Dan Stevens decided not to sit down with John Dean, Republican lawyer in the Watergate era turned news pundit and circuit speaker, ahead of playing him in the Starz drama Gaslit.
Stevens has told the British press that he was initially keen to sit down with Dean, who still polarises opinion for his role in the Nixon-period scandal, but the actor changed his mind once word got out of the planned meeting.
“I was keen to sit down with him,” Stevens told the Guardian. “Then I was told I’d have to speak with Universal’s lawyers in advance, which I didn’t want to do; I didn’t think it would make the meal taste particularly nice.”
Stevens stars alongside Julia Roberts and an unrecognisable Sean Penn in the five-part series, based on the ‘Slow Burn’ podcast, which tells the story of Watergate, but from the fresh perspective of Martha Mitchell and other lesser-known figures from the tale of Washington political espionage which ultimately led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.
Roberts plays Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s loyal Attorney General, John Mitchell (Penn), who is the first person to publicly sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in Watergate.
Stevens has enjoyed a decade of diverse success – comedy in Night at the Museum and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Disney epic Beauty and the Beast and even horror in Apostle – since he did the showbusiness unthinkable back in 2012 and quit the hit, specifically left the ratings juggernaut of Downton Abbey after three seasons.
It came as a shock to millions of viewers on Christmas Day 2012 when his much-loved character Matthew Crawley was abruptly killed off.
Stevens says now, “It’s not something I expect people to readily understand. Some admire it, others think I was mad: that the part was the greatest thing that could ever happen to me.
“But the question is what would satisfy you? A bit more money and the same thing for another decade,” Stevens replies, “or the great unknown. The wild west. An open playing field of potential.
“Three years were up, that’s what we’d initially signed up for, and the appetite to explore further was too great.”
Gaslit premieres Sunday 24 April on StarzPlay
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