gratifying for the actors, according to The Gilded Age‘s Morgan Spector.
  • Spector says George’s decision to withhold the truth about Turner is partly to avoid a difficult conversation with Bertha and partly because he doesn’t see it as a significant threat to their marriage.
  • Spector was excited to tackle the labor strikes storyline in Season 2 because it sheds light on the brutal conditions of the late 19th century and the fight for workers’ rights, which is still relevant today.

HBO series The Gilded Age, created by Julian Fellowes, is officially back for its second season and has seemingly doubled the drama this time around. Where else could you encounter the kind of feud that almost results in the near-ruination of the Duke of Buckingham’s soup, or the surprise return of a former lady’s maid that will no doubt have society’s tongues wagging? But as uncertain and surprising as the storylines of The Gilded Age tend to be, one relationship has remained strong and steadfast: the marriage between railroad tycoon George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his wife, New York City society darling Bertha (Carrie Coon). While an early disagreement between them in Season 2 might have had longtime fans worried, fortunately, the couple seems to have reconciled for the foreseeable future. Besides, they each have plenty on their respective plates at the moment, with Bertha personally seeing to the construction of the new Metropolitan Opera House and George facing down the potential of a workers’ strike.

Ahead of Sunday’s episode, “Warning Shots,” Collider had the opportunity to catch up with Spector for a conversation about his character’s most pivotal moments. Over the course of the interview, which you can read below, the actor discusses his awareness of the online love for the Russells as a power couple, why George doesn’t consider the new Mrs. Winterton (Kelly Curran) a threat to his marriage, why he was excited to tackle this season’s labor strikes storyline, George’s secret intervention in the opera war, and more.

The Gilded Age

A wide-eyed young scion of a conservative family embarks on a mission to infiltrate the wealthy neighboring clan dominated by ruthless railroad tycoon George Russell, his rakish son, Larry, and his ambitious wife, Bertha.

Release Date
January 24, 2022

Carrie Coon, Morgan Spector, Louisa Jacobson, Denée Benton, Taissa Farmiga, Harry Richardson, Blake Ritson, Thomas Cocquerel, Simon Jones, Jack Gilpin, Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Donna Murphy, Debra Monk

Main Genre




Julian Fellowes


COLLIDER: Personally, I’m very invested in George and Bertha’s relationship and I know that they’ve become a fan-favorite couple. Is that something that you and Carrie are at all aware of, in terms of social media or just feedback from fans?

MORGAN SPECTOR: Carrie and I are both the kind of sick freaks that like to read the comments, so we’re definitely aware of it and there have been a couple of articles online and stuff. Yeah, it’s really gratifying. When you play a character that connects to people, that’s why we do this. It’s nice. And I love working with Carrie, I have tremendous respect for her as an actor. She’s done amazing work in a million different things, and so to get to build a TV partnership, a TV couple with her that people have responded to, it’s a real pleasure and a thrill.

Along those lines, watching these early episodes and seeing them in conflict is a little heartbreaking because they feel like such a strong couple, and so when they’re at odds, you’re just rooting for them to reconcile. I spoke with Kelley [Curran] a little bit about her surprise return this season and what that dredges up. From your perspective, why did George think it was the right idea to keep that whole thing withheld from Bertha?

SPECTOR: There are the reasons he gives, that he says to Bertha. That she had a perfectly good lady’s maid, and he didn’t want to ruin that for her, which I think is part of it. I also think it was going to be a difficult conversation to have, and maybe he slightly didn’t want to have it with her — because in his mind a situation arose, he did the right thing, he dealt with it. There is a certain extent to which George doesn’t see Turner as a significant enough thing to affect his life, and that includes Bertha’s life. It’s not surprising that someone… God, I’ve got robber baron brain for a second. If somebody came up to him on the street and asked him for money, and he didn’t give them any, or he did give them some, he wouldn’t think of that as something that affected the rest of his life. Similarly, here is someone who’s tried to inveigle herself into his life or his marriage, and he sort of dismissed it out of hand. In some ways, it’s actually just not that big of a deal to him, so that’s part of it, too.

Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon in Season 2, Episode 5 of The Gilded Age
Image via HBO

Last season’s railroad accident sets up the beginnings of the big conflict for your character in Season 2. How intrigued were you to tackle this storyline when you got the scripts and saw where it was going?

SPECTOR: Very much so. When I first got this job and I had a chance to sit down with Julian and talk about the show and what it was going to be, this was one of the things that I told him I was very excited to see the show deal with — because this history, it’s really wild. It’s really dramatic. The fact that the conditions that people used to work in in the late 19th century… child labor was allowed, people were constantly losing limbs, there was no weekend, there were no limitations on how many hours a week you could work – all of these things that we sort of take for granted today had to be fought for and won, and the fights were brutal. There are many instances in American labor history where workers were gunned down, [and] women and children who were living in worker housing were killed. There’s a great Woody Guthrie song about the Ludlow Massacre. This stuff was really brutal.

I would love to see another show that was just entirely about that history because it’s so fascinating and it’s so crucial to understand what this country is, and so I was very happy to see us deal with it. You could be critical of how The Gilded Age might address some of these issues because the show’s central preoccupations are really about the mores of this incredibly wealthy group and not about labor history, but even having these conversations about it is exciting, and worthwhile. Even inviting that criticism is worth doing, so I was very excited to have it be part of the show. We couldn’t have asked for more topical relevance this season.

Morgan Spector in The Gilded Age Season 2, Episode 4
Image via HBO

In this week’s episode, George meets with Henderson in his home and sees his family sitting there in this tiny house, sees the state of the town where probably most, if not all, of the people work in his factory. Do you feel like his perspective starts to shift a little after that conversation, or is he still somewhat beholden to his investors and the money part of it all?

SPECTOR: It’s both. You think of somebody like Carnegie; he really did come from nothing, was a Scottish immigrant, and just by sheer dint of his own perspicacity and ambition, and to some extent brilliance, became this incredibly wealthy person and built all these libraries all across the country that still exist. And certainly, at the time, they were an enormous contribution. There’s a lot of ugliness in his story, and there’s a lot of violence, but there’s also these things he left behind. George might be somebody like that, where to tell the story of George Russell after he was gone, there would be a certain balancing of the scales, and I don’t know whether all the libraries in the world can make up for the cruelty of those 19th-century factories, but they would certainly have to be taken into account.

George, in Episode 6, is starting to have some awakening to what the lives of his workers are really like. He’s not going to capitulate to the extent — he’s not going to develop worker cooperatives or something like that. He’s not going to give the means of production to the men on the factory floor, but I do think that there is the idea of making their lives a little bit better through education or playgrounds or some other sort of philanthropic efforts. I feel like that’s probably something that George will get into.

You see his conversation with Richard in the carriage after the meeting, and there’s an indication that there is a line that he won’t cross.

SPECTOR: Maybe he’s more of a neoliberal capitalist. He’s like, “It’s all win/wins, man. We just got to get all the stakeholders together and sit down…” I don’t think that he’s that naive, I just think you do need workers and I think you can’t kill everybody. You will eventually run out of workforce, and you will eventually really cost yourself money if you don’t come to a productive arrangement with your workforce. There is an ethical difference, but there’s also a strategic disagreement between my character and Patrick’s character. But yes, Patrick’s character is delightfully ruthless. He has no limits.

Morgan Spector and Patrick Page in The Gilded Age Season 2, Episode 6
Image via HBO

It reaches a head later in the episode when the workers decide to go on strike, and they’re gathering, and George is out of harm’s way. It feels like one of the show’s tensest moments so far because you don’t know if this is going to erupt into violence or not. Why do you think George wants to be on the frontlines when there’s a possibility of that happening?

SPECTOR: The first answer that occurs to me is that I actually think George is a pretty honorable man. It does come down to, if people are going to die, he wants to be the one that gives the order. He wants to be the one that makes that decision. He doesn’t want to pass that responsibility off to somebody else. For all the other things you could say about him, being willing to take responsibility for something like that, it’s a sign of, to some extent, a person with some kind of moral code.

I have to bring up George’s quiet intervention in the opera war. We learn that he’s been secretly funding things without his wife’s knowledge, and has no intention of letting her find out anytime soon, it seems, but at the same time, they’ve just had this argument about him keeping secrets from her. How risky a move is this for him in the long run? He’s trying to do this for Bertha’s benefit and to see her dream thrive, and it is coming from an honorable perspective of her getting everything she wants, but is that going to matter in the end? Do the ends justify the means?

SPECTOR: I think it’s also about… she’s working so hard to win the opera war, [so] he doesn’t want to take away from her own sense of achievement. Let’s say she finds out that he put money in. I don’t think it’s going to be the same thing as the Turner issue. It’s not going to feel like a betrayal. To me, it’d be more like, “Ah, you old so-and-so!” Maybe she’d be mad or slightly disappointed, but to a certain extent, I also think it’s the kind of thing that Bertha knows. He’s not going to tell her, and she’s not going to ask too many questions. “Oh, it’s bad accounting, so we go from total work stoppage?” Bertha’s no fool. I suspect in their marriage there’s a certain amount of “You have your area and I have my area, but also, you have all the money.”

Carrie Coon and Morgan Spector in The Gilded Age Season 2, Episode 5
Image via HBO

There’s an unspoken communication, but it’s not like he hasn’t done something like this before. I’m thinking back to Season 1, where they have the charity event, and he just walks in and buys up the whole place as sort of a grand gesture move, which had everybody swooning on Twitter. [Laughs]

SPECTOR: That’s a very good point. And for that reason, even though he hasn’t been totally honest with her about it, I just don’t think it’s the kind of thing that would upset her, even if she did know.

New episodes of The Gilded Age are available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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