And then her gait, her gestures. How did you find those?
These costumes shape you in such a particular way. Women were supposed to glide, to be smooth. You weren’t supposed to see movement. But Bertha is an upstart and I felt that her hips should be involved. I don’t know how conscious that choice was. When you’re asked to walk into that foyer in a hat and a cashmere coat, you just have to sashay.
In this season the show has leaned further into melodrama. How does it feel to play those big theatrical scenes?
Terrifying, but wonderful. It just feels like you’re doing Eugene O’Neill all the time. But oh, gosh, we really do have fun. That’s the key to it: You can’t take it too seriously. You can’t take yourself too seriously. I’m not afraid of big choices, and I’m not afraid of people not liking Bertha, just like I’m not afraid, now that I’m 42, of anybody not liking me. So I try to have fun. There was one take when Bertha first saw Turner (Curran’s character) that was so hilariously broad. I staggered; I grabbed Morgan’s arm; I fell a little bit. As soon as the take was over, we howled because it was a hat on a hat on a hat on a hat.
Walking in that first day, we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t know how big it was going to be. We didn’t know how much space there was. But as we were shooting, we were like, OK, I think we can handle a little more size. In Season 2, some of the exposition is out of the way, we’ve got the characters introduced. Now we get to have a little more fun.
This season focuses largely on the real-life battle between the Academy of Music and the nascent Metropolitan Opera. What is it a proxy war for?
We always draw a parallel with the moment when the Kardashians were invited to the Met Ball. The world of celebrity and what money can afford you, it’s really emblematic of that. The opera also represents the struggle in this country, this feeling of people resisting inevitable change and holding on very tightly to an older way of life.
Bertha ends the season in triumph. Could she have ended in any other way?
I don’t think so. The show is exploring a very particular time, an extraordinary time of industry and change and growth. We know already that the moneyed people won, the new people won. Where they weren’t invited, they built something new from the ground up. So her rise is really inevitable. She’s an inexorable force. There’s nothing that will stop her.