Monte Carlo TV Fest: Matt Bomer, Kelsey Grammer Tout Amazon's 'Last Tycoon'

The Last Tycoon -Still 1 -Amazon-Publicity-H 2016
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

"Television’s default position is to play down to people. It’s always nice to see a show go the other way," Grammer said of the period piece, while Bomer also discussed politics.

The Last Tycoon got its first big screen unspooling with a world premiere at the Monte Carlo TV Festival Sunday night with stars Matt Bomer and Kelsey Grammer on hand to show off the sprawling, ambitious period piece from Amazon.

The one-hour pilot introduces myriad characters and storylines, which is not in step with the general pace of the show’s 10 episode first season, Bomer told The Hollywood Reporter.  “It is by no means an indication of all that we’re doing with this show. It really is a slow burn,” he said.

Created by Hunger Games and Captain Phillips writer Billy Ray, the show is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel of the same name. Fitzgerald’s work (itself inspired by the life of Irving Thalberg) serves as a guidebook to the tumultuous Hollywood of 1937 as the series is planned to run for five seasons.

Self-reflective, the crux of the show is the continuous battle between art and commerce in Hollywood. Grammer plays an aging studio head out to make a buck and Bomer his more artistically-minded protege.

Set in the midst of the Great Depression, the show deals with big themes still relevant today, depicting inequality in the form of a camp of Dust Bowl refugees set up next to the fictional Brady American Studios which rankles Grammer’s one-percenter since he wants to build a new set on the land.

As it goes on, the series also touches on the racism, sexism and classism of the time, said Bomer. “It was wild to me that we were doing this piece set in 1937 that felt more and more prescient," he said. "After the election a lot was changing in our country and around the world, and we were able to provide some commentary within a period piece."

The pilot was shot over a year before the rest of the series, and the months in between saw the election of Donald Trump. “After the election, it changed every artist," Bomer said. "I feel like artists really shine when politics are at their most high stakes, dire. I think we all felt a profound responsibility to tell stories that really mattered and have something to say, to hold a mirror up to society.”

Grammer's studio head character is pit against Bomer’s young creator in a father-son, love-hate dynamic. Grammer says the mogul discovers his softer side throughout the show. “He’s not like most people in Hollywood," he joked. "He comes across as really, really tough but he’s full of emotion and conflict and kindness, instead of the people that pretend to be kind but are really assholes."

Grammer, who had the hit show Frasier two decades ago, compares the tumult caused by the rise of streaming video services to the changes in the 1990s when networks were first allowed to make their own shows. “That changed things," he said. "The studio system was put back on its heels by that because every network was making its own, I think may have hurt everybody [at the time].” The move to streaming is just another game changer, but the system will find its footing eventually, he said.

In his Frasier heyday, you’d “have to try to capture a big audience,” Grammer said. “Now big doesn’t really matter so much as long as they are consistent and loyal.… It’s all about making money at the end. And they found new ways to do it, and so my hat’s off to them.”

“I’m sure we’ll be running into some stumbling blocks in the way the town works, but thus far these guys, Amazon, Netflix, are helping people make a living," he said. 

He chalks up Frasier’s success to “playing up to the audience” and says Tycoon, though a vastly different project, is similar. “No audience likes being played down to, they don’t like being told they’re stupid,” Grammer said.  “But that’s what they get. That’s what television is. Television’s default position is to play down to people. It’s always nice to see a show go the other way.”