‘White Queen’s’ Janet McTeer: I’m Not ‘as Serious as People Think I Am’

The actress spoke with TheWrap about working on the Starz miniseries


BILLYBOBTHORNTON-EMMYWRAP-COVERThis story originally appeared in EmmyWrap: Movies/Miniseries.

When Janet McTeer talks about her roles, it doesn’t sound as if she’s speaking about work. Take her turn as the manipulative, mystical and protective mother Jacquetta Woodville, who finds her commoner daughter elevated to the Queen of England in a matter of months in the Starz miniseries “The White Queen.” The subject matter may be stormy, but the word McTeer keeps using is fun.

“I think the fun thing was for the whole cast to imagine being in a world where one minute you were at the top of the tree,” said the actress who’s won Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk awards and been nominated for two Academy Awards, one for “Tumbleweeds” and one for “Albert Nobbs.” “And then the next minute the king is deposed and they take your house and your land and you’re thrown into jail or taken outside to have your head chopped off.”

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McTeer told TheWrap that she jumped right into the world of author Philippa Gregory, whose novels the miniseries is based on. “I immediately went out and read all three books back to back,” she said. “It’s history from a slightly different perspective, but that’s what makes it so much fun.”

To get into the character of someone living in constant fear during the 15th Century War of the Roses, she imagined the stakes. “It’s like the Second World War or something. Everybody knew somebody who had been butchered in a war. Everybody’s family had been touched. And that is the main thing to inform the imagination–because if you start there, it’s not all about being bitchy or political. It’s about survival.”

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McTeer, who was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2008, said that people get the wrong idea about her because she’s known for dramatic roles.

“People are always surprised that I am nowhere near as serious as they think I am,” she said. “I think you have to challenge yourself constantly. Otherwise it’s boring.”

McTeer’s next big challenge will be CBS’s new detective drama series “Battle Creek,” in which she plays the head of the Battle Creek Police Department.

“It was Vince Gilligan and David Shore,” she said, naming the show’s celebrated creators. “It’s as simple as that. I mean, they’re both awesome: “Breaking Bad” and “House.” I couldn’t resist.”

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She also has a second gig in law enforcement in Hugo Blick’s upcoming Sundance Channel miniseries “The Honourable Woman,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Stephen Rea.

“I’m the head of the M16, if you can believe that,” she said. “It’s very clever, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”