The Last Tycoon, which is available to stream on Amazon Prime now, presents a heightened version of 1930s Hollywood, but it's not exactly a fantasy.
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, the series stars Matt Bomer as Monroe Stahr, a brilliant young movie producer who has complicated relationships with his boss, studio head Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer); the boss' daughter Celia (Lily Collins), who wants to be a producer against her father's wishes; and Kathleen Moore (Dominique McElligott), an Irish waitress who reminds him of his deceased movie star wife Minna Davis.
In a big picture way, it's about the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the big studios and the larger-than-life men who ran them controlled show business, for good and for ill. The show captures the era's glitz and glamour, but also the dark underbelly of what was going on politically and socially as the Great Depression raged and Hitler rose to power and exerted his influence in Hollywood before the start of World War II. Race and gender and class are all in play, as are the never-ending conflicts of labor vs. management and art vs. commerce.
The show's creative team plays around with fact and fiction, but makes it a point to be grounded in the time period. The main characters are fictitious, but they're inspired by real people — Stahr is based on producer Irving Thalberg, while Brady is sort of like Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohn — and they interact with real historical figures like director Fritz Lang (played by Iddo Goldberg), whom Stahr hires to work on his flagship film. Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian and Fitzgerald expert A. Scott Berg is a consulting producer on the show, and he helps make sure actual facts get inserted into the show.
"There were so many things that I learned about that seem outrageous but actually happened," says Lily Collins.
For example, the show includes Georg Gyssling, who was Hitler's man in Hollywood. He monitored studio activities and censored scripts for the Nazis with studio cooperation. It's a dark chapter in Hollywood history, and The Last Tycoon doesn't shy away from it.
But The Last Tycoon is also about the sensuous pleasures of beautiful lighting and luxurious interiors and gorgeous clothing. The costumes were designed by Emmy-winning costume designer Janie Bryant, who previously worked on Deadwood and Mad Men.
"I'm a fashion gal through and through," says Collins, who says that getting to wear the costumes was a great perk of the job. "I've grown up loving design and seeing stylists and costume designers as true artists and Janie Bryant is a genius and this period is so beautiful for women, the shapes and colors and patterns. To get to immerse myself in that way every day was a gift and such a treat. All the fittings with Janie really helped create my character and that was part of the fun every day."
Grammer, Collins and McElligott were all especially fond of the hats they got to wear. "Celia is a hat girl," says Collins. "She wears a lot of hats, literally and figuratively."
"We all wear quite a few hats, I think," says McElligott. "I had a nice hat when I was a tour guide. I liked that hat. It was quite jaunty."
"It's a rich canvas, it looks really good," says Grammer. He praises the work cinematographer Daniel Moder and production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein did in creating the world of the show. "Maybe it's a fantasized world a little bit, but it sure looks good," he says. "It's sumptuous. It's fun to go there and play."
The Last Tycoon's entire first season is streaming now on Amazon Prime.