Z: The Beginning of Everything
The Last Tycoon
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American life,” but that doesn’t apply to television versions of his life and work.
Nearly a century after the Great Gatsby scribe published his first novel, Amazon has launched a Fitzgerald TV renaissance with two series inspired by him: Z: The Beginning of Everything, a half-hour drama casting Christina Ricci as his real-life wife, Zelda, and The Last Tycoon, a lavish adaptation of his unfinished final novel, starring Matthew Bomer and Kelsey Grammer.
“They made Fitzgerald the voice of a generation for a reason,” says Billy Ray, an executive producer of Tycoon, the tale of a Jewish immigrant who takes the name Monroe Stahr (Bomer) and attempts to conquer Hollywood in the late 1930s. “But I don’t think anything has changed. The conversations I have in my career, the power dynamics, the insecurities and the neuroses are all the same.”
As for Z, executive producer Pamela Koffler hopes to shed new light on the woman who has often been demonized and even blamed for Fitzgerald’s death from a heart attack at 44 in 1940. “I hope a generation of girls will be exposed to this version of Zelda and maybe never know there was that other version,” Koffler says. “There’s value in that.”
The Fitzgeralds oozed glitz during the roaring 20s — there was even talk they would costar in a film version of his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, but that never materialized.
Both series run on star power as well. “Christina has a natural verve and feistiness — you gravitate toward her in the frame, and apparently that was a quality Zelda had as well,” says Koffler of Z’s leading lady. “And like Zelda, Christina has the ability to go to extreme feelings and then recover quickly.”
In addition to Bomer and five-time Emmy-winner Grammer, Tycoon‘s ensemble includes Lily Collins, who broke out on the big screen in another 2016 Hollywood period piece, Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply.
“Lily has an Audrey Hepburn–like beauty to her, and she’s a wonderful actress,” Ray says. “We haven’t thrown anything at her yet that she can’t handle. We’re all crazy about her — I think she’s going to be a superstar.”
Still, the real star is Fitzgerald, who’s played on Z by the Swedish-born American Crime vet David Hoflin. “He deals a lot with class and strata in American society,” Koffler says. “More than ever, in recent times, the haves and have-nots have been driven farther apart, so the theme feels very pertinent.”
Ray elaborates: “Fitzgerald found a way to capture something that everybody was experiencing but not quite articulating. We’re a nation of immigrants who have tried to shed their identity to assimilate. What is the cost of pursuing the American dream? His characters never figure it out. That’s why they’re all so tragic.”
Yet their glamour endures. “You feel like you’re in 1936, but the issues feel like ones you’d talk about today,” Ray says. “The characters are saying things you’d say — they’re just in a different setting, and they have much cooler costumes.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2017