Ruth Wilson came to TCA to talk about her three-part PBS Masterpiece project Mrs. Wilson, in which she plays her own grandmother. The drama follows Alison Wilson, who is happily married until her husband, popular spy novelist Alec Wilson (played by Game of Thrones‘ Iain Glen), dies and a woman turns up on the doorstep claiming to be his wife.
Turns out, Alison Wilson’s former MI6 spy husband had three wives.
The most challenging part of playing one’s own grandmother, Ruth Wilson told TV critics Friday afternoon, is “giving birth to my own dad” and “kissing my granddad…I need to go to therapy now,” she joked, adding, “My poor dad, having to watch that” at a family screening of the project.
After that family screening, she told TV critics, there followed “four minutes of silence.”
Wilson learned about her grandmother’s story in stages, via two memoirs. Alison gave the first to family members while she was still alive; it was about growing up, meeting her husband, and falling in love. The second was given to family upon her death and details finding out she was not her husband’s only wife.
Glen, who plays Alec, said he had to play each scene “for what it’s worth” because, “I couldn’t understand his motivation … why he behaved the way he had.”
“I felt it was wrong for me to try to rationalize and fully comprehend it…I did not want people to readily dismiss him as a cad…someone who behaved abominably,” he added.
(Masterpiece EP Rebecca Eaton introduced Glen on Friday as “a man who has a lot of ‘splaining to do,” advising, “Don’t believe anything he says!”)
Although Alec clearly let down his wives, he was “a brilliant father” according to his children, his granddaughter told TV critics, saying “they all felt enormously loved by him.”
By the time Ruth Wilson discovered her grandfather’s story, all of his wives were deceased except one who had Alzheimer’s, so there was no wife left to talk of the experience.
In the middle of the TCA Q&A, a fire alarm went off in the building.
“It’s my grandfather – cursing the project!” Ruth Wilson quipped as the alarm wailed on.