Editor’s note: The following contains major spoilers for The Regime.



The Big Picture

  • In the HBO series
    The Regime
    , Agnes, a staff worker in the palace, finds herself having to co-parent with the Chancellor.
  • Agnes struggles to maintain her identity in a situation that strips her agency.
  • Andrea Riseborough discusses the heartbreaking fate of Agnes and the joy of working with director Stephen Frears.


Throughout the first five episodes of the six-episode HBO series The Regime, Agnes (Andrea Riseborough), a member of Chancellor Elena Vernham’s (Kate Winslet) palace staff, has been witness to the power and insecurity that comes with this particular authoritarian leader. A hypochondriac who has regular conversations with the corpse of her father in her basement mausoleum, Elena exerts a particular kind of control over Agnes, insisting on co-parenting her young son, Oskar, whenever the mood strikes her. Being trapped in a situation like that with no real means of her own makes Agnes’ fate inevitable, but no less tragic.

During this interview with Collider, Riseborough talked about how Winslet thought of her for this role, having always wanted to work with director Stephen Frears, figuring out how she wanted to play this character, what it was like for Agnes to have to co-parent with Elena, the tragedy of Agnes’ fate, and wanting to feel a deep identification with the characters she plays.


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The Regime

An authoritarian regime is about to unravel. Follows a story of one year within the walls of its palace.

Release Date
March 3, 2024

Creator
Will Tracy

Main Genre
Drama

Seasons
1

Streaming Service(s)
HBO


Andrea Riseborough Was Cast in ‘The Regime’ Thanks to Kate Winslet

Andre Riseborough as Agnes in 'The Regime'
Image via HBO

Collider: This series is wildly absurd in the best way possible. What made you want to take this on? Was there something specific about who this character is? Was it just how this world was set up? How much of this did you really get a sense of, from what you were given?


ANDREA RISEBOROUGH: I was given everything that there was at that time, probably about five months before we started to shoot. Kate [Winslet] had told me that she was playing this part and that she thought of me for this other part. Stephen Frears was going to direct it, and he’s somebody I’ve always wanted to work with. Jess [Hobbs] was not attached yet, at that time. So, I read it and I talked to Stephen a little, and I thought the writing was just wonderful. Because I had Kate in my head playing Elena, I already saw the marvel and the wonder that this could be. It made me laugh out loud thinking about how she was going to approach it. When I came to Agnes, she had perhaps a little more neutrality than in my playing of it. By that, I mean the characteristics of the physicality, the way that she spoke, and where she’s from.

She could have been played a lot of different ways, but I think we landed in a great place where she’s really representing the people. She’s inside a wonky political regime with no agency, and she’s representing those people outside for whom decisions are being made by people inside who have absolutely no idea what it’s like to live day to day on the outside. Zubak has been harnessed more as a physical weapon against his own people, which is horrible, but Agnes is really the long-suffering worker amongst hundreds of people who have birth rights. She’s surrounded by workers in the palace, as well. They’re all in such horrible situations that every day is just survival. For Agnes, every day is trying to stay alive, and most importantly, keeping her son alive because, unfortunately, Elena has taken this huge liking to this child and adopted it as her own. Agnes finds herself in a co-parenting situation with a leader who could be loosely described as a dictator, and that’s all very upsetting.


How does Agnes feel about having to co-parent with Elena?

RISEBOROUGH: She also sees the child have all the privileges of being Elena’s offspring when he’s not. When things are hand-to-mouth, and they are with Agnes and with Oskar, her child, as servants in the palace, and then one of you is elevated to a position of family, that’s also an advantage, or it could be, but it turns out to really be just a horrible curse. Agnes needs to keep her eyes and ears open for ways out of this situation. It’s a horribly awkward anger that’s felt. All the love that Agnes felt for Elena, because they have lived together and known each other for so long, even though she also pities her, and she’s confused by her, and she has hatred for her, what becomes the resounding feeling in relation to Elena is hate. She starts to represent the theft of Agnes’ child, which is obviously unforgivable and the worst thing that could happen.


Andrea Riseborough’s ‘The Regime’ Character Was Like a Ghost Blending Into the Wallpaper

Agnes is in an interesting position because she’s lurking around the halls of this palace and the best way to survive something like that is to disappear into the wallpaper. What was it like to find her identity in a situation where everyone and everything is really trying to strip her of that?

RISEBOROUGH: It was wonderful. It was really interesting. Agnes is, in so many ways, a ghost, or she’s attempting to be. Like you said, she absolutely blends into the wallpaper, and pointedly so. That’s her intention. She wants to lay low and have as much control over the household as she can because that makes her an essential commodity and gives her the illusion of having some sort of agency. She wants to not rock the boat. Hopefully, you see that deadened existence that she’s living in her eyes. Sometimes it’s very funny because she’s surrounded by ludicrous situations.


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Agnes’ fate is so sad because it’s so uneventful. She’s just gone, in an instant. What was your reaction to learning about and reading her fate? What’s it like to shoot a scene like that? Is it a weird day to show up on the set knowing that’s the scene you’ll be shooting?

RISEBOROUGH: Perhaps. I suppose it would be if I wasn’t an actor. I’ve shown up quite a few times on set [for death scenes]. I grew up in theater where, every night, you get divorced, have a baby, and die, over and over and over again. As an actor, all of us who make films and tell stories are very familiar with that. But it’s just real heartbreak for Agnes. She had a small world, and it was meaningful to her, but she wasn’t able to maintain that. She was inside an old, rundown room in this palace and hadn’t been done up for 20 years. That was her world. Like so many workers in these situations, they’re not the people who go down in history. Unless they have some great ascent to power, they tend not to go down in history.


It’s quite a moment because there’s all this chaos going on, and then it happens so quickly and no one notices.

RISEBOROUGH: She went as she moved through life, silently and quickly.

For Andrea Riseborough, Working with ‘The Regime’ Director Stephen Frears Was a Joy

Andrea Riseborough as Agnes bending over in Episode 5 of The Regime
Image via HBO

What was it like to do this with Stephen Fears? What was it that made you want to work with him, and what was it like to actually work with him?

RISEBOROUGH: It needs no explanation why I wanted to work with him. He’s an incredibly special director and his work has been so important, in my world at least. And so, of course, I wanted to work with him for all the reasons that so many people want to work with Stephen Frears. What was really wonderful about working with him was that he is so open and so fun and very brilliant. He really makes sure he has everything to tell the story. It’s very difficult to be able to have the gift to see what all the elements are that you need to tell a very big story, especially one like this, set in a fictional country with hundreds of players in it. It was such a joy to work with him. I just absolutely loved it. He’s incredibly well-read and very wise and very fun.


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Do you know what you’re going to do next?

RISEBOROUGH: Yes, I do know things that I’ll be doing next. A lot of those, I’m producing, which I’ve done for many years now. I produced Alice & Jack, and I really enjoyed developing something from early on, and then seeing it come to life. I’ve had more experience with film. Alice & Jack was the first episodic experience I’ve had. But in terms of the things that are interesting, it’s always so clear to me if something is a good fit or not. I’m sure that’s a very personal thing for every actor. I always feel very close to the characters that I play. Even if on the outside, they might look very different sometimes, or they might move very differently, I always feel, when I read it, that deep identification with that person or that character or the protagonist. And then, I can barely tell myself apart from that character. Sometimes, on the outside, they look massively different. I understand that. But as long as there’s some sort of deep identification with the character, that’s what reels me in.


The Regime airs on HBO and is available to stream on Max. Check out the trailer:

Watch on Max

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