Exclusive: Gillian Anderson on playing Margaret Thatcher and her behind-the-scenes romance with the creator of 'The Crown'

By Dagmar Dunlevy

This piece originally appeared in Issue 739 of HELLO! Canada.

With the help of a bouffant wig and an an array of power suits, Gillian Anderson makes her mark on The Crown as one of British history's most iconic leaders.

In Season 4, set to premiere Nov. 15, the X-Files alum perfectly captures the essence of Margaret Thatcher, dubbed "the Iron Lady" for her formidable style and uncompromising politics.

"I've been told that I can be intense," Gillian offers when asked if she's able to relate to the late U.K. prime minister in any way.

Her star turn in Netflix's megawatt drama series, opposite Olivia Colman as the Queen, is the latest in a string of performances proving the 52-year-old actress is at the top of her game. The blond beauty has also been winning raves for her role on the U.K. comedy Sex Education as a divorced sex therapist who is, hilariously, a source of constant embarrassment to her teenage son.

Gillian was born in Chicago, but her family lived in the U.K. until she was 11 and she considers it home – hence her impeccable English accent. As she tells us in a video call from London, professional success doesn't mean as much if it isn't coupled with personal fulfillment.

Photo: © Des Willie/Netflix

The star has much to be grateful for on that front, with a daughter, Piper, 26, from her first marriage to Canadian television art director Clyde Klotz. She also has two boys that keep the star on her feet at home: Oscar, 14, and Felix, 12, from a previous relationship with British businessman Mark Griffiths.

Since 2016, Gillian has also been dating The Crown's creator and principal writer, Peter Morgan. (The pair were set up by Vanessa Kirby, who played Princess Margaret on The Crown's first two seasons.)

Talking shop with Peter off-set is strictly off-limits for the good of their romance, Gillian reveals. It also allows her to cherish quality time with her children. Here, with her beau popping into view to hand Gillian a Coke for energy (it's early in L.A. but late in London!) she chats with HELLO! Canada about her family life and what it was like bringing such a controversial figure to life.

HELLO! Canada: How did you prepare to play someone as famous as Margaret Thatcher?
Gillian Anderson: With a historic character that is also iconic, people love to hate her and hate to love her. The chances of getting it wrong were so great that I started very early and very intensely watching everyone that I could... That's my process [and it] sometimes gets in my way. But I'm not quite sure how to do it differently because if I were to wing it, I would feel... I don't think I could. I'm definitely too controlling. [Smiles]

Photo: © Des Willie/Netflix

Did Peter give you any feedback at home?
We made a pact, actually, that we weren't going to talk about it at all. I wasn't allowed to talk with him or express opinions about the scripts and he wasn't allowed to express opinions about my performance. Somehow, we managed to stick to it, which is unbelievable because neither of us can keep from expressing our opinions the rest of the time.

Is that something you and Margaret have in common – that you're decisive in your opinions?
I'm not easily swayed and I make up my mind very, very quickly about things. I'm very decisive. And Margaret Thatcher knew exactly the direction that she wanted to head in and she was full steam ahead.

Is it true Vanessa Kirby set up you and Peter while you were starring onstage in London as Blance DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire?
Yes! She was my Stella, and while we were backstage, Vanessa kept saying, to me that I needed to meet Pete. I kept saying, "No, no no! He's too posh. He's too fancy. He's too smart." And she kept saying, "No, no, no! He's not like that at all! He's very funny and quirky and goofy." When we finally finished with the play and got back to London, we had a meal together and so that's how we met.

The Crown's fourth season explores the power play between Margaret and the Queen. What do you make of power dynamics between women?
I am such a woman's woman. I love women. I celebrate women. But because women have often had to battle so hard for the roles they're in, they've sometimes created a toughness that is not necessarily a part of their natural selves to deal with not being listened to. Whatever things they had to protect themselves against, they did, and I have a lot of compassion for that. At the same time, it's an unfortunate dynamic and hopefully, over time, as more women have more opportunity specifically in high places, there will be less of a need for that.

Between this and Sex Education, you've been earning the best reviews of your career.
I have felt pretty fulfilled over the last couple of years with the work that I've been doing. But I never feel entirely fulfilled unless it's balanced with good quality time with my children. The one thing that was a godsend through the lockdown was proper, good, solid time with my kids. I was in an incredibly fortunate situation to be able to have that time and know there was [work] coming out and something else was going to start filming. It was easy to relax. And I never relax! [Laughs] I just don't sit still. But I did take a moment to acknowledge that, under these very strange circumstances, I was where I wanted to be, and it was actually with my kids. [Laughs]

How did you ward off cabin fever?
We have been incredibly fortunate to have some outdoor space. When we were in lockdown and the weather was good, it made a huge difference to all of our sanity, especially with two young boys whose favourite thing is to be outside. I just don't sit still.

You're a U.S. citizen, so you can't be a British prime minister, but if you could...
[Laughs] I would be a horrible prime minister! I forget everything, I've got such a bd memory, and I'd give everything to everybody. I wouldn't be very diplomatic in trying to save the world. Plus, I don't envy anybody in the role of prime minister or president. It's a thankless role.

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