Carrie Coon Thinks Her Character Bertha on ‘The Gilded Age’ Could Have Been ‘a CEO or Senator’: She Was ‘Born at the Wrong Time’

While it may be the male steel and oil magnates who allow for the exorbitant wealth featured on “The Gilded Age,” it’s the women who wield it with both unabashed veracity and singular panache. Whether it be Christine Baranski’s Agnes Van Rhijn with her pursed-lip, old-world attitude or the bawdy charm of Ashlie Atkinson’s Mamie Fish, these socialites always keep things interesting, even when they’re just fighting over who gets to have the Duke as a guest at dinner. But perhaps the most ruthless and engaging of them all is Carrie Coon’s Bertha Russell. Of the new-money ilk, she’s initially shunned by high society, but quickly pushes back and muscles her way to the top.

“I love that she calls people out on their B.S. That’s the most fun, when she really cuts through the social expectations and just calls it how she sees it,” Coon said recently in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “But I also love that she gets to be so vulnerable with George. We got to see a little more of that in season two, which was a lot of fun to show that juxtaposition, how tough she is to the outside world versus when she lets her guard down. She’s so uncompromising. She’s so myopic. I love that people don’t like her.”

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Yet, why, at the same time, do we root for Bertha? She’s vainglorious, excessive, but her determination to show up those above her can’t help but endear Bertha to audiences and the irony isn’t lost on Coon.

“What’s so funny is that you do find yourself rooting for the ruthless capitalists in this show, because they’re driving the narrative. I think, fundamentally, we all want to be people of action — or at the very least we respond to people of action,” said Coon in explaining her character’s appeal. “I think people root for George and Bertha totally in spite of themselves. And also they root for their marriage, because their marriage is super sexy. It’s also ambitious, supportive, and respectful. Sadly, we live in a time when respect is rare. But it’s attractive.”

For many viewers, raising money for an opera house and organizing events may sound boring, but “The Gilded Age” manages to turn these plot points into full-on dog fights. Coon claims this is probably what it felt like for her character back in the time it’s set.

“People like Bertha were relegated to the sphere of social fundraising, social work, social climbing,” she said to The Hollywood Reporter. “People often say, ‘Why is she focusing all her energy on the opera?’ Well, there was nothing else for her to do. She couldn’t vote! Yeah, she could have been a CEO or senator, but she was born in the wrong time.”

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