Sienna Miller Found Catharsis in ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’

Two years ago, when Sienna Miller received the scripts for “Anatomy of a Scandal,” a high-shine limited series from David E. Kelley and Melissa James Gibson, she read them cover to cover. “I binged them like you would binge on a six-episode drama,” she said.

She had been offered the role of Sophie, the silky wife of James (Rupert Friend), a parliamentary minister. Sophie would need the full range of Miller’s skills and gifts – charisma, vulnerability, beauty, wit. And in a career in which she’s been mostly relegated to the roles of wife and girlfriend, Sophie is solidly ahead. And yet, Miller hesitated. “I had reservations because it was a bit ugly and familiar,” she said.

In the first episode, Sophie learns that James had an affair with a co-worker; The Daily Mail will splash the story in the morning. For Miller, who had weathered a scandal in the mid-2000s in which her then-fiancé Jude Law slept with her children’s nanny, the resonances were clear.

But in the same way that you might feel compelled to run your fingers over a scar once a wound has healed, the opportunity to revisit those past experiences became part of Miller’s appeal for the role. “In the weird and twisted way that somehow exists, I was drawn to this, to explore this from a different angle,” she said.

It was a recent weekday morning, in the restaurant of a boutique hotel in Manhattan’s West Village, near where Miller lives with his 9-year-old daughter, Marlowe. In “Anatomy of a Scandal,” which hits Netflix on Friday, Sophie dresses in plush golds, creams and taupes. Miller had pulled from that same palette that morning, in off-white jeans and a beige sweater, with overlapping necklaces at her throat.

Of course Miller is not Sophie. She is liberal where Sophie is conservative, expressive where Sophie is constrained. Sophie plays a role, that of the perfect political woman, for very personal reasons. For Miller, role-playing is strictly professional. Her off-camera self is unchanged and open. And yet, there are moments in “Anatomy of a Scandal” where Sophie’s life seems inseparable from the actress who plays her.

Take, for example, a scene from a late episode, in which Sophie confronts a not quite antagonist. “I’ve been both underrated and overrated all my life,” she says. “If I traded on the currency the world told me was mine, well, that’s what I was trained in.” It is difficult to know exactly who is speaking.

These parallels weren’t lost on Sarah Vaughan, who created the character of Sophie in her 2018 novel and serves as an executive producer on the series. They give “an extra level of nuance and meaning to his performance,” Vaughan said.

While filming the series, Miller also consciously drew inspiration from her background. “There’s kind of a muscle memory about a lot of his experiences that I have. So he was quite available,” she said. At times it was almost too available.

Friend, speaking by phone, said Miller can give herself to a character so completely that she seems practically possessed. “Sienna herself will be physically altered, sweating or shaking, or her heart rate will have increased, or a jolt will have occurred that she could never have planned,” he said.

When it came time to shoot the scene in which Sophie learns of her husband’s affair, Miller’s heart pounded so fast and hard that it recorded itself into his microphone. “The feeling that something is about to come out that you have absolutely no control over, the anxiety of knowing that you slept one night before something intensely personal was made extremely public, that’s an agonizing situation,” she said.

And yet, Sophie ultimately handles her situation very differently than Miller did. Saying anything more is risking a spoiler, but Sophie’s approach to reputation damage didn’t seem like an option for Miller at the time, and so playing Sophie’s narrative felt liberating, even therapy, she said.

“There’s catharsis in all of this,” Miller said. “Every time you go to work and you cry, it feels weird.”

Watching Miller in the role, Vaughan noted the rawness of his performance, his apparent honesty. And something else. “I don’t know if I understand that because I know what she’s been through,” Vaughan said. “But I think there is anger, but a contained anger.”

When asked where that anger came from, Miller said: “At this point, at 40, I have had experiences that I have internalized and can use – the betrayal and the frustration of seeing how much I just accepted and didn’t push back and how little self-esteem I had.

She said that with a smile, but there was also something sharp underneath. Gibson, the showrunner, noted Miller’s ability to contain more than one emotional truth — fury, resignation, ironic fun — at once, giving his performances a natural complexity.

“She deserves every challenge,” Gibson said, “because she’s up to it.”

These days, Miller has more self-esteem. It took a few decades, a dozen more roles and the birth of a child, but she knows who she is now, she said. Sophie’s talk of being underrated and overrated continues. She says to her adversary: ​​“A lot of people think they know me. You think you know me. Believe me, it’s not.

What does Miller wish people — those who have spent 20 years staring at her face in fashion magazines or checkout tabloids — to know about her? Nothing.

“I’m less attached to really taking care of myself at this point,” she said. “I understand that I have a lot more substance than I was allowed to express as a person and always have. And I don’t know what to say about it. I mean, I’m very happy. I feel very grounded. I have a healthy child and I’m still working, and I’ve survived a pretty amazing decade, and a lot of people haven’t. So there’s kind of a quiet pride on that side.

“What would I like people to know? she added. “I do not know.”

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