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How The Serpent Queen Was 'Incredibly Lucky' In Recreating The World Of Catherine De Medici, According To The Star And EPs

The Serpent Queen will soon premiere on Starz to tell the story of Catherine de Medici, who went from a humble beginning in Italy to rise and become Queen of France. Although set in the 16th century, the series starring Samantha Morton and Liv Hill is a different kind of royal period drama, as the venomous queen at court happens to be the main character, with a taste for revenge. According to the showrunners and Liv Hill, the show was also incredibly lucky in how they were able to recreate Catherine’s world so richly for the screen.

In telling the often twisted tale of Catherine’s life and rise, The Serpent Queen had to create an opulent world for all of the scheming, manipulating, and cheating that the French court had to offer in her time. After her considerably less opulent start in Italy, the French court and the people there shape young Catherine (played by Liv Hill) into the woman she becomes as queen (played by Samantha Morton of The Walking Dead fame). 

When Hill spoke with CinemaBlend about the series, she opened up about filming in the actual locations where Catherine de Medici herself once lived and walked, saying: 

It was a ‘pinch myself’ moment because you turn up to work and do the scenes in front of the chateaus [in France], and we went in and visited them and we stayed in hotels nearby. Then when we went to Italy to film for five days, we were the first people to ever have filmed in the Papal Palace. So it was gorgeous. That was probably the highlight for me. I've never been on such luxurious set locations before, and I would never have probably done that had I not been an actress.

The Papal Palace is – as the name suggests – the official residence of the Pope of the Catholic Church (who will be played in The Serpent Queen by Game of Thrones alum Charles Dance), and there’s a reason why the interiors of the actual historical location haven't been featured in TV shows and movies before. 

The new Starz series was able to make history to film in the Papal Palace, in addition to the grand locations in France. So, did filming in these historical places that are centuries old mean that there were rules about what they could and couldn’t do while there? Liv Hill shared:

I think definitely in the Papal Palace for sure. I mean, I wasn't ever told explicitly 'do not touch' but I definitely was aware that I'd probably get in trouble with security. [laughs] But even just knowing that these were the buildings where the history actually had happened, especially in France and the Chateau Chambord. It was really wonderful and how lucky we were.

The Serpent Queen team was fortunate in filming in these locations to build the world of Catherine de Medici, whose story in the show really deserves all of the scale and grandeur that it can get. According to showrunners Erwin Stoff and Justin Haythe, timing was actually a large part of why they were able to take their cameras and their cast into places where history was made. Stoff, who has also worked as an executive producer on shows like Witches of East End and Julia, shared: 

The funny thing is, for as difficult as it was to shoot during COVID, COVID was actually very good to us. Because all of those locations were places that no one had ever shot... because they're usually overrun with tourists. So because of COVID, there were no tourists, and they were in desperate need of money. So we actually got to shoot in the rooms, in the hallways, in the gardens, where Catherine lived. So that was actually for us and for the show, an incredibly lucky break.

While the COVID pandemic meant a lot of production shutdowns in the entertainment industry early on, The Serpent Queen production got – as Stoff said – ”incredibly lucky” in being able to book places that otherwise wouldn’t have been available. The trailer alone proves that the show doesn’t look like it was filmed under any kinds of constraints, so the production managed to completely hide the pandemic while taking full advantage of their unprecedented access to historical locations. 

Justin Haythe, who also created, wrote, and directed for The Serpent Queen, agreed with his co-showrunner and elaborated on how much the locations brought to how they told Catherine’s story:

It added so much. I mean, to take these really human modern portraits of these people and put them in the real world, and you see the scale of it. The ornamentation. I mean, it's absurd. It's completely over the top, but to have real people wandering around, and as Erwin said, there were times when we had these places to ourselves. I mean, it was incredible.

What better way to immerse viewers in the story than by filming the episodes directly in the locations where Catherine de Medici and her contemporaries lived back in the 16th century? The Serpent Queen also unfolds in a way that fans of period dramas might not expect, as the lead character tells her own story and breaks the fourth wall. This show certainly doesn’t tell Queen Catherine’s story like Becoming Elizabeth told the future Queen Elizabeth Tudor’s, and the locations helped build a sense of realism. Stoff shared:

Once you're in those locations, and the locations are real, it kind of gives the actors a freedom to be very real, very contemporary, and just be living breathing human beings because the edifices are so amazing around them.

Fortunately, the wait for The Serpent Queen (opens in new tab) is nearly over. The fresh take on a period drama – which can boast a stacked cast also including the likes of Ludivine Sagnier, Colm Meaney, Alex Heath, Antonia Clarke, Rupert Everett, and Sennia Nanua, among others – premieres on Sunday, September 11 at 8 p.m. ET on Starz. In case you need any further proof that The Serpent Queen isn’t exactly Becoming Elizabeth or The White Queen or The White Princess, the title of the first episode is “Medici Bitch.”

The Serpent Queen will run for eight episodes, so be sure to tune in! For some more viewing options now and in the coming weeks, take a look at our 2022 TV premiere schedule, and don’t forget to check back with CinemaBlend for more on the new Starz series. 

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.