- 15 Aug 17
As her new Amazon series The Last Tycoon debuts, Dubliner Dominique McElligott talks about achieving success on her own terms, while the show’s producers reflect on the parallels between America in the age of fascism and the United States under Trump. By Ed Power
You may recognise the face but not know the name. That’s a perfect fit for Dominique McElligott. A star of Netflix’s House Of Cards (she was Presidential candidate Conway’s posh wife in seasons four and five) and of new Amazon juggernaut The Last Tycoon, the Rathfarnham native has flown under the radar even while building her reputation as one of television’s most in-demand support players. The fewer the details about her in the public realm, the better she is at her job.
“I’m old school,” the 31-year-old says. “I don’t play the game – I’m not on social media. I don’t want the audience to have too much info. You want the viewer to discover you as the character you are playing. I’ve never sought the spotlight.”
After seven years in Los Angeles, McElligott has cultivated a Valley Girl rasp; speaking to her, I’m reminded immediately of the Haim sisters. In The Last Tycoon, however, she goes back to the old country as a Dublin “lass” seeking fame in ’30s Hollywood. Happily, she has resisted the temptation to talk like a pirate and instead sounds like an actual Irish person. Someone should give her a gong for least offensive on-screen Irish accent to date.
“It was great fun,” she smiles. “There were differences between Hollywood then and now. They didn’t have to deal with the paparazzi. If anything, they wanted the paparazzi to photograph them.”
The Last Tycoon is one of the year’s highest profile shows from Amazon, which continues to ratchet up its attempts to dislodge Netflix as the major player in streaming television.
Alas, on the heels of acclaimed series such as Transparent and The Man In The High Castle, it’s not an especially successful excursion into period drama, the lush production values jarring with often creaking dialogue and sign-posted plot. Not much happens – and not in an absorbing, Mad Men way.
Still, it will be of interest to scholars of F Scott Fitzgerald, from whose uncompleted final novel The Last Tycoon is adapted. The author of The Great Gatsby finished his days as alcoholic hack for hire in Hollywood, and The Last Tycoon was imbued with the disillusionment he felt towards the dream factory.
Amazon tones down the bitterness and brings in additional elements – such as the influence on ’30s Hollywood of the Third Reich, which we see bankrolling movie producers and seeking to expunge from films released in Germany any “Jewish” influence. The irony of course being that the studios kow-towing to the Nazis were in many cases established and run by Jews fleeing Europe.
“Fitzgerald wouldn’t have known anything about that,” maintains series producer Billy Ray (writer of the original Hunger Games movie and Tom Hanks Somali pirate romp Captain Phillips). “That’s what’s fun about what we’re doing. We’re using the voice people would have had back then, but bringing the perspectives we have today.
“As well as the Nazis, Fitzgerald wasn’t going to talk about women in Hollywood or the impoverished people who came to Los Angeles from rural America seeking their fortune. Knowing what we do now we can delve into those themes.”
As is obligatory in American prestige drama, The Last Tycoon is concerned with the travails of a “difficult man”. In this case the Walter White/Don Draper/Tony Soprano stand-in is Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer), a producer toiling for harrumphing studio boss Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer).
“What was really surprising to me is that the machinations of the studio system weren’t all that different back then from what I encountered in modern Hollywood,” says Bomer, who’s best known for male stripper smash Magic Mike. “Obviously there are differences – you don’t have contracted players today. But at the end of the day, the art versus commerce debate will always be part of the business.”
The political uncertainties of the pre-Second World War era also have modern resonances, he feels.
“It was a very tumultuous time and some of that feeling is in the air in 2017. So the producers have slipped in some social commentary.”
“Fitzgerald was writing conversations in ’30s Hollywood that were the same conversations I was having in Hollywood in 2014,” agrees Ray. “Then you consider the larger point Fitzgerald was making about the American Dream and the distance between the idea and the reality. It’s absolutely fascinating.”
McElligott, meanwhile, is waiting to discover whether The Last Tycoon will have a second season. Either way, her immediate plan is to return home for a short holiday.
“I’m really excited about it. I love the people, the humour, the seasons – which is never something I thought I’d say about Ireland. Believe me there’s nothing to make you crave the Irish rain like seven years in LA.”
The Last Tycoon is on Amazon Prime now.