Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari

Multi-talented screen and stage actor Morgan Spector became the breakout star of Sesaon 1 of ‘The Gilded Age’, which just released its second season on 11th September. This isn’t the first time he’s received critical praise for his performances since making his screen debut though, but he has concentrated largely on theater work. 

suit, shirt, and sweater BOGLIOLI
tie & bag  THOM BROWNE 

Morgan, you have an impressive career in film, theater and television. Where does your passion for acting come from?

It actually took me a long time to admit how important it was to me. I spent my adolescence pretending I was going to find something else to do with my life. There’s a lot that’s embarrassing about acting, the attention seeking, the self-promotion. Sometimes I fail to live up to my own standards and that’s painful. But there’s also so much to love. In theatre, there’s the interaction with the audience, that heavy quality of silence when they’re listening, the absolutely glorious feeling of making them laugh. There’s the feeling of camaraderie with the cast, the pleasure of really needing other people and having them need you. I love when something goes wrong on stage and one part of your brain is solving whatever problem it is, editing the script, and another part is doing the blocking and saying the words and another part is watching all of that happen and thinking “Gosh, I didn’t know I could do that”. For on camera acting, there’s the nearly impossible game of trying to catch something that really feels like life, even though it’s all crafted and planned and you’re looking at a piece of tape on the matte box instead of the other actor. It’s an endless creative challenge. It asks a lot of me and I love that. 

Can you tell us about one of your most memorable experiences in this industry, a moment in your career that deeply impacted you?

The first time I was on Broadway was as an understudy and the actor I was covering got hurt in previews. I ended up taking over the part and getting to have a real Broadway debut opposite Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in Gregory Mosher’s production of ‘A View from the Bridge’. When that was over, I had the strange realization that I’d fulfilled my highest ambitions as an actor and I had to recalibrate them. Like, my whole fantasy of being a real New York City theater actor had actually come true. I don’t know that I’ve ever come up with a replacement. If I haven’t done that, I wonder if I could.

sneakers CONVERSE

top and pants WILLY CHAVARRIA
sunglasses CHIMI

Who are your role models, your heroes and the people in your life who have inspired you to pursue your passions?

My parents were always very clear that whatever I wanted to do was alright with them, as long as it made me happy. So I was always guided by the question of what makes me happy. It’s definitely led me to have a somewhat hedonistic outlook, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Pleasure doesn’t get enough respect. 

You started your career in theater. Can you tell us if you have a preference between cinema and theater, and what particularly attracts you to each of them?

I used to be such a theater kid, but I haven’t done a play in a while. I miss the audience. They tell you the truth. A whole room full of subjectivity can add up to something very close to the absolute truth of a moment.  But I have come to really love working on camera. The thing you’re chasing is very elusive, but it’s pure and when you catch it, you know it. And I love sets. I love feeling like I’m part of this enormous team of people with wildly varied skills, all working toward the same purpose. 

blazer, pants & shoes THOM BROWNE

You made your Broadway debut alongside Scarlett Johansson in “A View from the Bridge” in 2010, a role that garnered critical attention. Can you share with us how this experience influenced your career and your approach as an actor?

That stroke of luck, getting to actually open that show, changed everything. I got a manager, a wonderful agent, that was the beginning of my career. Without that, I’d probably not be talking to you. 

How did you prepare for your role as George Russell in ‘The Gilded Age’ series?

I read as much as I could about the period in general, about the robber barons specifically. I read a couple of books about Jay Gould, I read most of Carnegie’s autobiography. Elizabeth Drexel’s memoir ‘King Lehr and the Gilded Age’ was incredibly useful. I also read ‘House of Mirth’ and bits and pieces of other novels. Daisy Miller is maybe my favorite novel now. The fiction is so helpful. It’s hard to be confident that our inner lives are the same as theirs, but when you read the fiction, you know they were. 

‘The Gilded Age’ has such an impressive ensemble cast. What has been your experience with cast on set and what were some of your favorite moments with them?

There are always one or two intimidating actors on a set, but this cast is ridiculous. Especially for someone who comes from theatre, these are legends. Many of them you could just say their first name to anyone who loves the theater and they’d know who you were talking about. The nice thing is that all of them carry that lightly. It’s a lovely group of people. My favorite moment from last year was when we were sitting in the common area outside of our dressing rooms and someone taught me that different colored bell peppers aren’t different varieties, but rather the same plant at different stages of growth. My mind is still blown.

shirt, blazer and pants GREG LAUREN

In the second season, viewers arguably see a more villainous George Russel while also witnessing a softer side with his daughter, Gladys. Did you face challenges with portraying this sort of duality?

I think we all have this kind of duality to some extent. When you’re sitting in traffic, wishing all sorts of agony upon the other drivers, you’re not being as patient or forgiving or kind to them as you would be to your children or your friends. We all have a hard side, a capacity for cruelty. Look at the world. If it were just a question of weeding out the people with the mutation for meanness, we’d be in better shape. There’s darkness in all of us. I think the challenge is more for Julian and Sonja, our writers. How far can they push George’s ruthlessness before the character becomes too evil? How can they keep his duality in balance? 

How was your experience working with the prolific Julian Fellowes and what was his presence like on set?

Julian isn’t on set much, he does most of his work from the UK. But I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with him and he’s incredibly charming, erudite and funny. I think as a writer, he’s got a wonderful instinct for human goodness. It’s that kindness you see in people from time to time. Small moments of respect, of taking care of each other. I think Julian is brilliant at finding those moments and bringing them to the fore. 

full look ZEGNA
hat and tie THOM BROWNE
sweater ZEGNA

‘The Gilded Age’ features such expansive, opulent sets and takes viewers to Newport, Rhode Island. What was your most memorable experience filming in Rhode Island?

I just really like being in those buildings. Also, there’s a Boldoni portrait of Elizabeth Drexel in either the Elms or Marble House and that was a treat to see.

When you are not on set, how do you spend your free time? 

I have a five year old and I have never felt time passing as acutely as I do since she was born. I do my best to pay attention, to her, to my wife, to my family, to the world around me. It’s not easy and I know I’m missing so much, but I’m trying to soak it all in.

Photographer MATTHEW PRIESTLEY at Sibling Artists @matthewtylerpriestley
Photography assistant NICK ROSS @n.j.ross