Despite being one of the longest-serving rulers in French history, a television show has never centered around Catherine de Medici — until now. The Serpent Queen premieres September 11 on STARZ and follows Catherine’s incredible rise to power through any means necessary. HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with executive producers Justin Haythe and Erwin Stoff about why Catherine’s story intrigued them.
“To me, I feel like I’ve never seen an antihero like that who happened to be a woman,” Justin said during the show’s press junket. “We have great anti-heroes in television and film, and I couldn’t think of one [that was a woman]. She felt incredibly modern to me. The way she staged managed her image, the way that she negotiated these challenges, the way that she had to be better than all the men around her. All of this felt relatable. She lived in this absurd world that in certain ways feels relatable to our own, where increasingly the same people win every time no matter what. I just had never encountered a character like her, and I had wanted to do a villain from history, who we’ve judged as a villain, and give them their day in court as it were, their opportunity to turn to us and say, ‘Hey, you would have done what I did because all the good people are already dead.’ That seemed like a really unique and fun opportunity.”
Erwin added, “To me, her plight very much reminded me of the plight of women in this business when I first came into it in the ’80s. They have to be better. They have to be smarter, and they always had to do it behind a man because nobody would actually give them the power to do it.”
The producers also weighed in on why they think there’s never been a show exclusively about Catherine de Medici, whose life was filled to the brim with made-for-TV material. “The way she’s described is unattractive, unroyal, and unable to bear children, doesn’t pay her dowry. She’s starting at the bottom, and I think all those things are in the eye of the beholder,” Justin noted. “You look at the paintings for the period of that time with the people who are considered beautiful, and to our eye, we think, wow, okay, that was the beauty standard of the day. These things are arbitrary. These things are subjective. But she was considered unlucky in love. All of these things at some level aren’t the things that we usually put a frame around.”
He continued, “Our take on the show was that means she had to be smarter, that means she had to be capable of greater cruelty. She had to be funny, or she had to be wittier. There is wish fulfillment here where when you’re faced with challenges, when you’re underestimated, you actually have the goods to triumph. That’s the story. And I think that’s why people hadn’t gotten to it before.”
The role of Catherine de Medici will be played by two actresses: Liv Hill and Samantha Morton. Justin stressed that it was “essential” to start Catherine’s story when she was a young girl.
“The process was devising the story saying, okay, how do we tell the story about Catherine where I think it’s essential to tell how young she was when she was knocked out of her life and dropped, and then had to consummate her marriage in front of an audience, including her uncle. I have two teenagers. That’s every teenager’s worst nightmare, right? She was really young. You had to tell that, but you also had to tell how long Catherine ruled, how many children she had, how many challenges she overcame, how many kings she outlived, so you needed to have two actors play her,” Justin explained.
Despite not sharing the screen together, Justin said that Samantha and Liv had a “great chemistry” with their performances of the same character. “Liv has an extraordinary poise for somebody so young, and I think Samantha has a similar poise and strength,” Justin told HollywoodLife. The Serpent Queen will air Sundays on STARZ.