Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell on recreating Prince Andrew’s ruinous interview

While Sewell (apprehensively) embraced his challenge, Anderson tells me she found the prospect of inhabiting Maitlis “so scary,” she initially declined the role. “It was even more daunting than playing Mrs Thatcher. I worried, ‘Will I be asking for trouble – not just embodying somebody who’s alive, but who’s such a formidable presence, with real fans and whom people have real opinions about?’” Happily, her partner, Peter Morgan, creator of The Crown, reminded her she’d also originally turned down the role as sex therapist Jean Milburn in Netflix’s Sex Education – a part that has since earned cult status and brought her a whole new generation of fans – and persuaded her to reconsider.

Like Sewell, she took an obsessive approach to researching Maitlis, a 53 -year-old journalist who is so revered by her team that she comes across as something approaching royalty herself. “She swims, runs, nobody’s ever seen her eat,” marvels McAlister in Scoop. “She’s superwoman”. Now presenter of The News Agents podcast, Maitlis declined Anderson’s request to meet, because she’s producing a rival drama based on the interview – A Very Royal Scandal for Amazon – in which she’ll be played by Ruth Wilson (opposite Michael Sheen as Prince Andrew). 

Still, Anderson discovered quite how regal Maitlis can be when the pair crossed paths at a recent charity event. “It was very funny,” she says laughing. “I’d come that morning from being with my kids in the country, a week wearing muddy clothes” – Anderson has three children from previous relationships – “and changed really quickly; no make-up, no hairbrush. 

“Then there’s Emily in a white skirt, tanned to the gills, high heels, gorgeous. If you’d asked anyone which one was the movie star and which was the journalist, I know what they would have said. I’d been living inside her for so long, I was overly familiar and went right in for a big hug. She was very gracious, but very boundaried. She’s a force to be reckoned with.”

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