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“I mean, is it the queerest thing I’ve done?” Julianne Moore says of Mary & George (it is, by the way) after we highlight the rainbow tint of her filmography, from the Academy Award-winning The Hours and trailblazing The Kids Are All Right to cult favourites such as Far From Heaven and Freeheld. As a result, Moore is one of a privileged few (thousand) who have been inducted into the Queer Hall of Fame as a “mother!”. “It’s about female power, right?” she says of the term of endearment. “I’ll take it!”

Directed by Oliver Hermanus, Mary & George stars Moore as Mary Villiers, a “fierce and ambitious” widow who recruits her “teenage naif” son George (Nicholas Galitzine) to seduce King James VI of Scotland and I of England (Tony Curran) to become his right-hand lover and rise up the social and political ranks. The real-life story of a scheming mother who uses her son’s aesthetically pleasing features to boink the king and conquer the Court of England is married with pitch-black humour (the hanging scene, for one) and a plethora of ferocious sex scenes (name any).

“I’ve never had to choreograph as many sex scenes in my career!” laughs Hermanus. The historical psychodrama is part of an exciting new wave of queer projects that are reviving horniness in a rather sanitised and sexless era for the industry, alongside All of Us Strangers, Fellow Travelers and Saltburn. And, refreshingly, compared to other films and series in the predominantly heterosexual-heavy historical genre, queerness isn’t presented as “scandalous” or “salacious” in Mary & George. In fact, as Moore tells GAY TIMES, ‘every character is pretty fluid’.

Read ahead for our full interview with Julianne Moore and Oliver Hermanus, where they discuss how the sex scenes are integral to the character development in Mary & George, the former’s aforementioned “mother” status and collaborating with the “wonderful” Nicholas Galitzine of Red, White & Royal Blue fame. Hermanus also teases the “fire” chemistry between Paul Mescal and Josh O’Connor in his upcoming gay romance, The History of Sound. So, yeah, lots of gay stuff ahead.

Julianne, Oliver. You are giving the gays everything they could possibly want with Mary & George. What is it like to see the anticipation from the LGBT’s online?

Oliver: I haven’t seen it!

Julianne: I know… Tell us, what’s going on?

They’re ready. Every time we post anything about this show… Yeah, they need it.

Julianne: Well, we’re here to give it to them.

This series is dark, salacious and gay as hell. Oliver, this is your first TV gig – why was the story of Mary & George the right one for you to adapt for your first TV project?

Oliver: It was the whole package. It was the writing, it was the actress, it was the opportunity to work at this scale. It was all the things that I was wanting to try out and television is this interesting space at the minute where you have bigger landscapes to tell human stories. It was all attractive – and scary!

Mary is conniving, manipulative and fierce. Julianne, how fun was it to play this character?

Julianne: It was a lot of fun. I think what I loved most about her is that she’s so active. She’s somebody who has an idea and acts on it immediately. And there’s an urgency to what she does because it’s really about self-preservation. She’s someone who doesn’t have any agency, any autonomy. She doesn’t have any authority or power except through the men she’s married to, or through her male children. She’s like, ‘How do I access this? How do I thrive?’ and she doesn’t stop for a minute. The minute she sees a path forward she just keeps going.

You feel for her at times, too, like in episode three when she’s being mocked for her outfit, which I thought was perfectly alright…

Julianne: I know! I liked it. But she’s not afraid to try, that’s the thing.

Oliver: She’s doing it intentionally.

Julianne: Of course. But we can’t say that! She’s not afraid of anything. I also feel like she’s someone who knows that she has nothing to lose.

It’s funny because she was described as “evil” and a “witch”, but we don’t actually know much about her?

Julianne: We know very little about her. I think she was probably pretty fierce and ambitious, and female. That, in itself…

Oliver: Gets villainised.

Julianne: Exactly.

You have been in so many iconic queer projects, Julianne, but surely this is the gayest thing you’ve ever been a part of?

Julianne: Well… I guess, I mean, is it the queerest thing I’ve done?

Oliver: You’ve done some gay stuff.

Julianne: I’ve done some gay stuff, but I do think that a lot of the characters have a fluidity, right? Rather than seeing through the lens of one or two queer characters, you’re seeing that everybody feels pretty fluid, and there’s a freedom to it. There aren’t people who are hiding or who are ashamed of their sexuality or their relationships. So, in that sense, I think it’s very unusual in this historical fiction that’s portrayed this way.

Oliver: I feel like you’ve done sophisticated gay and this is like a party gay.

What about you Oliver? I know you’ve won a Queer Palm, but surely this takes the cake with all your projects when it comes to queerness?

Oliver: I’ve never had to choreograph as many sex scenes in my career, so that was definitely interesting! Yeah, I guess so. ‘Queer’ is the word because the nature of the show is that everything and everyone is ambiguous. Intentions are ambiguous. Sexuality, desire… Just when you think you know somebody’s box, they break that box. I think that’s the fun of it.

Let’s talk about the sex then. The 2010s felt a bit watered down and sanitised, there was a lot of scrutiny over sex scenes and whether they are necessary to the plot. Now, it feels like we’re in our sex scene era again?!

Julianne: We’re back!

Which I’m very happy about. So, I wanted to get your thoughts on that. How important are sex scenes in driving the plot forward, in cases like Mary & George?

Julianne: I think you said it, exactly. Are they pertinent? Do they move the story? I think, often, when you watch something extraneous, you sort of tune out. Every single scene in a movie should move the plot or inform a relationship, or give you some more information – and that includes sex scenes. If they’re just there, you won’t engage in it. But, I think that in this, you’re seeing sex as a form of communication, as a form of intimacy, as a form of dominance and power-seeking. There’s always a reason for these scenes. So, when I think you see that, that makes them interesting and relatable.

I just did an article, ‘The 10 best gay sex scenes of the decade so far’ and, I tell you what, there’s about twelve from Mary & George going in there.

Julianne: Really? I want to know what they are.

I’ll send them to you later. Mary is the mother, and gays refer to you Julianne as “mother”. Are you aware of that?

Julianne: “Mother” seems to be a thing on the internet that means…

Oliver: It’s very RuPaul. It’s a badge of honour.

Julianne: It’s about female power, right?

It’s an affectionate term.

Oliver: Like you embody all of the values [of the LGBTQIA+ community]. You’re like a queen, I guess.

Julianne: I’ll take it!

You embracing it, yeah?

Julianne: Oh yeah!

I think I read somewhere that you once watched the Oscars in a gay bar. Is that correct?

Julianne: Erm… I’ve been in many gays bars, let’s put it that way.

That’s mother behaviour.

Oliver: That is mother behaviour.

Let’s talk about Nicholas Galitzine because he is, like you Julianne, a gay fan-favourite. What was it like to act opposite him in this?

Julianne: He was wonderful. He had the biggest arc in the show. He really starts as a teenage naif, someone who really knows nothing and is very innocent and disinterested in anything but his own local romance.

Oliver: With the maid.

Julianne: And he turns and becomes an adult who is confident and almost dominates the king. Eventually, he is corrupted by power, but he just did a magnificent job and he also endured a lot of hardship. He had a really, physically gruelling part, and he did it all.

Oliver: Lots of skills to learn; horse-riding, fencing, fighting…

Julianne: Dancing.

Oliver: Really super hard working.

I have to say that one of my favourite scenes is Mary strolling through the forest to see George just hanging there. The dark humour behind it…

Julianne: One of the things that attracted both of us with this project was the humour. It is very… There are some things in there that are pretty extreme and dark, but I think it’s wildly entertaining.

And Oliver, what was it like directing Nicholas as George?

Oliver: Great. You dream of being able to go to work with actors who are wanting to be there and are prepared and love it and care about it. That’s a big part of making something move forward, is that everyone has to, not just do their job, but they have to be a team player. He could not be more of a team player. He’s someone who goes around and is great with the team around him, so I was really grateful that somebody who was having to carry so much labour on his back could find a way of being very light and fun everyday. I mean, Julianne is the same. She walks into the room and people light up because she makes the room warmer. For me, that takes so much pressure off me because I want everyone to have a good time, weirdly. Filmmaking is like hosting a long party.

Julianne: It is, and it’s a collective, right? We all participate, that’s the thing. That’s what I love most about what we do, is that everybody is an expert in their own little field, and we all rely on one another to do their expert thing. And so, you need absolutely everybody there and everyone’s engagement, and that’s exciting. It’s exciting to depend on each other that way. I love it. I love the community aspect of it and that we all make it together.

I’m sorry Oliver because this isn’t related to Mary & George, but I have to know… The History of Sound. Can you tell me anything?

Oliver: What do you know?

We actually did an ‘everything you need to know’ but there’s not much in there.

Oliver: It’s happening. We’re doing it right now. I’m going back there tomorrow.

Can you say anything about the chemistry between Paul Mescal and Josh O’Connor? Or is it all under wraps?

Julianne: They’re on fire!

Oliver: They’re on fire. I mean, they’re great friends and they get on. They love working together. This is their first time, and again, like I was saying about Nicholas, it just feels right. Going to work with them feels right because they love and care about it.

Mary & George is now streaming on Sky Atlantic. 

You can watch our interview with Julianne Moore and Oliver Hermanus here or below.