Here's Where You Know The Cast Of The Gilded Age From

Julian Fellowes' "Downton Abbey" first premiered in 2010, and the upstairs/downstairs-style period drama caught on with viewers, ultimately spawning two films in 2019 and 2022. His American follow-up, "The Gilded Age," has had a long road to television. Though the show was originally ordered to series at NBC, Deadline reported in 2018 that the network realized the scope of Fellowes' vision would be better-served at a home like HBO, which bought the show. "I am fascinated by this brutal and intensely glamorous period of America's history. It will be about ambition, of course, and envy and hatred and, perhaps most of all, about love," Fellowes said.

The show takes place in the 1880s in New York City — several decades before "Downton Abbey" — and it follows the social squabbling of multiple families angling to be included in high-society life and finally make it onto the exclusive list of "The Four Hundred." It finally premiered in January 2022, years after it was announced, to good reviews; a Glamour headline called it "Like 'Downton Abbey'—But Better." Viewers losing themselves in the gilded world of "The Gilded Age" may be wondering why they recognize the show's pantheon of famous faces; while the answer for some viewers for much of the cast may be "from Broadway," many of the actors have extensive screen resumés as well. Read on for a handy guide to the cast of "The Gilded Age" — our own Who's Who, if you will.

Christine Baranski loves her career

Christine Baranski plays Agnes Van Rhijn on "The Gilded Age," a widow who tries to preserve her spot at the top of the New York social hierarchy even though her neighborhood is being overrun by the nouveau-riche. Baranski told Harper's Bazaar that she'd never been in a period piece before, but was glad to join one. "What could be better than playing a curmudgeonly snob written by Julian Fellowes? ... She's got great clothes and great lines," she proclaimed.

Fans may recognize Baranski from a number of iconic roles, including as Martha May Whovier in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and Tanya in "Mamma Mia" and its sequel. She won an Emmy for "Cybill," and she is a Broadway icon with two Tonys. Her longest-running role, however, is as Diane Lockhart on both "The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight." She explained to The New Yorker that, as opposed to "The Gilded Age," her character on "The Good Fight" allows her to explore modern issues. "Diane is the complete contemporary leading lady, a liberal feminist being driven mad by Trump, and dealing with #MeToo and Black Lives Matter," she said. "Whatever's happening in the world is happening to Diane."

She told The Guardian that she's happy with her career and doesn't look backwards. "Look at the position I'm in now: two great roles, both No. 1 on the call sheet. I'm like: 'Damn! Late 60s and here I am.' There is progress!"

Louisa Jacobson is acting royalty

"The Gilded Age" is told through the eyes of Marian Brook, a young woman coming to stay with her old-money aunts in NYC. The character is played by relative newcomer Louisa Jacobson, who told Broadway World that she was extremely excited to audition for the show. "I was a huge Julian Fellowes fan before, I love Downton Abbey. I just was so drawn to it." She added, "I also didn't know a lot about this part of history and I am a New Yorker. So to have the opportunity for my homework to be to just learn New York city history and live in it was an amazing idea in my head."

Aside from a credit in a TV movie, Jacobson is a newcomer. Audiences who feel like they might recognize Jacobson might have a better time placing her under her birth name, Louisa Gummer... yes, those Gummers. She's the sister of actors Mamie and Grace, and the daughter of none other than Meryl Streep and artist Don Gummer. Like her mother, Jacobson attended the Yale School of Drama, having graduated in 2019. Jacobson's superstar mother even attended her daughter's cast party for "The Gilded Age." According to "Today," who called it a party-crashing, Streep could be glimpsed in a since-deleted Instagram video from "Gilded Age" star Cynthia Nixon, which showed the multiple Oscar winner flashing the camera a cheeky smile while her daughter's co-stars celebrated the show.

Cynthia Nixon already played an iconic NYC resident

On "The Gilded Age," Cynthia Nixon plays Ada Brook, the sister of Christine Baranski's character. She described Ada to Deadline, pointing out that the character has always been coddled. "I think the thing that is true of Ada is she's very tender and she's very, very fearful. She didn't have anybody to instill her with dreams for herself," Nixon reflected. She also juxtaposed her "The Gilded Age" character with her biggest role. "I think that Ada could not even imagine a world in which someone like Miranda Hobbes would exist," she said.

Nixon played Miranda on the original run of "Sex and the City," in two films, and on "And Just Like That," the show's HBO Max reboot. Nixon, who is openly queer, told Elle UK that she signed on to the reboot so that they could get some things right that they'd flubbed on the original show. "'It's part of the reason we wanted to do the show — to go back and [undo] the things that we really got wrong... We had gay characters [in "SATC"], but a lot of the LGBT stuff in it was purely for comedic effect — and now rings harsh on the ear, I have to say." 

She ran for Governor of New York in 2018 and lost. Time asked if she'd ever run again, and she replied, "I don't think I will, but you never know. Life is long and strange."

Carrie Coon has been learning

Carrie Coon plays Bertha Russell, a member of New York's nouveau-riche who causes trouble for the sisters played by Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski. Coon told AwardsRadar that she took the role because she was especially intrigued by the relationship between her character and her husband, played by Morgan Spector. "The fact that George supports Bertha's ambitions surprised me as something I hadn't seen portrayed very often in that time," Coon said. "I also love that she's really single-minded and that blinds her to what's right in front of her. That's a really relatable flaw, and I love a flaw." 

Coon has risen to prominence over the past few years with high-profile roles in a number of television shows, including "The Leftovers," "Fargo," and "The Sinner." Coon is also recognizable from film, having been in "The Nest" and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." Her breakout film role was in "Gone Girl" as Margo Dunne, the sister of Ben Affleck's character. She made headlines in 2021 when she called that performance "horrific to watch." "I was engaged in a learning process in 'Gone Girl,' and so when I watch 'Gone Girl,' I see my learning process. I see myself learning. That's all I meant!" Coon clarified to The Hollywood Reporter, before revealing that director David Fincher had reached out to her personally to assuage her concerns with how she'd done.

Audra McDonald is a Tony record-holder

Audra McDonald is one of the biggest Broadway legends in a cast full of them, playing Peggy's mother Dorothy. McDonald says she threw herself into the historical nature of the role with relish, telling Newsweek, "I find it a great and fulfilling challenge ... to learn how a Black woman of my character's stature in that time would eat her food. It's all about specific character work. ... In which way would a Black woman address her husband at that time, or address her child, or where she would walk on the street or not walk on the street, all of that is really rich character work."

Memorable screen roles include the 1999 version of "Annie" and multiple seasons of "Private Practice," where she played Dr. Naomi Bennett. Fans may recognize McDonald from her role on "The Good Fight," opposite fellow "Gilded Age" star Christine Baranski. She told Newsweek, "Oh my God, I love her so much."

McDonald is mostly known for her roles on stage, having won six Tony Awards, a record. She played Billie Holliday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill," one of her Tony wins, which HBO televised. She talked to WhatsOnStage about the weight of playing such an iconic figure. "I feel that there's a huge responsibility in playing her, because you don't want to make a caricature, you want to try and relay the truth about her, the truth about her essence, as much as you possibly can."

Horror regular Taissa Farmiga doesn't like the genre

On "The Gilded Age," Taissa Farmiga plays Gladys, a young girl trapped in her house by her overbearing parents, played by Carrie Coon and Morgan Spector. "I really related to her desire to step out from her mother's shadow," Taissa told DigitalSpy, "to step out from her grip, and experience the world independently, to form your own opinions on things, and such."

Taissa is best known as being one of the original repertory players on "American Horror Story," having memorably played Violet in the show's first season, a young girl who falls in love with the ghost boy next door. She has been part of the cast for numerous seasons of the show, including "Coven," "Apocalypse," and "Roanoke." She is also known for being the younger sister of actor Vera Farmiga, star of "The Conjuring" films; fittingly enough, Taissa herself starred in a "Conjuring" spinoff, "The Nun."

However, despite being known for "AHS" and other films like "The Final Girls," Taissa says she isn't a fan of the genre. "I do not like horror movies," she insisted to Indiewire. "I always had an amazing time on 'American Horror Story,' [but] it actually helped me discover that I'm a very scared person. I'm very jumpy, I scare very easily. So, when you have to go play these emotions like fear and terror, I realized that comes kind of natural to me."

Tony nominee Denée Benton plays Peggy

Early on in the first episode of "The Gilded Age," Marian Brook befriends Peggy Scott, a young Black woman looking to make it in New York City. The character is played by Denée Benton, a Tony nominee for originating the role of Natasha in Broadway's "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812." She has also played Eliza in "Hamilton."

She told Broadway World that she was especially excited for her role on "The Gilded Age," which allows her to help portray a time period of Black history not typically shown on screen. "I think for me it was seeing a depiction of black life that we rarely get to see in the 1800s," she said. "If I had just listened to my history books and the movies that they made about this time period, you'd think that black people just evaporated after enslavement and showed up again at the Civil Rights Movement instead of the fact that we existed in all facets of society that entire time."

Benton is mostly known for her stage work, but she had a recurring role on the second season of Lifetime's show "unREAL," playing Ruby Carter, a contestant on the show-within-a-show who fell in genuine love with the Bachelor-esque suitor. She was proud of that show's handling of race too, telling USA Today, "'UnReal' decided to make that statement and make that choice to represent another story, another American story."

Blake Ritson knows his way around a period piece

Blake Ritson plays Oscar van Rhijn on "The Gilded Age," the son of Christine Baranski's character. Even though the character is on the lookout for a bride, Oscar is revealed to be gay, which is frowned upon in the high-society world of the 1880s, to say the least. Ritson told, "Back in the day, marriage was far more transactional. Not every marriage was predicated upon love. So the idea that Oscar's kind of hunting for an heiress, but also wants to find happiness elsewhere... I don't think it was such an alien concept at the time in the way that it is now." However, he acknowledges, "...There is a certain incompatibility there, which I'm sure will erupt forth at some point." 

Ritson is especially recognizable to audiences of period pieces, having starred in "The Crimson Petal and the White," "Upstairs Downstairs," and "Hyde Park on Hudson." He also does a lot of video game voice acting, and he led the cast of "Da Vinci's Demons." He told Den Of Geek that his background studying Medieval Italian came in particular handy on that show. "It's incredibly useful in terms of knowing the context. It was an extraordinary era, the whole religious aspect was extraordinary," he said, noting that it was a time when people "genuinely believed in demons."

Morgan Spector has 'resting period face'

Morgan Spector plays the nouveau-riche George Russell on "The Gilded Age." Many of the actor's projects have taken place in the past, and he explained why to W Magazine. "At this point I've come to accept that I have 'resting period face,'" he joked. "It was exciting to get a chance to do something that's more 19th century, that sort of buttoned-up era. I had not gotten to do anything in that period before." Spector was particularly interested in the way his conniving character's actions affect other people. He said to AwardsRadar, "What was important for me is that you see over the course of the season that there are consequences to how cutthroat they are, and how ruthless they are, and they don't bear them most of them. Those consequences play out in other people's lives."

Spector has had many recurring roles on television, in shows like "Boardwalk Empire" and "Person of Interest." He recently led the cast of HBO's "The Plot Against America," based on the novel by Philip Roth, playing Herman Levin. He told Collider that the show's politics made it hard to shake after filming was done, even though it was set in the past. "In some ways, the world of this show is so similar to the world we're living in now that there's no leaving this character behind," he recalled. "You leave the character behind, but you don't leave the world behind because the parallels are so direct." 

Nathan Lane plays a real-life character

Ward McAllister is one of the few characters on "The Gilded Age" who is an actual historical figure. McAllister was the one who determined which families were high-society enough to be included on an exclusive list called "The Four Hundred," and wealthy socialites in New York jockeyed for his approval. On the show, McAllister is portrayed by Broadway legend Nathan Lane, who has picked up three Tony Awards from six nominations. The actor is best known on screen for having starred in "Mouse Trap," "The Birdcage," "The Producers," and as the voice of Timon in "The Lion King." He also had a guest-starring arc on "The Good Wife," which starred his fellow "Gilded Age" cast member Christine Baranski... who was also in "The Birdcage."

Lane is now openly gay, but when he acted in "The Birdcage" as one half of a gay couple (with Robin Williams), Lane wasn't out publicly. He discussed the tension between his role and his life with the Daily Beast, explaining that he now wishes he'd had the courage to come out during a pivotal interview with Oprah at the time. "I wasn't ready or emotionally mature enough to deal with it," he recalled. "Just dealing with suddenly everybody knowing who you are was a shock. ... I didn't feel like I was becoming a star. I just felt I wanted it to be about the performance and not my sexuality."

Michael Cerveris got to shape his most iconic character

On "The Gilded Age," Michael Cerveris plays Watson, George Russell's valet. He is responsible for helping dress Russell and he attends to various needs around the house. Like many of his fellow "The Gilded Age" stars, Cerveris is primarily a Broadway star, having won two Tony Awards, for playing John Wilkes Booth in "Assassins" for his role as Bruce Bechdel in "Fun Home." Accepting the latter award, Cerveris said, "Our show is about home. It's about finding of who you are. I have had the great good fortune to have a beautiful and supportive home thanks to my father and mother, teachers who gave me every benefit... instilled a love for art and a compassion for other people that I wish everybody's parents could give them."

Cerveris has worked extensively on screen as well. He played Assistant Director Gunn on the second season of "Mindhunter," Professor Pyg on "Gotham," James Castro on "The Good Wife," and perhaps most famously The Observer on "Fringe." He told Broadway World that he got to help shape the iconically mysterious figure, explaining, "Part of what was so fun about this was it was such a blank canvas. At the first wardrobe fitting, I was asked by the costumer what I was wearing. I said, 'I thought you were supposed to tell me.' It was a good thing I picked a suit I liked because I was in it for years."

Amy Forsyth is used to difficult costumes

Another "Gilded Age" historical figure is Carrie Astor, daughter of legendary New York socialite Caroline Schermerhorn Astor. The Astors were firmly at the top of the "Four Hundred," and significant conflict on "The Gilded Age" arises from lesser characters trying to impress the uber-rich family. Carrie is played by Amy Forsyth, who, like many of her co-stars, has a history on stage. She told W Magazine that this experience gave her a leg up on set dealing with the constricting wardrobe necessitated by the period setting of the HBO show. "The biggest thing that my days in theater helped me with was wearing my corset for as long as I did," she said. "They're not comfortable and it's tough work, but in all of the years of doing community theater, your feet hurt from wearing character shoes and dancing all day, running the numbers a million times. That gave me some endurance that I needed for this show."

Forsyth is a star on the rise. She had a busy 2021, having starred in the thriller "The Novice" as well as "CODA," an Apple TV+ film about a young woman with deaf parents. In "CODA," Forsyth played the friend of the main character. "It was amazing," she told GoldDerby. "It's truly one of the best experiences I've ever had on a set. I love [the cast] so much, and it was such a gift to work with them."

Jack Gilpin plays Church and performs at church

On "The Gilded Age," Jack Gilpin plays Church, the butler to the Russell family who helps manage household affairs. Jack is a character actor, primarily recognizable for roles in films like "Adventureland" and "Trouble With the Curve." He also played Mr. Wambsgans, Tom's father, on "Succession", and he is known for his recurring role as Sean Ayles on "Billions."

His character's name is apt, because Jack is also an Episcopal priest, and he has discussed how his two lives intersect and inform one another. "There's a performance aspect [to doing the liturgy]," he said to Exeter, his alma mater. "Since I'm the only clergy, it's like doing a one-man show every week. But I'm certainly not the main character." In fact, a church play is where he first learned he loved to act. "I remember at the curtain call munching on a jelly bean and looking at the audience and thinking, 'This is very cool,'" he recalled.

Jack has one more claim to fame: his daughter, Betty Gilpin, starred on Netflix's hit wrestling series "Glow." "My parents encouraged me not to be an actor!" Betty told E! while on the red carpet at the Emmys, "And they were very supportive. They're not watching."

Jeanne Tripplehorn has 'a vivid imagination'

Art collector Sylvia Chamberlain is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn. The character is described by the Los Angeles Times as "a woman even more frowned upon than Bertha," and in the show's second episode, Marian gets a stern talking-to from her aunts for having a conversation with Sylvia; she is warned that the character has dark things in her past that make her socially toxic.

Tripplehorn was a major star in the 90s, having put in memorable turns in iconic films like "Basic Instinct," "Waterworld," "The Firm," and "Sliding Doors." She told SoCalPulse that she's always wanted to act. "From a very, very early age, I had a vivid imagination, which evolved into acting in community theater and having my own television and radio show in Tulsa, Oklahoma," she recalled. "My mother and grandmother were incredibly supportive.... If it wasn't for their unwavering belief in me, I would not be where I am today."

She is also known for leading the cast of HBO's "Big Love," where she played the first wife of Bill Paxton's polygamist character. Paxton died in 2017, and Tripplehorn released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter memorializing her late costar. "When you worked with Bill, you left with a little piece of him. He gave his all," she said. "[He was] a great actor and director. Such a big soul, big laugh, big smile, big love — a truly good man."