Rufus Sewell on playing Prince Andrew in ‘Scoop’: He ‘is a product of his environment’

rufus-sewell-on-playing-prince-andrew-in-‘scoop’:-he-‘is-a-product-of-his-environment’

This Friday, Netflix will release Scoop. Scoop is the behind-the-scenes story of how BBC’s Newsnight scored their big 2019 exclusive with Prince Andrew. Gillian Anderson plays Emily Maitlis, the steely BBC journalist who held her own against a floundering, smarmy, lying prince of the realm. Andrew is played by Rufus Sewell, and they really uglied up Sewell for this role. The British media can’t get enough of how scandalous this is going to be, meanwhile I haven’t seen much about Scoop in the American media. Andrew’s interview made global headlines at the time though, and I’m sure this film will draw international interest when it drops. The Telegraph did a lengthy piece on the film, with lots of quotes from Gillian Anderson and Sewell about how they approached their characters and what they thought of the real people (hint: Gillian is in awe of the real Maitlis while Sewell was trying hard to not make his version of Andrew as smarmy as the real one).

Sewell was reminded of Ricky Gervais in The Office while studying the interview: “Watching Andrew was like watching a comic masterpiece. He actually reminded me a lot of David Brent, but with a little less natural warmth. It was the way he was speaking past the interviewer, directly to the viewer; very aware of the effects he desired – little epiphanies he’d whipped up on his own, as fresh meat for the camera.”

Sewell on Andrew’s “guilt”: “I have strong feelings about whether he is guilty or not that I want to keep to myself, but it’s a very important part of the job to remind people that it’s human beings who do these things. I grew up in an era where Andrew was supposedly ‘the cool Royal’. I watched a lot of footage from when he was younger, talking to people in factories and offices and he was really – inarguably – charming.”

They really had to work hard to ugly up Rufus Sewell: Once filming began, the make-up team would spend up to four hours a day getting Sewell ready for the cameras. “They put on a bald cap, wispy hair over that and then attached bits to the nostrils, round the chin, the forehead and cheeks,” he says. “As my face receded, his came through.” At one point the resemblance became so strong that even friends of the actor failed to recognise him in photographs, and the producers decided to tone down the prosthetics since, as Sewell puts it, “if you go too far, you start to be watchable in the wrong way.”

Gillian Anderson on the unanswered questions: “It’s very much a thriller. It’s propulsive, despite the fact we know what the end result is.” Besides, Anderson points out, plenty of unanswered questions remain: not least, exactly why the late Queen’s middle son (and reputedly her favourite) ignored his mother’s edict – “never complain, never explain” – with consequences that one commentator would subsequently liken to “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion.”

Gillian on Andrew’s narcissism: “We don’t know to what degree Andrew had rehearsed, or whether his answers were his own or fed to him. But somebody thought they were a good idea. He had the chance for the interview to go very, very differently. Even afterwards, he thought it was a success – to the point where Emily was given a tour around Buckingham Palace.” But, she adds, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Royal family “play a role that is very valuable to a lot of people in this country and part of that role includes being sequestered and not necessarily living in the real world. So why would we expect them to be able to respond in a real-world way?”

Sewell agrees that royal life is a sh-tshow: “Andrew is a product of his environment. To be what he believes himself to be demands the acquiescence of the subject. It’s clear he’s never sat opposite anyone who’s said, ‘Oh, that’s b——s’ or ‘F–k off!’ to him.” Returning to footage of the original interview, he says, “when you watch him, you see a strange mixture of guilt and innocence and victimhood. This is someone, in my opinion, who does not think of himself as a bad person and has an enormous amount of compassion and sympathy… for himself. He’s constructed a narrative in which he is in some way a victim of his own honour. The people who were sent out to defend him say the same thing: ‘He was set up.’ That is quite likely, given Epstein’s modus operandi. However, one can argue: if you’re setting up a honey trap, how do you know who likes honey and who doesn’t?

Gillian was scared of playing Maitlis: “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?’”

Sewell thinks Andrew underestimated Maitlis because she is a woman: In the end, Sewell concludes, what brought Andrew down was a polite but steely woman refusing to defer to him. “He was congratulated and adored as a child for being a scamp, the lovable palace rascal, all those things boys are celebrated for – even more back then. He’s been led to believe it’s his natural charm that makes people like him, not his prince status. In this situation, sitting opposite Emily, he’s attempting to reignite that but he can’t get the oxygen to do it. It’s not a lack of manners, or rudeness or aggression on Emily’s part. She’s just not playing that half of the contract he expects – and he’s left gulping for air.”

[From The Telegraph]

I found Sewell’s quotes fascinating – he’s really studied the interview, not just for mannerisms but for motive, to really try to understand the layers of Andrew’s performance within the interview. As for the big mystery as to why Andrew did the interview… Epstein died in jail just four months before the interview, and there was so much renewed energy on Andrew’s association with Epstein. Like, I understand from a “crisis management” perspective why someone in the palace thought it would be a good idea for Andrew to go on the record to formally deny all of this stuff. What they didn’t count on was that Andrew’s answers didn’t make any sense, his denials came across as lies and the man has zero charisma on camera.

Photos courtesy of WENN, Netflix. Screencaps courtesy of the BBC.