Launched on Starzplay on September 11, the mini-series The Serpent Queen features a Catherine de Medici in an almost punk version. A not-so-classic historical series…
On paper, you might think that The Serpent Queen is yet another American historical series on the History of France. Except that it is distinguished from the others by its tone and a certain panache. Meeting with Justin Haythethe series creator and the two actresses who play the villainous young and adult Catherine: Liv Hill and Samantha Morton.
AlloCiné: Justin, what prompted you to write this series?
Justin Haythe : This is Leonie Frieda’s book, Catherine de Medici – Renaissance Queen of France. I saw in her an ultra modern woman. A woman of power as we can see more and more today. At the time she led so many fights to survive and protect her children who reigned over France.
And then, she’s an anti-heroine. It’s a bit like the Tony Soprano or the feminine Michael Corleone. She was really ready to do anything to survive. I find her fascinating and wanted to bring her story to life on screen.
To me, the idea of royalty is absurd. As if God chose one person to represent him and reign over all the others, it’s ridiculous. And it’s important to show that this state of mind continues. It’s absurd and yet we can clearly see that there is still a fascination for the monarchy.
What kind of challenge did the adaptation of Leonie Frieda’s book represent?
Justin Haythe : This is such a book full of detail and information. It’s almost 500 pages and it’s a masterpiece. So I had to take some liberties to dramatize this content while remaining faithful to the historical events that did take place. It was important for me to respect the history of France and to honor this great woman, whether we like her or not.
Catherine’s epic is incredible, from her 14 years, coming from Italy and having to marry the king of France, Henri II, and until her death at the age of 69 years. What a life ! A life that made him reign over France, through his sons, for almost 40 years. It’s incredible this fate, even if she thought herself damned at times, especially because she had trouble giving birth.
How did you get into the complex skin of Catherine de Medici?
Liv Hill : For me, it went through his gaze. Studying the paintings of her, I noticed that there is an intensity in her eyes that seem to be constantly alert. Probably because of the dangers to which she was exposed. She was always alert and on her toes. So I tried to interpret it from that perspective.
I discovered that Catherine came from an orphanage and this allowed me to imagine that she must have had a reserved step before becoming queen. Once queen, she becomes more sure of herself and more assertive. It is the posture of power that dominates.
Samantha Morton : My numerous conversations with Justin Haythe and the director Stacie Passon allowed me to better understand who Catherine was and what she stood for. From time to time my character speaks directly to the camera and it was a little destabilizing at first because it forced me to “get out” of my character. But I quickly got used to it and the rest of the shoot went well.
How was Catherine de Medici a modern woman and how is this a current affairs series?
Liv Hill : The way the series is filmed gives a modern tone to this fresco with characters who speak to the camera. The themes are also topical, such as being an outsider in a world that is foreign to you. It is the subject of immigrants that is highlighted with her and how difficult it is to integrate into a community that is not yours.
Even if the inequalities between men and women were even more severe at the time, it is clear that it is still a current battle. And then, the series talks about the political corruption of the time and that can only resonate with all the corrupt regimes that destabilize us all.
Catherine was truly an anti-heroine and she surprises with her modernity and her fighting spirit. Traits that are sometimes the trademark of certain women in power in our modern societies.
Samantha Morton : At first she was a woman like any other coming from nowhere and she became the queen that we know. She strove to make peace and give her kingdom as much stability as possible. She is a strong woman such as one finds today in politics. In this sense she is a modern woman and ahead of her time. Because at this period of history women were in no way the equal of men and they had no rights.
What did you learn about Catherine and this period that surprised you?
Samantha Morton : Everything surprised me because I am not a historian and I knew nothing about its history and this period. Catherine was the founder in France of freedom of conscience for Protestants and she established freedom of worship. He was also a great patron of the arts. She always surrounded herself with artists, poets, musicians and men of letters.
It was an honor to play Catherine de Medici, especially since 20 years ago, no one wanted to give me the chance to play a role in costume. Some thought I was too “middle class”. Well, look at me now: I am the queen of France!