Suranne Jones on her thrill at playing a thoroughly modern real-life Regency heroine in BBC1 period drama Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones has made her name playing strong women. But powerful 19th century lesbian landowner Anne Lister in BBC1’s true-life drama Gentleman Jack is her most spirited and irrepressible character to date.
Penned and directed by Happy Valley and Scott & Bailey writer Sally Wainwright, the star-studded eight-part series, inspired by Anne’s coded diaries, explores how the shrewd businesswoman, who was dubbed ‘Gentleman Jack’ by her neighbours, romanced a string of woman including troubled but wealthy Ann Walker (Bodyguard’s Sophie Rundle).
Suranne Jones tells TV Times why she couldn’t say no to Gentleman Jack
TV Times: What do you love about playing Anne Lister?
Suranne Jones: “There’s so much to love! It feels really modern and fresh because she’s a woman in a man’s world. She’s a one-off character who is eccentric, unknowable, flawed, but true to herself.”
TVT: How do you see her relationship with Ann Walker?
SJ: “There is a joyfulness about her love of women but there is such sadness when her heart gets broken a lot. Their relationship is so up and down all the time, but they have beautiful scenes together where Anne is unguarded.”
TVT: What do you make of Anne’s distinctive style?
SJ: “Her top half is very male and every new cast member who saw me with my collars and top hat on went, ‘Wow!’ I like to rehearse dressed as her because I hold myself differently. Other people’s performances change too because she and the costume are so imposing. She is unaware of people’s personal space too. I can see other actors thinking, ‘Why is nobody telling her she is very close?!’”
TVT: You worked with Sally on Unforgiven, Dead Clever and Scott & Bailey, have you enjoyed teaming up again?
SJ: “I wanted to work with Sally as a director because I’d only worked with her as a writer. She’s so clever. Sometimes she has to tell me, ‘That’s direct from the diary,’ because her writing is so seamless. I’ve had to somehow be a sponge to all of her 20 years of work on this.”
Gentleman Jack airs on Sunday 19 May on BBC1 at 9pm