‘The Serpent Queen’ tells the story of one of history’s most infamous leaders

The Serpent Queen
2021 Starz Entertainment, LLC

By María Estevez, MWN

Audiences get to be transported to 16th century France with the riveting new drama ‘The Serpent Queen’ on Starz. This ambitious and lush production explores the life of one of the most fascinating queens of all time, Catherine de’ Medici.

From her humble origin story to her long reign as a royal, Catherine was a survivor from the start and her trajectory from commoner to influencer was defined by fearless grit and a willingness to take matters into her own hands.

The show is led by the incredible Samantha Morton as the queen. In this distinctly modern series, the characters break the fourth wall, giving viewers a taste of what motivated one of history’s most infamous leaders in an interpretation that is edgy, darkly comedic and completely unexpected.

 Metro spoke with Morton to learn more. 

What drew you to this part and what did you want to bring to her story that we haven’t seen before?

I think that a combination of elements drew me to the part. When I was younger I was told I didn’t have a period face and I wasn’t fit for costume drama. But I was always fascinated by history at school. It was and is something that I find very fascinating. And history has been mostly written by men. So there was the aspect of a historical drama that was really exciting to me. And then working with Justin and Erwin was that when I saw their names on the e-mail from my agent, I was really excited because I knew who they were.

I mean, it’s Catherine de’ Medici, it is the dream role. Her story is incredibly fascinating, complex, alluring, and devastating. So for me to be given the opportunity to tackle all of those issues, relationships, ruling, and getting to work with all these incredible actors that have been cast as well, was a dream role and I feel honored to be playing Catherine for the team.

Did you work with Liv Hill (Young Catherine) from the same research material?

I think that we obviously both had the same script, conversations with Justin and Stacie Passon who was directing, and then luckily we got the time together on Zoom. We were shooting this in times of the COVID lockdown so it was really tricky for us to meet outside of that. And I was shooting something else. So we spoke on Zoom about how it must feel for Catherine to talk about her childhood. We talked about the religious aspects, and connecting as actors. We both come from a similar area in Nottingham, well, kind of outside Nottingham, but we had a connection before. And I think that Liv and I share some very similar elements when we’re performing.

Also, I didn’t want Liv to feel that she had to be stuck to anything. I wanted her to have complete freedom so that when I came aboard Catherine had this strength of character. And I didn’t watch any of the footage before playing old Catherine. It was trusting in the casting process as well, and trusting in Liv and she trusted me.

Liv is extraordinary in this role. I’m a huge Liv Hill fan anyway, so when I knew that she’d been cast to play young Catherine, I was just so excited but also daunted because it’s hard steps to follow. But I think it came off well. And I think that people do change as well, enormously from 14 to 30s and 40s, but not so much in their spirit sometimes. And I think that Liv and I created a real similarity that if you haven’t seen the show yet, I really hope that you feel that when you see it.

Catherine is very quiet and very evil at times. Was it your choice to keep her voice low?

I think that my interpretation of Catherine is a combination of early conversations with Justin and my interpretation of the scripts. I have this sense that she was, in a very traditional way, bearing in mind that she’s Italian, or almost like a don in ‘The Godfather.’ She’s someone that’s very reserved. She thinks things through. She doesn’t always feel the need to have knee-jerk reactions to anything. So quiet is more cunning and I would debate the evil side. But that’s our interpretation of Catherine de’ Medici.

You were still a teenager when you stared in Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë movies, and now you are in this one. What was it like to have a fast start like that and to act in another period-type epic like this now?

It doesn’t feel the same because I’m not the same. I’m 45 years old. I have three children, one 22 years old who is acting herself. I’m a different person and I’ve lived many lives. So to be able to have experienced the youth aspect of playing Jane Eyre or Harriet in ‘Emma,’ and they’re all quite significant roles, has been incredible. But to come back and do this later in life, to play a formidable queen, in some ways I have to say, and this may sound odd, but connects me to the story somewhat because personally, I have had a very complex childhood that I had to deal with. I was homeless as a teenager. I’ve had lots of situations that are not that desirable. So when I was reading about Catherine’s background and story, obviously I’m not royalty and I don’t rule, but this idea that this person could have absolutely nothing and then progress to how she does in the story… It’s a real person we’ve got to remember here, it’s not just a novel, even though it’s a great book that this is based on.

It feels amazing to be given the opportunity and to still be working at 45 and to be playing a very important role within the story because, and this is all credit to Justin and Erwin that they want to tell this story and to Starz that they want to make it because we need more female stories and we need more stories that actually look at history and say, ‘Is that really what happened?’ Because so often it’s the male perspective of history. So, I’m incredibly proud of this series and, yeah, excited to be playing Catherine.

We know that Catherine is not concerned about the judgment of her peers. Is she concerned about her perception of herself?

It’s a really great question because obviously there’s the Catholicism side of things and just the spirituality aspect. Does she care what other people think? No, quite frankly, she doesn’t. I think for her she’s in it for the long game. She’s looking X amount of years into the future and she’s having to see everything from different perspectives all the time and be so far ahead in the game of everybody else. I think she does grapple with her relationship with God, faith and spirituality.

But we look back in history and women that were midwives, understood herbs or the qualities of certain mushrooms, or prayed under a full moon, were called witches. Men are clever. Oh, they’re alchemists, they’re scientists, they’re astronomers… they’re very clever. But I think history writes women as devil or evil for just being incredibly clever and astute. There are lines about dabbling in the dark arts. I think she’s certainly pushing the envelope in regards to fulfilling her destiny and just listening to her gut instinct.

‘The Serpent Queen’ is now streaming on Starz.