Gillian Anderson Reveals How She Transformed Into Margaret Thatcher

In another dismal year, Netflix gave its nearly 200 million subscribers two very different reminders of Gillian Anderson’s talent. The first season came soon, with Anderson becoming a mother of sex therapists in the second season of the popular UK comedy series. Sex education; the second one arrives at the end of the year, with X-Files star who played former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the Emmy Award-winning royal drama Crown. For the 52-year-old actress, keeping the two straight has not always been easy.

Let’s start with Crown. Take me back to when this part was first mentioned to you. What was going through your head at that time?

Pete [Morgan, the series’ creator] and I was just sitting around one day, and I think he asked me, all of a sudden, if I thought it was something that I could do. And under normal circumstances, with anything in life, you usually scan your intuition, and I think, “Actually, that makes sense to me. I don’t know much about her, but I feel like I’ve taken her to a level and it’s going to be fun – a huge but fun time. “

When you say you feel like having her, what does that mean to you?

I’m not sure if I need to put it into words, it’s just that I feel like I can do it with her – I feel like I already understand where we met and it shouldn’t be too difficult. There were times when I said yes to roles where I thought, “Mmm, OK, I’m not entirely sure I should be cast,” but I said yes because I wanted to be in this movie or whatever. nothing and it has been proven that I probably shouldn’t have. (Laughter.) With me, I just get it or I don’t; I don’t usually have to be persuaded too hard – and if I do need to, it’s because it doesn’t have to be for me.

Her physicality was a big factor in getting Thatcher right. What was the most challenging part of that process for you?

I almost feel physically is a bit easy because it’s just technical. The thing that confuses people the most is wanting to make sure the voice is right because you can have the silhouette and the attitude, but if the voice isn’t there, the audience will say, “Ehhhh.” And if the voice To be there, it doesn’t matter if you have the rest or not. I did an interview [recently]and they asked me to read something as Thatcher but with my hair and whatever I was wearing and [it’s like] she was suddenly in the room.

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I suspect it’s a tough one to navigate, trying to live with this woman without sounding like you’re simply impersonating her?

Pete said early on that it was important that it wasn’t an imitation and that there was an element of me still in it and that I shouldn’t be afraid to allow a certain side of me to persist. I think that somehow allowed me to relax into it a bit. Sometimes if it’s forced, it can sound pretentious or as if it’s not on you – that’s on you, you’re wearing it on.

What part of the process was the most natural or most enjoyable for you?

Making it, scenes with other actors and working with Stephen Boxer, who plays Dennis [Margaret’s husband] so brilliant. The dynamic between them is just having fun, especially making fun of them in the middle of a situation like Balmoral. Also, the cooking scenes – there’s a scene where she’s making furniture in the kitchen at Number 10 [the prime minister’s residence] and know how much she loves to cook and cook for her Cabinet. So you have to actively do the things that you know the character will do.

Watching Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female prime minister, enter the kitchen to cook for her all-male Cabinet delighted some viewers. Do you struggle at all to understand who she is?

There have been many articles about the fact that she is not a feminist. She has a very complicated relationship with that term and where she fits into it. However, that is exactly who she is. Despite the fact that she was the UK’s first female prime minister and has as much power as she did and is a self-made woman, she has the expectation that all women will be able to do exactly what she does. did – she hopes people can lift themselves up with their bootstrapping campaign. So it’s all part of who she is and the intricacies of her character, and one doesn’t have to agree with it or admire it or even necessarily like it to play her one. authentic way. And in fact, I find it even better to give my opinion about someone, whether it’s about their character or their politics, before taking on them.

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What has been the most meaningful or even surprising feedback you’ve received by far?

I’m surprised that so many people like the audience’s scenes [with the queen]. It’s not that I don’t like filming – I did, and it was amazing to work with Olivia [Colman, who plays Queen Elizabeth II], but they’re really challenging to shoot, challenging to remember, challenging to perform, challenging to make a difference from one to another. They were shot in clusters over two or three days, so all the audience scenes of the first season were in one cluster, which is… hell. (Laughter.)

You’ve wrapped and then, right after, come back Sex education, where you play the role of a mother who specializes in sex therapy. Describe that transition.

Obviously they are completely different characters on every level. Part of it is getting back up and running again after being locked out, which has more of an impact on my replaying experience with her than the fact that I’ve played Thatcher before. But sometimes I have to say, “Actually, can I have another drink because that sounds a bit too much, Mrs. T? She snuck in there.” (Laughter.) But it’s a light, fun atmosphere and she’s fun to play with. It’s funny, you’d imagine it was a minute of laughter because it’s a comedy and it’s so broad, but at the same time we deal with some pretty serious stuff.

Quite seriously, yes.

There’s a lot of depth and [my character] Jean, especially in this season, when she’s pregnant and the problems with Otis [Asa Butterfield]. So it’s always fun to come back.

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Am I correct when you got the original pilot you threw the script in the trash?

Yeaah, I did. (Laughter.) It was right before Easter weekend or something. I was offered it, and I started reading it and I said, “Mmmm.” So it really took some persuasion. And I’m not sure why I didn’t receive it at first, but when I did, it was clear that it was a gift.

So what’s next for you?

Luckily, there’s some great stuff coming my way now thanks to this amazing series. Exactly the kind of work that I want to do. I’m a real movie buff and I don’t feel like I’ve done as many features as I imagined. I keep saying yes to television, which is great because it was the golden age and everything, but it’s also really great to focus more on features at the moment and develop other things. And now it’s just about doing a broader job – I’ve played a lot of agents. I played a lot of MI5, MI7, MI6, FBI… (Laughter.)

You’ve spoken out in the past about the fact that supporting roles are not for women on film the way they increasingly appear on television, but does that seem to be changing?

I still think the industry could use some work in that area, but I’m in a lucky place at the moment and there’s some delicious stuff floating around.

The edited interview is long and clear.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, independently in January. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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