The Romanoffs

Donal O’Donoghue chats to the cre­ator of a glossy new TV drama

RTÉ Guide - - Contents -

How do you fol­low the TV phe­nom­e­non that was Mad Men?

How about a series of mod­ern fa­bles about peo­ple who be­lieve them­selves to be de­scen­dants of the in­fa­mous Rus­sian royal fam­ily? Donal O’Donoghue meets the man be­hind The Romanoffs, Matthew Weiner

“When I fin­ished Mad Men, I re­ally wanted to make a show where it would be dif­fer­ent ev­ery week. The Romanoffs was all about do­ing a show about con­nec­tions be­tween peo­ple and who we are: is it na­ture or nur­ture, ge­netic or cul­tural, or is it sim­ply who we say we are ver­sus who we ac­tu­ally are? I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in the story of the Romanoffs, not just that they were roy­alty and were mur­dered, but years later there’s the ques­tion for the de­scen­dants, who are you? You can say who you are but who are you re­ally?”

It’s a ques­tion also be­ing asked of Matthew Weiner, a 53-year-old father of four who cut his writ­ing teeth on The So­pra­nos, but made his fame and for­tune as the cre­ator of Mad Men. That TV drama, which ran for seven sea­sons be­fore con­clud­ing in May 2015, was a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non, an Emmy Award­win­ning be­he­moth that made mar­quee stars of Jon Hamm, Christina Hen­dricks and Elis­a­beth Moss. Weiner found fake char­ac­ters and made them real; now he takes a real-life fam­ily, the Romanoffs, and makes them fake, in an an­thol­ogy series of which he has said the fu­ture is writ­ten in the past.

That line may now be freighted with added sig­nif­i­cance for Weiner. Last Novem­ber, a sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tion was made against him by his for­mer as­sis­tant and writer on Mad Men, Kater Gor­don. Dur­ing an in­ter­view, Gor­don said that Weiner in­ti­mated she owed him the chance to see her naked while they were writ­ing the sec­ond-sea­son fi­nale of Mad Men, for which they both won an Emmy. A few days be­fore The Romanoffs world premiere in Lon­don, the al­le­ga­tions resur­faced in a Van­ity Fair in­ter­view. When we meet, Weiner seems un­con­cerned by such mat­ters, warmly hug­ging Jon Hamm as they pass on a stair­case, but dur­ing a short in­ter­view, in which no­body pokes the ele­phant in the room, he seems prickly and de­fen­sive.

“I know this might sound strange but I just don’t think that way,” says Weiner, his sock­less feet loose in lace-less shoes, when I ask him if he wor­ried about fol­low­ing the suc­cess of Mad Men. “Hon­estly, how would you even do seven sea­sons of Mad Men with that at­ti­tude be­cause ev­ery sea­son we’d be like: ‘Why don’t we just quit?’” But didn’t he fear writer’s block? “You’re mak­ing me ner­vous be­cause I never even thought about it,” he says to a cho­rus of laugh­ter (in fact Weiner, by his own ad­mis­sion, re­cently spoke of a rough patch when in­spi­ra­tion was slow to come). In­stead, he says now: “This is what I do and I feel lucky that I get to do it again.”

Fol­low­ing a bid­ding war, Ama­zon Prime shelled out $70 mil­lion for the rights to The Romanoffs, one of the tent-pole ti­tles in the stream­ing giant’s up­com­ing sched­ule. Many mil­lions more went into mak­ing the eight stand-alone tales (“seven lan­guages, eight coun­tries and a boat”) which fea­ture a glit­ter­ing in­ter­na­tional cast, in­clud­ing Is­abelle Hup­pert, Christina Hen­dricks and Diane Lane. Weiner di­rects all of the episodes, sump­tu­ous fea­ture-length pro­duc­tions that are more cu­rate’s than Fabergé egg. They open with a dou­ble-bill, ‘ The Vi­o­let Hour’ and ‘ The Royal We’, on Oc­to­ber 12 and there­after the episodes roll out on a weekly ba­sis.

Weiner has been charged with writ­ing al­most ex­clu­sively about the priv­i­leged classes, from the well-heeled ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tives of Mad Men to the blue bloods of The Romanoffs. The Vi­o­let Hour, for ex­am­ple, stars Marthe Keller as an em­bit­tered de­scen­dant of the Tsar, liv­ing out her twi­light years in her pala­tial Parisian apart­ment. “Yes, I’m telling sto­ries that hap­pen not nec­es­sar­ily in the world’s top one per­cent but up there,” he says. “By the way, I don’t know any­one who is not do­ing that and I don’t mean that in a de­fen­sive way. I’m telling sto­ries for all peo­ple, and when I say this, I’m just ask­ing to be kicked in the face. Which I think is a noble pur­suit.”

Get­ting kicked in the face is some­thing Weiner may have to get used to, but he’s not afraid of fight­ing his cor­ner. “You can never have enough di­ver­sity,” he says. “I want to write for di­ver­sity and I have a very di­verse team of writ­ers. Women don’t count as di­ver­sity to me, that’s just pop­u­la­tion and I have a lit­tle old­fash­ioned view of hu­man­ity which is that I do be­lieve that there are cer­tain hu­man qual­i­ties that go against all cul­tural and tribal things. I’m 53 years old, so I’m go­ing to go on my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, which is priv­i­leged but not lim­ited, be­lieve it or not.”

I do be­lieve that there are cer­tain hu­man qual­i­ties that go against all cul­tural and tribal things

Watch it The Romanoffs, From Oc­to­ber 12, Ama­zon Prime Aaron Eck­hart & Marthe Keller in The Romanoffs

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