Netflix's Scoop: Gillian Anderson and Billie Piper on dramatising the explosive interview with Prince Andrew

When Gillian Anderson was initially offered the chance to play Emily Maitlis, she turned it down.

“My thought was, ‘No way,’” she tells me. “Too scary. Too alive. And everybody knows her too well.” Of course, Anderson eventually came round – and it’s her performance as Maitlis that forms the lynchpin of Netflix’s new film Scoop.

Scoop tells the story of the BBC’s infamous Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew about his relationship with the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein (Andrew denies all charges of wrongdoing).

It drew record ratings and led to Andrew stepping back from public life – as well as branding phrases like ‘Pizza Express Woking’ into the nation’s collective consciousness.

And the story behind how the interview came about is fascinating. Scoop is based on the real-life memoirs of Sam McAlister, a ‘fixer’ on Newsnight who helped secure access to Andrew through his aide Amanda Thirsk.

“The question I was asked by everyone I met [after it happened] was ‘How did this happen? How did you convince him? How did it come about?’” McAlister says.

Scoop sets out how. Being a film, many of the details have been truncated (the process of McAlister securing an interview with Andrew actually took 13 months rather than a matter of weeks), but McAlister says that it portrays “100% the spirit of what happened.”

And many of the wilder plot points are true – including the initial meeting Maitlis, McAlister and producer Esme Wren had with Andrew and daughter Beatrice as he deliberated whether or not to go on the record.

Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis (PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX)
Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis (PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX)

“We had a face-to-face negotiation which we show you a snippet of, but [in the interview] he revealed a number of the things that he revealed in that negotiation,” McAlister says.

“So I had heard Pizza Express Woking and ‘no sweat’ already, but I did not for one second think he would say them when the camera started rolling. I assumed none of that would come out in the public domain, so the shock for me, if you like, was that the things I had already heard were now on camera for the world to see.”

Watching the real interview “felt almost like a dream,” says Billie Piper, who plays McAlister.

“It was so surreal, what I was seeing. It was shocking, but it was almost beyond that because it felt so odd, and so misjudged, and hard to believe it had been ticked off by everybody, that I sort of felt like I was in this abstract landscape. And it remained that way, the more research I did on it [and] the more I spoke to Sam.”

The experience of filming proved an equally surreal one for both cast and crew. As McAlister puts it, “to be in the real interview behind Prince Andrew was mind blowing, and then to be in our interview, behind Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell was next level mind blowing.”

“Making the familiar in a sense unfamiliar is the skill of the performances. Watching [Anderson and Sewell] was like watching it almost fresh: it was very tense,” she says. “Every time I thought he was going to give a different answer.”

“There was definitely a rhythm to it,” Anderson adds. “We all know it so well. You want to make sure that you get that right, so it was basically memorising the movement; the cadence: you know, all of that.”

And not just the interview – the same level of detail went into making the actors appear as close to their real-life counterparts as possible. “It's incredible, the level of detail: I basically have three outfits that I rotate,” McAlister says. “They are all at the same to everyone else, but they're hugely distinct to me: all black and usually plastic and pretend leather.”

To get the right look for her distinctive dress sense (all black and leopard print), the costume team came to McAlister’s house. “I don't even have a wardrobe. I have a clothes rail and things thrown on a chair,” she says – which the costume department picked through in search of items for Piper to wear.

Keeley Hawes as Amanda Thirsk (PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX)
Keeley Hawes as Amanda Thirsk (PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX)

The same went for Anderson, whose take on Maitlis required her to wear a severe bob-cut wig and tote around a whippet (Maitlis has one, called Moody). “Costumes for me are always an invaluable element of putting a character together,” she says. “You know, getting to walk in the shoes that Emily wears: these great knee-high suede boots over her jeans.”

Plus, there was the issue of the dog. “The dog was a bit of a pain,” Anderson says. “It was so needy of its own master… it just could not be in a scene. It would just be looking left, looking to where she was, and barking. Very often I would hold the lead as if it was still on it [even though it wasn’t].”

With Scoop out in the world, the cast and crew are keen to press home the fact that this isn’t just a story about a prince tying himself in knots on national television: it’s also a story about the women journalists who made it happen.

“People really want to see tales about women doing their job in difficult circumstances and of course for this hugely important outcome,” McAlister says. “[It’s also an] incredible moment of accountability for the other important women in this film, who of course were the victims of crimes of Jeffrey Epstein.”

“It definitely is a celebration of women in journalism,” Anderson adds.

“I think the BBC is not alone in having a hierarchy of men, particularly in those powerful positions, and Emily, one of the most prominent and effective woman journalists out there, being part of this story and then also [supported] by someone like Esme... it's a celebration of all of them working together to make this happen.”

Scoop is streaming now on Netflix