Why Gillian Anderson Almost Said No to Netflix’s Prince Andrew Drama

Why Gillian Anderson Almost Said No to Netflix’s Prince Andrew Drama

In Netflix’s Scoop, Gillian Anderson plays Emily Maitlis, the real-life former BBC host who, on Nov. 16, 2019, left Prince Andrew squirming as she probed him over his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. 

During the interview, Andrew (Rufus Sewell) infamously failed to distance himself from the convicted sex trafficker, only describing Epstein’s behavior as “unbecoming” and claiming innocence from his own allegations of sexual abuse on account of a cryptic condition in which he did not sweat. (Andrew’s accuser described him as being sweaty when they allegedly danced together at a London nightclub.)

Maitlis maintained her composure as she watched — and in many ways provoked — the train wreck in front of her. “It was exactly the right way for her to pitch it,” Anderson says. 

The result made headlines across the globe and earned BBC’s Newsnight several awards. Scoop takes audiences behind the scenes of Maitlis’ and booker Sam McAlister’s (Billie Piper) journey to getting the prince on board for the sit-down, a story that Anderson says felt as thrilling as the interview itself. 

You’ve said before you almost didn’t take the part. Why not? 

I’ve played a couple of historical characters already, and I don’t want that to become a thing that I do or that I’m particularly known for. But I enjoy the challenge of it. Emily is such a presence in the U.K., and she’s still alive — the people I’ve played in the past have passed already. So it didn’t feel quite so pressing and exposing. 

How much did you know about the 2019 interview? 

I don’t recall seeing it live or seeing it at the time. I think I was hearing how cringeworthy it was, and I wasn’t particularly interested in subjecting myself to that. But, obviously, certainly in thinking about doing this and then in the preparation for doing it, I made up for that time with the amount I ended up watching it. 

Did you ever meet Emily? 

When we were in the middle of shooting, I was at a charity event [where she was], and we had a very, very brief conversation. 

What was the experience like stepping into her shoes? 

I’ve been a fan of Emily’s for a while. I listen to her podcast. It was a thrill. If you watch a lot of her interviews, she’s not often as soft as she was or as kind and gentle as she was during the interview with Prince Andrew, so I found that fascinating. You see her on so many occasions really giving people a hard time. She doesn’t suffer fools — she really interrogates people. But she created this space, which obviously ended up being effective, where [Andrew] almost comes out of himself and reveals more about his way of thinking than necessarily answering any questions. 

What was it like portraying Emily before the interview versus during? 

I was very interested in those 72 hours that Maitlis and McAlister spent together [before filming the interview]. I almost wish that we got to see more of that because I thought the way they edited it was really clever, with some of the reactions you get to see in the rehearsal rather than the final interview. 

Separate from that, we treated the interview as an entity in and of itself. Once it was decided which bits were going to remain in the film — which changed quite a bit from when I had said yes to when we ended up shooting it — we kept making sure that exactly what was on the page was what I was working on. And then I just drilled her mannerisms, voice rhythms, everything. 

When we filmed it, we didn’t break it into sections. That was very thrilling the first few times we did it because there was no one saying that Rufus was going to be preparing in the same way that I had, or that we would be able to do that volley back and forth. It felt like live theater. 

Plus, the wing [where the interview filmed] was so accurately re-created on a soundstage, and the chairs were in the exact place, with the cameras that were actually there on the day. There were six of them, as well as our film cameras. So they were able to get it from many angles. 

The interview hinges on the dynamic between Emily and the prince. What was your experience re-creating that with Rufus? 

I worked with him many, many, many years ago on I’ll Follow You Down, but a lot of life has happened between then and now, and that was different — he played my husband. It was incredibly impressive how prepared he was and that we could live in that moment over and over again. We went from beginning to end and adjusted things here and there but stayed with the rhythm as it happened in real life. He was a fantastic sparring partner. 

Scoop takes a familiar journalistic thriller structure. Did you take inspiration from any others? 

I’m not a journalist — I can imagine for a journalist it’s kind of fun — but I am a fan of films that center on journalists. I think All the President’s Men has been one of my favorite films since I first saw it, and there are a few other ones. There’s something heroic about journalists who hold powerful people to account and actually ask those questions that the rest of us, if we were in that situation, would be too scared [to ask]. 

Since the 2019 interview, Prince Andrew has remained a public figure. Did this film affect your perspective on public discourse around his continued presence? 

I think what became clear through the course of the real interview was how detached Andrew and potentially other members of the royal family may be in their sequestered lives. There are still so many questions that were not answered about that period of time … and there are still victims. Until there is some form of clarity, or proper justice, it’s likely that it’s going to feel as if it’s still a part of the discourse.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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