Samantha Morton: “I connect with Catalina because I have had a very complex childhood”

We’re transported to 16th century France with the riveting new drama ‘The Serpent Queen,’ premiering on Starz. This ambitious and exuberant 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 tenure as queen, Catherine was a survivor from the start, and her journey from commoner to influencer was defined by her bravery and willingness to take charge.

The series stars the incredible Samantha Morton in the role of 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 a performance that’s tense, darkly comic and completely unexpected.

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

– I think, obviously, we both had the same script, conversations with Justin and with Stacie Passon, who was directing, and then, luckily, we had time to be together on Zoom. We were shooting this in times of the COVID lockdown, so it was really hard for us to get together outside of that. And I was shooting something else. So we talk on Zoom about how Catalina must feel when talking about her childhood. We talked about the religious aspects and the connection as actors. We both come from a similar area in Nottingham, well a bit outside of Nottingham, but we already had a connection. And I think that Liv and I share some very similar elements when we act.

Besides, she didn’t want Liv to feel like she had to be tied down to something. She wanted her to have complete freedom so that when I came on board, Catalina would have that strength of character. And I didn’t see any movies before playing the old Catalina. It was trusting the casting process as well, and trusting Liv and she trusting me. Liv is extraordinary in this role. I’m a huge fan of Liv Hill, so when I found out that she had been cast as young Catalina, I was very excited, but also intimidated because it’s a difficult step to follow. But I think it went well. And I think that people also change, enormously from 14 to 30 and 40 years old, but sometimes not so much in their spirit. And I think Liv and I created a real similarity that, if you haven’t seen the show yet, I hope you’ll feel when you watch it.

Q: Catalina is very quiet and very mean at times. I wondered if that was a choice of yours to keep her voice down.

– I think my interpretation of Catalina is a combination of the first conversations with Justin and my interpretation of the scripts. I have a feeling she was, in a very traditional way, considering she’s Italian, or almost like a don in ‘The Godfather.’ She is a very private person. She thinks things through. She doesn’t always feel the need to have knee-jerk reactions to anything. So she calm down she is more cunning and she would debate the evil side. But that is our interpretation of Catherine de Medici.

Q: What attracted you to this role and what did you want to bring to your story that we haven’t seen before?

– I think a combination of elements drew me to the role. When I was younger I was told that she didn’t have a period face and that she wasn’t fit for costume theatre. But I was always fascinated by history at school. It was and is something that I find very fascinating. And history has been written mainly by men. So the historical drama aspect was really exciting for me. And then working with Justin and Erwin was, when I saw their names on my agent’s email, I got really excited because I knew who they were. That is to say, it is Catherine de Médicis, it is the dream role. Her story is incredibly fascinating, complex, seductive and devastating. So for me to have the opportunity to address all of those issues, the relationships, the failures, and to be able to work with all these amazing actors that have been cast as well, it was a dream role and I’m honored to play Catalina for the equipment.

Q: Speaking of dream roles, I mean you got them very early on, you were still a teenager when you starred in Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë movies, which is really amazing, and now you’re in this one. What was it like to get off to such a fast start like that and what is it like to act now in another period epic like this?

– It doesn’t feel the same because I’m not the same. I am 45 years old. I have three children, a 22-year-old who also acts. I am a different person and have lived many lives. So to be able to experience the youthful aspect of playing Jane Eyre or Harriet in ‘Emma,’ and they’re all pretty significant roles, it’s been amazing. But to come back and do this later in life, to play a formidable queen, in a way I have to say, and this may sound strange, but it connects me to the story in a way because personally, I had a very complex childhood with the that I had to deal with. I was homeless in my teens. I have had many situations that are not so desirable. So when I was reading about Catherine’s background and history, obviously I’m not royalty and I’m not in government, but this idea that this person could have absolutely nothing and then progress to the way she does in history… It’s a real person that we have to remember here, it is not just a novel, although it is a great book on which it is based. It’s amazing that they gave me the opportunity to continue working at 45 years old and to play a very important role in the story because, and this is to the credit of Justin and Erwin, they want to tell this story and Starz wants to do it because we need more women’s stories. And we need more stories that really look at history and say, “Is this really what happened?” Because often the perspective of the story is male. So I’m incredibly proud of this series and, yes, excited to play Catalina.

Q: Samantha, what do you do if you get a role that you’re scared to do?

– If I am given a role that scares me, I think that in life, sometimes, feeling and navigating fear is a healthy thing. I think that feeling overwhelmed with fear is not healthy, but having that kind of feeling of excitement is good. There are also elements of the challenge. So this is a big challenge and that’s very exciting. I like to take on challenging roles, whether it’s Alpha on The Walking Dead, Catherine de’ Medici, or some of the recent roles I’ve played. They are hugely different character roles, and I love the challenge.

Q: We know that Catalina is not worried about the judgment of her peers. Does she care about her perception of herself?

– It’s a great question because, obviously, there is the Catholic side of things and the aspect of spirituality. Are you worried about what others think? No, frankly, he doesn’t care. I think for her it’s a long-term game. She is looking X number of years into the future and has to see everything from different perspectives all the time and be way ahead of everyone else. I think she fights for her relationship with God, faith and spirituality. But we look back in history and women who were midwives, who understood herbs or the qualities of certain mushrooms, or who prayed under a full moon, were called witches. Men are smart. They are alchemists, they are scientists, they are astronomers… they are very intelligent. But I think history writes women as devils or evil for being incredibly smart and cunning. There are lines about dabbling in the dark arts. I think she’s certainly pushing the limits (*laughs*) when it comes to fulfilling her destiny and just listening to her instinct.

11 of September

It is the date on which ‘The Serpent Queen’ will be released.

“I think history writes women as diabolical or evil for the simple fact of being incredibly smart and cunning.”

Samantha Morton, English actress.

Samantha Morton: “I connect with Catalina because I have had a very complex childhood”