Sienna Miller, starring alongside Rupert Friend in the new Netflix thriller Anatomy of a Scandal, admits her personal past, particularly being a massive tabloid target in the 2000s, made her apprehensive about signing on to the series.
“I think I was hesitant to perhaps insert myself back into a somewhat familiar scenario of the snooping press and the feelings of dread when a story that’s very personal is about to be made very public, which was something I experienced much of when I was younger,” Miller told Yahoo Canada.
For those who may not remember, Miller’s personal life was plastered all over magazines almost 20 years ago, notably when her engagement with actor Jude Law came to an end after it was revealed that he was having an affair with the nanny to his children from a previous marriage. But the tabloid stalking continued for years, into other relationships, with Miller, just last year, settling with The Sun after suing the tabloid, accusing the publisher of hacking her phone to leak her pregnancy.
In Anatomy of a Scandal, adapted from Sarah Vaughan’s novel, there are a lot of similarities.
Sophie Whitehouse (Miller) is drawn into a public scandal when a story breaks that her husband James (Friend), a minister in British Parliament, had an affair with Olivia (Naomi Scott), a young political researcher in his department, and he is now being accused of rape. Sophie, trying to process the breakdown of a marriage she felt safe in, trying to prioritize her two children, is processing her own reaction amid this massive political scandal that causes a media frenzy.
“I sort of questioned why I wanted to do it,” Miller explained. “But actually, Sophie was such a character, she was so different to who I am.”
“I’ve never really played anyone who was that adept at hiding their emotions and that felt like a challenge at this point in my career.”
While many may want, and expect, a wealthy woman in Sophie’s situation to cut ties with her husband and leave him, she doesn’t.
Her relationship with James is certainly strained, to say the least, but they try to put on happy faces in front of their children and she sits in the courtroom, as we go through the trial over the course of the six-episode series, just taking in all the questions and information about what her husband allegedly did. Ultimately, still standing by his side, especially publicly.
“Some people have had quite angry reactions to the decision that she very instantaneously makes to support him and forgive him, but she’s put her entire existence into building this family and supporting this man,” Miller said. “That’s her identity and she’s never questioned it, that was what she was raised to want, it’s what she’s committed to.”
“Her first thought is, ‘how do I protect our children?’ It’s a struggle for her to put herself front and centre of any of it because she’s just sidelined by her own decisions, she’s complicit in that. So what I loved about Sophie is the journey that she then goes on of self discovery and self analysis, and really at the end of the season is a few steps down a path that I think she’ll continue on, of really figuring out who she is, irrespective of this relationship and this man, and who she wants her children to become, and I admire that. I admire that conflict.”
‘I found this whole world to be just nothing like my joyful place’
Sienna Miller wasn’t the only person who had some reservations about Anatomy of a Scandal. Rupert Friend also wasn’t entirely on board when it first came up.
“It wasn’t a fantasy world I particularly was excited about entering,” Friend told Yahoo Canada. “I tend to…explore worlds which are alien in an exciting way, rather than in a slightly distasteful way.”
“I found this whole world to be just nothing like my joyful place. In the end, that was the challenge that made me accept the role, was the idea of, how do you humanize someone that you think is a bit of a git?”
James is not only a politician, but he comes from a longline of socialites, educated at Eton and Oxford, and a member of The Libertine Club, which was inspired by the real-life Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. It’s a clique of male students, which included current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former prime minister David Cameron.
But when James takes the stand and must field questions from barrister Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery), that’s when we start to see his armour start to crack.
“The dance that they do together and the traps that he’s led into, and effectively what’s fascinating about human beings, is we all react differently to stress, so in his case, he’s so sure of his position and he’s so confident,… instead of becoming defensive he’s become offensive,” Friend said.
‘The emotion begins to come to the surface’
For Michelle Dockery, she explained that her preparation for any courtroom scene was to make sure she was completely comfortable and confident with the lines. She also worked with a criminal barrister who coached her on how to really execute those moments.
“If my mind slightly wandered off of what my next move was in the scene, then I would completely lose the journey of that particular sort of cross examination,” Dockery said.
“It required more preparation than I’ve ever had to do on a job… With this it was like learning a play, I had to really kind of get it in my bones.”
For Naomi Scott’s courtroom scene, being poked and prodded with invasive questions around whether or not Olivia gave consent, the actor spoke to [director] S.J. Clarkson about the emotional trajectory of the character.
“I think she starts off really almost attacking it like a professional word, in terms of, ‘I have this narrative to get across, I’ve rehearsed it,’ and she’s very, very focused and very zoned in,” Scott explained. “I think she’s kind of blocking off what is to her right, which is James, and there is a job to do.”
“We were kind of speaking about what points the emotion begins to come to the surface, as it would re-telling something so traumatic.”
Anatomy of a Scandal will likely leave you frustrated and even angry, thinking about how we’ve built a society where people in power, the elite, can get away with truly appalling behaviour. The most horrific part of the show, really, is that this happens, regularly, in our real lives.