Sian Clifford Interview: ‘Quiz’
Fresh from an Emmy nomination for playing the beleaguered Claire in the comedy “Fleabag,” Sian Clifford embodies a woman caught up in a real-life scandal in “Quiz.” In the AMC limited series, Clifford portrays Diana Ingram who, along with her husband Charles (Matthew Macfadyen), was accused of cheating to win “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” As she explains in our exclusive video interview (watch above), there is more to this story than first thought when it broke in 2001. Clifford credits the script by James Graham, who adapted his Olivier-nominated play. “It is such a fascinating story that everyone in the UK thinks that they know and we are getting to uncover a completely different side of it.”
The actress clearly felt the responsibility of playing someone who is still living. She demurred from meeting Diana until the last day of filming; instead, she studied footage of the couple. “I found the Fiona Bruce documentary, which was made a year after the trial, fascinating. I watched it over and over, often without sound because I wanted to observe her, to get to the heart of this character. She was a sweet and loving woman, very shy and introverted.” In her research, Clifford was surprised to learn about the continuing closeness of the couple: “Family is everything to Diana. Matthew and I wanted to capture their marriage. At the heart of this is a love story.”
Clifford vividly recalls the days of sitting in the real-life hot seat on the painstakingly recreated “Millionaire” set opposite Michael Sheen, who embodied real-life host Chris Tarrant. “We had a full lighting and sound rig. They really spoiled us. It was so immersive and did so much of the work for us. That first day we walked on the set we were giddy. They played the music, which gets into your bones. It makes you feel scared but it was thrilling.”
“Quiz” is deftly directed by Oscar nominee Stephen Frears and presents different versions of the same event. This leads the viewer to question their initial instincts about the case. Indeed, Clifford readily admits she thought at the time that the Ingrams had done it but now is less convinced. “When I started reading the script my mind was blown. You don’t have to dig too deep to realize how many holes there are in the evidence presented by the prosecution and that they weren’t defended properly.”
The actress vividly recalls her first meeting with Phoebe Waller-Bridge at drama school back in 2003 and says they were instant friends. And she reveals that she’d first played a version of Claire in a sketch that Phoebe wrote long before “Fleabag” was even an idea. When it came time to film her one woman show, Waller-Bridge expanded the story and cast Clifford. She explains that the show had a slow build from BBC3 to Amazon Prime and the Emmys and says the success of the show was down to word of mouth.