Rupert Friend (‘Anatomy of a Scandal’) on playing a ‘kind of loathsome character’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I’m a big fan of pushing into the fear and the distaste in an area of life and seeing how to explore it,” declares Rupert Friend about the the experience of playing James Whitehouse on “Anatomy of a Scandal.” The Netflix limited series follows James’s wife Sophie (Sienna Miller) as she learns that her politician husband has been having an affair and is later accused of rape. In our exclusive video interview (watch above) the Emmy-nominated actor discusses the challenges of playing a despicable character and what the show says about entitlement and introspection.

Friend has no problem admitting his hatred for James. “I really found him kind of loathsome,” he admits. However, the actor argues that his job was to understand the character rather than judge him. “Does this guy think he’s loathsome? Probably not,” he says. “Does this guy think he’s done anything wrong ever in his life? Possibly not. Does this guy actually think he’s a kind of perfect husband, perfect dad, perfect politician? Probably.”

Friend says he fought hard to give the character more dimension rather than have him just be an outright villain. “He did some bad things, but he wasn’t an out and out psychopath,” he argues. “Otherwise we just have a story of a psychopath who got away with it. That wasn’t our story and I don’t think that’s particularly interesting.”

The series features several intense courtroom scene, none more so than when James is interrogated on the witness stand by prosecutor Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery), who has her own history with James. Series director S.J. Clarkson filmed the entire scene — almost 30 pages of dialogue — all the way through several times rather than in small segments. Friend describes the intensity of the process. “S.J. wanted the tension to build within the scene,” he explains. “I was very lucky to have Michelle because she’s not only a dear friend, but such a great actor. So to have someone to play with, to bounce off, to keep you buoyed for that entire thing is extraordinary.”

Friend argues that the “scandal” of the show’s title encompasses more than just James’s sexual indiscretions. “The scandal was elite privilege, the scandal of nepotism, the scandal of elitism,” he argues. “It’s that classic fallacy — when people say ‘I got here entirely on my own’ — and there’s nobody who can say that. If you don’t recognize the collective effort in any particular endeavor, then you’re missing something pretty obvious.”

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