Gillian Anderson on ‘Scoop’ and the Women Who Brought Down Prince Andrew

TheWrap magazine: “The fact that we get an opportunity to celebrate the women at the heart of nabbing this [story] is fantastic,” Anderson says

Gillian Anderson in "Scoop" (Netflix)

For those who don’t follow the British royal family’s every move, a refresher: In 2019, Prince Andrew sat for a televised interview with Emily Maitlis of the BBC to discuss his longtime friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who had recently killed himself in prison. The hour-long “Newsnight” broadcast turned out to be the undoing of the man dubbed “Randy Andy” by the tabloids.

In answers that alternated between bizarre and shocking, the Duke of York claimed a medical inability to sweat due to his service in the Falklands War; contended that a photo of him with a woman who testified that Epstein trafficked her to Andrew when she was 17 was possibly a fake; and proclaimed he did not regret his association with Epstein because he made many “useful” contacts through him. 

Mere days later, the prince announced he was stepping down from public duties. 

The story of how a team of women at the BBC landed the explosive interview is the subject of the Netflix movie “Scoop.” Directed by Philip Martin and starring Gillian Anderson as Maitlis, Billie Piper as BBC talent booker Sam McAlister and Romola Garai as “Newsnight” editor Esme Wren, it recreates the showdown in Buckingham Palace in painstaking detail. Rufus Sewell plays Prince Andrew who, dripping with entitlement, self-immolates in front of incisive questioning from Anderson’s renowned journalist. 

Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell in "Scoop" (Netflix)
Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell in “Scoop” (Netflix)

You originally turned down the role of Emily. Why?

GILLIAN ANDERSON She’s very much in our midst, living in the U.K. I’ve played a few historical characters who are no longer with us, but this would be my first living person who is also in my [social] “neighborhood” — a lot of people know her, even though I don’t know her. She’s a formidable character and considered somewhat of a superwoman in the U.K. It just felt incredibly daunting to take that on.

What changed your mind?  

I remember at the time being frustrated with the fact that I was going to have to say no because I liked the script so much. Zooming with the writer [Peter Moffat] and the director and explaining to them why I was going to have to say no, [Philip] was looking at me, like, “You know this means you have to say yes. All these reasons for you not to do it are actually the reasons why you should do it.” They convinced me during that one phone call.

Side-by-side images of Gillian Anderson playing Emily Maitlis in Netflix's film Scoop and Emily Maitlis in her BBC interview with Prince Andrew.
Gillian Anderson in “Scoop” and Emily Maitlis interviewing Prince Andrew on “Newsnight” (Netflix/BBC)

You weren’t able to meet her formally prior to shooting, but you ran into her at an event?

Yeah, it was actually while we were in the midst of shooting. I was invited to a charity event [Turn the Tables, in support of Cancer Research UK] that I knew she was going to. I went because I knew she was going to be interviewed by [Labour Party leader] Keir Starmer, which is a unique situation for both of them and for anybody watching. At one point somebody said, “Come take a picture together,” and I did want to meet her. I knew walking into the photo that I wasn’t particularly prepared; I hadn’t come particularly dressed for a very fancy charity event — no hair and makeup, blah, blah, blah. And she is a very glamorous, very well put-together woman and had a, I think it was a white leather miniskirt outfit and tan legs and coiffed hair. If anybody had asked in that moment who the celebrity was, it wouldn’t have been me. [Laughs]

When you were developing the character, what was the most important aspect of her that you wanted to capture?

She has ways of moving her head and her hands, the way she gesticulates with her big pen and the way her jaw is set. So there are specific things like that that. And her voice, the the tone and timbre of her voice — I thought, I’ll try and capture those things. With those elements and also the benefit of a wig and a tan and the kohl line around her eyes, it was extraordinary. Just those few things in the hair and makeup trailer, coupled with the physical things that I was working on seemed to seemed to do the trick.

I’ve never been in quite such a high-stakes interview situation as her —

What, this isn’t anything like that? [Laughs]

I mean, until today! Of course. But I appreciated how you depicted her nervousness going into the interview because she does seem like a superwoman, so her nerves are humanizing. Did that help you play her? 

The interesting thing is, I’ve never heard her speak about nerves. That was in the script. I get the sense from Emily that she can trust her brain to have all the information there, it’s just a matter of doing the work. That’s not my experience. And so, I don’t know the degree to which the nervousness for her is true; it’s certainly true for me. Before any appearance — it doesn’t even have to be staged, just accepting an award or speaking — it’s nerves and fear and getting to the other side of them. It’s a big part of my life experience. Just because I’ve been in the business for 30 years doesn’t mean I don’t think on every first day of a new film that I’m going to get fired. So I don’t know for her, but I’m glad that we had that in the film because it does feel very human and identifiable.

And no doubt she [had] nerves about wanting to make sure that she does right by the victims by asking hard questions and that she, at the end of it, would feel good for herself, particularly after — and she’s spoken about this before — feeling that she didn’t go the distance on the [2014 President Bill] Clinton interview [and ask him about his treatment of Monica Lewinsky]. So it would make sense that, Superwoman or not, that there would be some nerves in there. And, you know, he could have got up and walked out.

Gillian Anderson
Emily Maitlis and Gillian Anderson at the 2023 Turn the Tables charity event for Cancer Research UK in March 2023 (Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Since you were so familiar with the “Newsnight” footage, was it uncanny to recreate Emily’s words and actions and watch Rufus recreate Prince Andrew’s when you shot the scene?

It was surreal. It was very meta. We didn’t rehearse, and so on the day, we both walked onto the set for the first time, at about the same time, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was identical to the [Buckingham Palace] room. The first time, we did it beginning to end. I’d done it in my head so many times, but I hadn’t necessarily done the looks up and then looks down and the gestures. And Rufus was doing the same thing across the way. There was a part of me, of course, objectively, that was outside of myself because it was so uncanny, seeing him do [Prince Andrew’s mannerisms] exactly — I mean, exactly: the side look, the ums, the ahs, the backtracking, all of it. And then there was the outside part of me that was trying to stay focused. It felt like a piece of theater. It was a real joy. And then, of course, we did it 100 more times. [Laughs]  

The movie celebrates the group of women who made the interview happen. And it acknowledges that this would not have always been the case at the BBC. That must have been gratifying to play. 

I think people often think of the BBC as being a bastion of whiteness, male journalists and executives. So the fact that it wasn’t that and we get an opportunity to, through Sam’s eyes and her experience, celebrate the women at the heart of nabbing this I think is fantastic. And even though the subject is Prince Andrew, the real subjects are the young women who were trafficked to Epstein. And so it feels right that there was Sam and Emily and Esme and that gang who made this happen. There are still obviously a million and one questions that could be directed [to Andrew] but I hope, at the end of the day, that those women also stand out. Their courage in going to court and drawing attention to this shouldn’t be forgotten.

A version of this story first ran in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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