‘The Serpent Queen’: Minnie Driver Teases Comedic Elizabeth I & ‘Delicious’ Catherine Rivalry

Samantha Morton as Catherine de Medici and Minnie Driver as Queen Elizabeth I in 'The Serpent Queen' Season 2

Catherine de Medici has met her match in The Serpent Queen Season 2. While Minnie Driver‘s Queen Elizabeth I is ultimately a foe for Samantha Morton‘s ruler of France, both queens will be thrilled to go to metaphorical blows with someone actually on their level.

Premiering July 12 on Starz, Season 2 of the edgy period drama sees Catherine de Medici as Queen Regent of France now that her son, Charles IX has come of age. As the logline describes, “Distracted by the personal conflicts of the Valois children, a new mysterious prophet named Edith gains a loyal following who vow to challenge the current religious establishment, sparking tension across the country. Feeling threatened by the rising strain, the divided court turn to their own schemes for selfish benefit. The Guises commit unholy acts while the Bourbons turn to a familiar foreign sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I of England in hopes of personal gain. As France falls into political and religious turmoil, Catherine struggles to maintain her power, but The Serpent Queen will do whatever she needs to regain control.”

History tells us that while Elizabeth and Catherine did frequently interact through letters, they never met. The Serpent Queen delivers its own historical twist by bringing these two women together. Each cutthroat and whip smart in their own ways and played by two actors who always deliver, there was no way the series wouldn’t get Driver and Morton together onscreen. A beloved film from the 1980s served as their inspiration.

“A big inspiration for the show, tonally and structurally and so on, was Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus,” executive producer Erwin Stoff tells TV Insider. “There’s no proof whatsoever that Salieri and Mozart ever met, and yet you have one of the great plays and movies based on their relationship. But by the same token, they worked for the same king or emperor at the same time, same city, so there’s no proof that they didn’t meet either. So for us, we certainly know that Catherine and Elizabeth were well aware of each other since they did in fact have a correspondence and we have those letters, so there’s nothing to say that Elizabeth did not take a secret trip to France to stir up trouble.”

They also just were not going to waste the opportunity to have Morton and Driver in the same frame. And really, can you blame them? “A famous screenwriter said to a director when I was in the room, ‘There’s no award for truest screenplay. There’s only an award for best screenplay,'” Stoff notes. Given that these historical figures “both were heirs to these alpha males, Francis and Henry VIII, it just seemed too delicious to not bring them together.”

Minnie Driver as Queen Elizabeth I in 'The Serpent Queen' Season 2


Executive producer Justin Haythe says these women are a rivalry made in TV heaven because “they were flip sides of the same coin.” “Catherine dressed all in black and said, ‘I’m forever in mourning, and I dabble in the dark arts.’ That was a way to keep men and the male power structure at bay. Elizabeth said, ‘I will dress all in white face. I am a virgin. I am married to the country.’ It’s the same skillset. They’re both brilliant PR manipulators.” And this Elizabeth’s pretty funny, to boot.

England’s second-longest ruling monarch is usually quite a serious character, though she’s always been shown to have a playful side when actors like Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett have taken her on. Driver’s Elizabeth matches the tone of the series, which uses modern rock music to underscore Catherine’s badass nature. Driver tells TV Insider why the humor works in this rendition and why she was well suited for the part.

The Serpent Queen relies on characters with “a wit and sharpness” to them like their Elizabeth, Driver says. “Because he’s a very funny, clever writer, you’ve got to be able to carry that off, so I think he recognized that I was someone who loved language and I loved those sharp, funny characters.” The Good Will Hunting alum also says she’s always had a fondness for this historical figure, “so this was just dreaming” getting to play her.

Her Elizabeth and Morton’s Catherine are “both extraordinarily powerful women queens,” she adds. “You don’t have to look too far to history to see that women did not feature greatly as monarchs. When they did, they made it count.” Driver made her time onscreen with Morton count as well. “It was very fun having two incredibly powerful women who got to actually speak with each other and dance a bit and play, because normally that dynamic is reserved for men and women” onscreen, she shares, adding that Morton is “a great actor at the height of her powers. To go head to head, it’s so satisfying.”

When they finally meet in the series, Driver describes Elizabeth’s feelings as, “‘Here’s someone I recognize. Finally, here’s someone who will understand my position.’ That was a really fun arena to play in.”

Elizabeth may be the virgin queen to the public, but she’s very sexual behind closed doors in this series. “Our Elizabeth is funny, but it’s always to a strategic purpose,” Haythe says. “She uses humor, she uses sexuality, she uses coquettishness, she uses class all as tools in her arsenal to win in a game that women are not supposed to win. This is a world where women aren’t allowed to own property, and Catherine and Elizabeth rule Europe longer than any other monarchs.”

See their delicious rivalry when The Serpent Queen returns.

The Serpent Queen, Season 2 Premiere, Sunday, July 12, 8/7c, Starz