‘Romanoffs’ Cast Hustle For Chance to Work With Weiner

The Romanoffs, an eight-episode anthology series from Matthew Weiner, premieres on Amazon Prime Oct. 12. Weiner of course created Mad Men, which ran for seven seasons on AMC, and was on The Sopranos as well. Mad Men picked up four Emmys for outstanding drama.

The Romanoffs is about people who claim lineage to the Russian royal family with that name, whose members were wiped out by the Bolsheviks a century ago.

It features a few cast members who worked on Mad Men, including John Slattery and Christina Hendricks. Others were eager to get on board with a Weiner series.

“I thought it was a beautifully written script and a great character,” said Amanda Peet. “I was dying to do it immediately.”

Peet plays the main character in the fourth episode, “Expectation,” which premieres Oct. 26. Taking place across one day in New York, Peet’s character is a new grandmother who is confronted with every lie she ever told. “It’s about all these old lives that get stirred up by the fact that my daughter is about to give birth,” said Peet.

Aaron Eckhart is in the pilot, “The Violet Hour,” about a grouchy older woman, played by Marthe Keller, with an unreal apartment in Paris. Eckhart plays her nephew, who has an eye—at least his girlfriend does—on the woman’s grand flat. A Muslim caretaker shakes up the saturnine French woman’s life.

Eckhart too was drawn to Weiner’s writing. “I read the script and said, wow!” he said. “Matthew is a wonderful writer with a great sense of humor. It really was, wow, you’re gonna say that?”

He read the pilot script on the side of the road, in the rain, driving home from Montana. “I called my agent and said, I gotta do this!” Eckhart said. “It’s beautiful.”

The actors say Weiner is a demanding director with a very clear image in his head. “He’s an auteur, he has a vision,” said Peet. “From your shoes to your wisps of hair to your tone of voice, he has an idea for all of it. I just tried not to suck.”

Eckhart said he consulted frequently with Weiner to get a feel for what the producer had in mind in a given scene. “His cadence, the rhythm of his writing, what is a joke, what is not a joke, what is important thematically in this scene,” said Eckhart. “He had to educate me about what’s important, what are you trying to get out, what is your message. His sensibility is larger than mine.”

Eckhart’s episode, which runs close to 90 minutes and feels more like a film than a TV episode, sees him speak French pretty darn fluently. He said he lived in the country when he was around 19 and 20, though not in Paris. He also went to high school in England, and visited France frequently. “I sort of kept up on it,” Eckhart said of the language.

Peet describes herself as “a pretty crazy psycho fan” of Mad Men. She mentions Peggy on skates, in the final season, as her favorite moment in the show’s run. “I thought it was so beautiful and so funny,” said Peet. “I loved those people.”

For his part, Eckhart said he has not watched a TV show in 10-20 years. “I don’t own a TV,” he said. “I’m not the best person to ask about television shows.”

Set in seven countries, The Romanoffs got mixed reviews from critics. The New York Times called it “Elegant but Frustrating” in its headline. “I can also say that The Romanoffs is TV only in the broadest sense,” went the review. “The episodes, around an hour and a half in length, are essentially movies. The first three installments are eclectic, sometimes beguiling and each, in a different way, ultimately frustrating.”

The LA Times called the show “a mixed bag.”

“The first three episodes made available for review are set in the present, eloquently written and feature strong performances from an ensemble cast,” said the review. “But The Romanoffs asks a lot of viewers, with far-flung narratives that lack tonal consistency from episode to episode.

Despite his lack of viewing experience, Eckhart liked the idea of working on an anthology series. “Making eight episodes that happen independent of each other is fascinating,” he said.

He, Peet and the other cast members were drawn by the opportunity to work with one of the true auteurs. Peet notes how well Weiner writes for women.

Eckhart said Weiner’s writing offers a wholly unique perspective on the world. “I don’t think many people are saying what Matthew is saying,” he said, “in the way he is saying it.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.