Kelsey Grammer is upset. The Emmy winner is in his final days of shooting Amazon’s epic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, and Grammer, playing studio head Pat Brady, is complaining to his protégé Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) that gossip columnist Hedda Hopper has snubbed their latest film and endorsed a competing project. Even in 1930s Hollywood, it’s all about being popular.
The Last Tycoon, streaming now, aims to be both a lavish re-creation of this era of Hollywood and an expansion of Fitzgerald’s last, unfinished text (the novel was published posthumously in 1941). It’s the story of charismatic movie mogul Stahr and his relationship with older mentor Brady. “He really does see him as a father figure,” says Bomer. “There’s a great deal of tension between them, but at the same time it’s a very incestuous family.” Not only is Pat’s daughter, Celia (Lily Collins), harboring a not-so-secret crush on Monroe but the ladies’ man has been having a secret affair with Pat’s wife (Rosemarie DeWitt). Quips Bomer, “He’s quite prolific in his romantic pursuits.”
The series was originally developed at HBO with executive producers Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Christopher Keyser (Party of Five) but was put into turnaround and eventually ended up at Amazon. Keyser says that HBO asked for “a much darker version” of the story, while the streaming service encouraged the team to amp up the razzle-dazzle. “Amazon wanted more glamour, more beauty, and more romance,” explains Ray. “It turned out that made the show a lot more fun. So that became the new true north, and we just never stopped going for it.” To that end, Tycoon boasts a number of award-winning department heads, including production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein (Amadeus) and costume designer Janie Bryant (Mad Men), who helped give the production its lush aesthetic.
But Ray and Keyser promise that Tycoon will serve up more than just visual flash. “The battle between Brady and Stahr is going to escalate and become dangerous,” says Keyser of the nine-episode first season. “It will be a battle not only for the studio but for the soul of Celia.” And ultimately the series ponders whether the risks of Hollywood fame and fortune are worth it. Adds Ray, “On a dramatic level, it’s about the cost of power and love and what you lose when you pursue that dream.”