Interview with Anna Maxwell Martin on A Spy Among Friends

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Interview with Anna Maxwell Martin

What first attracted you to A Spy Among Friends?

It was about the people really before I read the actual project. I knew of the director Nick Murphy and his work, which was excellent. And Alexander Cary, who is our writer and showrunner, is incredibly talented - a brilliant writer, a brilliant showrunner and he'd been on Homeland. And because Damian Lewis originated the show with Alex he was obviously attached to it. So it was the people before anything else, and then I read it and the part was just so good.

Were you already familiar with the true story behind the show?

Yes, I was a bit. actually. I know a member of the Philby family and my late husband was obsessed with Ben Macintyre's book and with spying and prisoner of war camps and that kind of thing, so we had all these books in the house. I hadn't read them but after I got the part I delved into them.

How would you describe Lily as a character and her role in the narrative?

She's really tenacious and she's very front-footed without being demonstratively so. She's very clever, she is incredibly good at her job and reading a situation and adapting and doing what she's supposed to do, which is extracting information from people. That's what she's exceptionally good at and I think probably she's sent in because they think she'll be disregarded. And actually what's nice about the relationship between her and Elliott is that they disregard one another at first, then as the story unfolds they have a newfound respect for one another.

As a fictitious character, what does she add to the show?

She's sort of instrumental to it. Alex talks about this so I'm not blowing my own trumpet by saying it. He talks about needing to invent a character as a way into the narrative. He came up with Lily because he had to have someone who could interrogate Elliott and his version of events, so he could see it unfold through his eyes.

Is playing fictional characters more freeing for you as an actress?

I've played lots of real people and I can''t think that I've ever felt particularly stifled by playing a real person as opposed to a not-real person. You don't think of it in those terms. You just serve your writer, really, and the character you're playing. So it's irrelevant whether they're real or not real. You just have to have specificity in what you're doing, be active in all the scenes, listen and respond, and do it according to who you're playing.

How was it filming those intense interrogation scenes with Damian?

I love all that. I feel like I've done a proper day's work whilst also having a laugh with a lovely crew and lovely people. I relish it. It's the same as it was on Line of Duty as well. I just think 'Oh my God there's loads of pages of chatting away'. I mean, as an actor why wouldn't you love it? With Lily, she wants to be the victor in that room. She wants to go back to her bosses with all the information, so she's trying to find every single tactic to outmanoeuvre him. It's just brilliant to play a part like that and do those scenes. It's a total gift for an actor.

Why do you think audiences love a good spy story?

I think we love suspense, we love jeopardy, and I think that what we really need in storytelling is simply a good story. And so often that is there with a spy story. That said, the spy story here is a hook, really. It's brilliantly written by Alex and delivered by Nick, and pivotally it's about a relationship between Philby and Elliott and the relationship between Elliot and Lily and what they are and what they mean. Most importantly, I suppose, is that relationship between Philby and Elliott, which is incredibly complex and it's about two men who have to re-evaluate who they are. I think that's what the story is really about. It's like a bromance gone horribly wrong. It's a heartbreak, you know? It's a sort of heartbreak story for me rather than a spy story.

What did you most enjoy about playing Lily?

It's really great to play a part like Lily. She's an absolute badass and they are the best people to play. She's a badass with a heart, who has a journey, and that's the best thing. But really the best thing is always if you're on a nice set with nice people and they're good fun and kind. That set was that at a difficult time in my life and they really were the loveliest, kindest, funniest people to be around. You can play a great character but you don't want to be surrounded by horrible people while you're doing it. So as I say, there's the part and then there's the people, which is probably often more important for me than anything else. And they were talented. They were so brilliant, funny, kind and so mega-talented. It was one of the most talented crews I've ever worked with. Every department was just incredible. We had a lovely time.



Based on the New York Times best-selling book written by Ben Macintyre, the six-episode series dramatizes the true story of Nicholas Elliott and Kim Philby, two British spies and lifelong friends. Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet double agent in history. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery. Philby’s deeply personal betrayal, uncovered at the height of the Cold War, resulted in the gutting of British and American Intelligence.

July 7, 2023 5:03am ET by ITV Press Centre  

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