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'Downton Abbey' creator's new Gilded Age drama filming on LI

Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady Grantham and Hugh

Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady Grantham and Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham in 2019's "Downton Abbey" movie. Credit: Focus Features / Jaap Buitendijk

The upcoming HBO drama "The Gilded Age," set in New York during that robber-baron era stretching from post-Civil War to the turn of the 20th century, has made its production home in Nassau County.

An HBO and Universal Television series from "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes, "The Gilded Age" is based at Bethpage's Gold Coast Studios for interior shooting, and the nearby Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a Nassau County park and living museum, serves as backlot for the likes of exterior street and park scenes. The adjacent Museum of American Armor, devoted to military armored vehicles, is closed through May 6 while serving as a site for the production's commissary, COVID-19 testing, wardrobe-trailer parking and other support.

While HBO was unable to provide a locations person to speak, citing ongoing production, shooting was scheduled on at least three days this week at Old Bethpage Village, which contains 18 restored buildings including an 1875 blacksmith shop. The production additionally "built an amazing set of 19th-century Manhattan," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told Newsday. "I visited not too long ago. It's really stunning."

The series, opening in 1882, stars Christine Baranski as a rich, high-society widow unable to accept the changing values of the times; Cynthia Nixon as her spinster sister; and Louisa Jacobson as their headstrong and forward-thinking niece, the show's principal hero. Other cast members include Carrie Coon, Katie Finneran, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Audra McDonald and Nathan Lane.

"When we first started speaking with HBO about this, they said they were going to put it in the 'Game of Thrones' time slot [Sundays at 9 p.m.]," says Curran. "So I knew they were going to be putting a lot of investment and a lot of marketing behind it."

The location, she says, was chosen in part because "it was right near Gold Coast, plus it was the right amount of space. And the topography was right — a flat hilltop where they could build a city street, with trees at the end of it that you could make look like where Central Park starts." The real Central Park, near W. 72nd Street, was a scheduled location on April 8.

Additionally, says Curran, outdoor green-screen areas were built for scenes in which other parts of the city will be added in postproduction via CGI.

The county legislature in November 2019 had passed a resolution granting the show's producers 18 months nonexclusive use of the park for $600,000 annually in permit fees. When the contract, renewable for one year, terminates, HBO will pay the county an additional $300,000 "for construction of athletic / recreational fields and associated parking on the site," the resolution states.

Producers also agreed to grade and landscape the land to provide proper drainage in order to "alleviate flooding at the adjacent Museum of American Armor." The resolution also set provisions for local hires, prevailing wages, and educational and training opportunities for college and high school students, among other points. The pandemic delayed production, and webinars were substituted for student group visits and other activities.

"Gilded Age" shoots took place in March in Lawrence and at Hempstead House at Sands Point Preserve.

Other recent Long Island TV production includes scheduled shoots this past Monday for Amazon Prime Video's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" at The Mill Neck Manor, in Mill Neck, and HBO's "Succession" at Shadmoor State Park, in Montauk.

With these and other shows, the two primary production hubs on Long Island, Gold Coast and Bethpage's Grumman Studios, "are totally booked right now," Curran says. "Every inch of space is being used or is booked."

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