As Bertha Russell, the ambitious and social-climbing wife of a self-made railroad tycoon, Carrie Coon kick-starts a war between old money and new money in Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ latest, must-see costume drama, The Gilded Age, when she moves in across the street from aging, wealthy aunts, Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon).
While her character is a controlling mother of two older children played by Taissa Farmiga and Harry Richardson, Coon had to hide her real-life pregnancy from the screen. “I got pregnant really early,” she tells ET’s Rachel Smith about her second child with husband Tracy Letts, a daughter she gave birth to during the summer of 2021.
Luckily for Coon, she didn’t have to rely on old TV tropes when actresses were often forced to hide their growing baby bumps behind strategically placed objects or by holding oversized purses, laundry baskets or other items in front of them. Other times, they’re dressed in oversized or baggy clothes to disguise any physical changes.
But that wasn’t the case here, which saw Coon donning intricately corseted costumes as the showy Bertha, who flaunts her wealth with her lavish taste in dresses. “There were a few months where I got to wear the costumes as they existed. But when we came back, I had to put strings on the back of all of them,” she recalls, revealing that no one on production made an issue of her pregnancy. “What’s extraordinary about this story is that no one batted an eye. They all just got on board.”
She adds that the costume department did “such an amazing job of hiding it that a lot of people working in post-production didn’t know I was pregnant.” Of course, she “had a lot of very fancy capes towards the end” and they “would celebrate a very well-timed carriage going by,” but everything looked seamless from beginning to end. “There were a lot of moving buttons,” says the actress, who was nearly eight months pregnant by the end of filming. “It’s really magical.”
Coon even jokes that her daughter thinks her onset dresser, Brian, is her father. “Because she heard his voice most of all, down there tugging everything and putting me back together,” she says, adding, “I like my daughter. She’s good.”
When it comes to those costumes, any effort to make them work was well worth it. “The wardrobe is gorgeous… It does most of the work,” Coon says of them helping her and the cast bring their characters to life onscreen, especially Bertha, who the actress describes as a modern woman. “Bertha’s clothes are intentionally just slightly outside of the period, which is a really smart symbol for the audience.”
Not only is Bertha a modern, ambitious woman, Coon notes that she has a husband, George Russell, played here by Morgan Spector, who respects her. “Which is not always the case,” she says. “The marriage really struck me on the page as feeling really real and very modern in its expression. So, that was an exciting thing to take on.”
Spector agrees, adding that as a couple, “the advantage they have is they can really operate in the social and domestic spheres, where George is happy to follow Bertha’s lead.” Whereas “George is willing to do [what it takes] in the office,” Coon adds. Because of that, “they can attack the enemy from both sides and that gives them a lot of power,” Spector concludes.
And those enemies just so happen to be Baranski and Nixon as judgmental sisters who look down on Bertha’s showy lifestyle. For Coon, she couldn’t have picked two better performers to face off with. “They’re the best. They’re women I look up to as artists, I look up to the careers they’ve had and the people they are beyond that,” she gushes. “So, it’s fun to be their enemy. But I much more appreciate being their friend.”
The Gilded Age premieres Monday, Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max.