Why Filthy Rich Is a New Kind of Family Drama

Film & TV Features   Why Filthy Rich Is a New Kind of Family Drama
 
Premiering September 21 and starring Kim Cattrall, Corey Cott, Aaron Lazar, Steve Harris, and more, the Fox drama makes for sinfully delicious fall TV.

In the first seconds of Filthy Rich’s pilot, debuting September 21 at 9 PM ET on Fox, viewers see Kim Cattrall as Margaret Monreaux strutting out of her family’s mansion in a red-sequined dress, a white fur stole draped over her shoulders. The fact that her home is burning to the ground doesn’t seem to phase her. In fact, after walking a few paces, she turns back, smiles ruefully at the destruction, and offers up the very first words of the series, “Rot in hell.”

That scene would be an unforgettable first impression in any series, but for a show where religion happens to be the family business, it brings to mind Mark 3:25 (a verse the Monreaux family would no doubt be familiar with), “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Viewers are then whisked back four months prior, where audiences are properly introduced to the Monreaux clan.

Joining Cattrall on screen is Gerald McRaney as televangelist and Christian media mogul Eugene Monreaux, who sits atop a sprawling empire alongside his devoted Margaret, a popular daytime talk show host on their station The Sunshine Network. With their adult children Eric and Rose, played by Broadway alum Corey Cott and Aubrey Dollar, poised to take the reigns of the business, the Monreaux family is shaken when Eugene is presumed dead in a plane crash—one that also claims the lives of the two call-girls he had flying with him.

Margaret and her lieutenant, Franklin (Steve Harris), try to maintain Eugene's pristine reputation, only to discover his will also bequeaths 1 percent of the family fortune to each of his secret illegitimate children. Thus begins an epic battle of wills between Margaret and all five of Eugene's offspring as they fight for their stake in the Monreaux legacy and fortune.

Adapted for the U.S. from the popular New Zealand drama of the same name, Filthy Rich offers up a premise that is equal parts Southern Gothic whodunnit and glitzy family soap. Playbill sat down with the show's creator Tate Taylor, executive producer and showrunner Abe Sylvia, and the show's cast to discuss what makes the world of Filthy Rich so alluring.

“This show is…I don't think there's a genre for it yet,” says Melia Kreiling, who plays the sultry and whip-smart Ginger, an adult video site runner eager to take her rightful place as an acknowledged member of the Monreaux family, brand-image be damned. “There’s a wicked humor to it but it's still colorful and it's still fun. It’s like an elevated version of real life.” (The two additional surprise names in the will are Antonio and Jason, played by Benjamin Levy Aguilar and Mark L. Young, respectively.)

The characters of Filthy Rich manage to toe the line of being larger-than-life without coming across as religious (or hypocritical) caricatures. No character better demonstrates this paradox of devoted holy man and secret sinner Eugene. “The players who are involved in this thing, in their own stumbling ways, are trying to do the right thing,” says McRaney. “There are very few true villains in this world. Most people are mistaken. They let themselves get caught up in something that was bigger than they are, and now they've fallen victim to it themselves. And I think Tate [Taylor] has done a wonderful job of representing that.”

“What compelled me about Eric was all these things that this guy has believed his whole life to be true about his family, about his dad, about character and faith. All of a sudden that's completely undermined,” says Cott (Bandstand, Gigi) of his character, who has spent his life crafting a squeaky-clean public persona alongside his wife Becky (Olivia Macklin) in hopes of one day taking over as CEO.

At the eye of this storm, Margaret finds herself torn between the righteous anger of a woman who is left to publicly reckon with her husband’s numerous infidelities and the need to put on a brave smile, remaining the “Good Christian” face of the empire they built together. This creates a number of avenues for Cattrall—last seen on Broadway in Private Lives—to explore as a performer. “I was never brought up with a faith. My parents are Church of England, but it was never a path that I took. So, to wear the shoes of someone who that has been their complete role in life, and the path that came to them from the Lord—I've always wondered what that would be like to play that. So that has been a really wonderful journey.”

"I think a lot of the fun drama comes from people's different ideas of where this family should go and the power struggles that go around that," explains Aaron Lazar (A New Brain, A Little Night Music), who portrays the Rev. Paul Luke Thomas, the face of the Sunshine Network and the foil to a number of Margaret’s machinations.

The drama of Filthy Rich isn’t limited to family dynamics. The series offers up theatrical flair both within the world of The Sunshine Network (Margaret descends to the stage on angel wings at one point) and in the show’s storytelling.

“There’s definitely a heightened tone to things that is extremely fun to play,” says Cott. “New Orleans is a town that essentially thrives on showmanship. It thrives on the music scene, the food, it thrives on entertainment…that theatricality is just built into the character of New Orleans. And I think they've expanded that to the characters in Filthy Rich as well.”

And just as good showmen never give away their secrets before a big reveal, Taylor and Sylvia have been playing their cards similarly close to the vest, even with their stars.

“We would not get a script until the very last minute before we shot each episode. So there's always been this feeling among us for the past four months of like, 'Who's doing what? Where's this going?' It felt like a game of Clue almost,” says Cott.

“It's so fun, they're all trying to guess. They're trying to trick me,” Taylor says. “When they ask me a question, I start smiling and go, ‘I'm smiling now, before you even ask the question, so that you will know my facial expression is truly neutral. Ask.’ "

When asked if she preferred the surprise of only knowing her character’s journey just before it has to unfold on camera, Cattrall laughed, “I don't have a choice. And I'm a producer, dammit!”

With so many twists and turns that the cast can’t even predict their own characters’ outcomes, what can audiences expect from Filthy Rich? “Everybody will have their character that they're rooting for in this struggle to end up on top,” says Sylvia. “It’s a buoyant thrill ride, and it's delicious and it's fun, but if you were to really look more closely, we're having a sizable cultural conversation. There's a lot more going on than meets the eye.”

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