November 16, 2010
By Ben Lawrence
William Boyd's epic novel concerning one writer's professional and personal adventures begins on Channel 4. It takes in the whole of the 20th century and boasts a stellar cast, including Jim Broadbent, Matthew Macfadyen and newcomer Sam Claflin, all playing Logan Mountstuart, the writer at the heart of the drama. Other cast members include Sex And The City star Kim Cattrall, Sam West and Gillian Anderson. The X Files star plays controversial figure Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who nearly brought about the fall of the House of Windsor. Here, we talk to the 42-year-old Gillian.
What's it like playing an icon like Wallis Simpson?
To be honest I was more nervous doing this than anything I've done before. Wallis Simpson is the first real-life person I've ever played and she's so iconic. Everyone has such strong ideas about who she is and what she represents. But I had to knuckle down and do my work and give a flavour of who I saw her as. She's portrayed as an ogress by the press, but I wanted to make her more complicated than that.
What do you think about Wallis Simpson?
I didn't have an opinion about her. I knew very little about her and about her relationship with Edward VIII. I was learning about them for the first time when I was doing the research. I'd been asked to play her a couple of times but because William Boyd's interpretation comes off the page very strongly, I felt more comfortable this time. Getting the voice helped. I worked with a fantastic voice coach and that brought a lot of her personality out. Plus, the costume department found pieces of clothing that actually belonged to Wallis so I felt like I was really living the part.
What's it like working with Tom Hollander, who plays Edward VIII?
He's lovely. We've been friends for a very long time and we rang each other up to discuss it beforehand. He's very funny human, and that's always a pleasure. He's previously played George V (in the Stephen Poliakoff drama The Lost Prince) and that was quite a torturous experience - to make him unique and true to the character. I think this was easier for him because he knew so much about Edward and Mrs Simpson and about their politics and history.
Have you seen The King's Speech? (Wallis Simpson is played by Eve Best in that production)
No, because I really wanted to be in it! I read the script and I thought it was fantastic.
Any Human Heart is a fictionalized account of one man's diary. Have you ever tried keeping a diary?
Yes, I did religiously from the age of about 16 to the age of 25 when I broke into the public eye and got too scared. The idea of writing down what I really think on paper seems very unwise! It might be picked up by anybody. I would love to, though. I've got loads of nice stationery in lovely shades of green and things.