We’re delighted to see Helen McCrory back on our screens again.
Last seen as Polly Gray, domineering matriarch of the Shelby family in BBC drama Peaky Blinders, , Helen McCrory claims her ongoing success is down to her ‘searing lack of ambition’.
Now Helen, 51, is to star as Major Charles Ingram’s defence lawyer, Sonia Woodley QC, in ITV’s Quiz – a three-part drama about the infamous Who Wants to be a Millionaire? coughing cheating scandal.
While many of us in 2001 were gripped by the real-life drama surrounding the major and his wife Diana, who allegedly cheated their way to winning £1 million on Chris Tarrant’s TV show, Helen confesses she ‘didn’t really have many memories of the drama at all’.
She goes on to reveal why. ‘The Twin Towers terror attack happened the day after this scandal, so that overshadowed it for me at the time,’ she says. ‘My family were in the Foreign Office and my uncle was in New York, so we were much more involved in their welfare.’
What drew Helen McCrory to this playing this role was that a third of James Graham’s script looked at the case from the Ingrams’ point of view. He questioned whether the couple really did cheat, as we’ve been led to believe for all these years.
She explains, ‘A lot of people at the time didn’t hear the cough. Chris Tarrant didn’t hear it, the person sitting opposite the supposed cougher didn’t hear the cough, people either side of him didn’t hear it, yet for some reason the sound guy heard the cough. Really? Maybe he did, maybe it was a complete set-up, or maybe he didn’t. But you’re just looking for the truth.’
This idea of truth and ‘fake news’ interested Helen, as her children, Manon, 13, and 12-year-old Gulliver, have been learning about it at school.
She reveals, ‘They have a lesson in which they’re taught to look at what’s fake news and what’s real. It’s made us realise this is becoming a real problem. And Quiz, in a very, very light-hearted way, looks at the same issues. Plus Stephen Frears was directing it. And nobody says no to Stephen!’
Helen, who’s been married to fellow actor Damian Lewis for 13 years, claims it was love at first sight when she met him. They were both appearing in Five Gold Rings at London’s Almeida Theatre in 2003 and tied the knot four years later.
‘He just made me laugh a lot. And still does. Of course, everyone in life wants someone to love and be loved by, but I think until then I was always just engrossed in work.’
And it’s clear how much Damian loves Helen. He threw a huge surprise party for her 50th birthday, rather than let it go by without any fuss.
‘We were in a hotel and I was in bed with a really, really bad cold and said, “Let’s just get a burger and a bottle of red wine and watch telly,” and he said, “OK.” But then I thought “No, I’m 50!”, so we got out of bed and went downstairs – and there was everybody waiting for me!’
It’s safe to say Helen didn’t have the dreaded midlife crisis when she turned 50, then? ‘Oh, no!’ she finishes. ‘Why would I do that? The alternative is a lot worse!’
Quiz starts on Monday 13 April on ITV