Andrea Riseborough: PBS’ Alice & Jack Offers Up a ‘Great’ — Though ‘Unfiltered’ — 15-Year Love Story

Get ready to meet Alice & Jack.

No, really — ready yourself. Because the “unfiltered” love story heading Stateside via MASTERPIECE on PBS this Sunday at 10/9c will take your heart on quite a roller coaster ride.

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Created by Mad Men writer Victor Levin and set in modern-day London, Alice & Jack stars Andrea Riseborough (an Academy Award nominee for To Leslie, and more recently of HBO’s The Regime) as a successful financier invested in her career while grappling with a past trauma. Domhnall Gleeson (The Patient) plays a research scientist she meets in a bar, via a dating app. What follows is a six-episode, 15-year chronicle of their relationship’s highs and lows and everything in between.

The series’ cast also includes Aisling Bea (This Way Up), Aimee Lou Wood (Sex Education) and Sunil Patel.

TVLine recently sat down with Riseborough to preview this contemporary MASTERPIECE offering.

TVLINE | When did this project come along to you in relation to To Leslie?
I’d been working on To Leslie before I received this. I received this five years ago, the first and last episodes, and I just thought that they were so dynamic and pithy and raw and… magical, really. I thought, “How wonderful it would be to capture that really high-intensity, fast-paced dialogue written by somebody like Vic Levin, who has such a history in successful commercial television, in an aesthetically cinematic way.” What would that look like? I talked with Vic at length for a few hours, and really started to work on it then.

TVLINE | I suspect the audience is going to have complicated” feelings about Alice. Does that excite you as an actress?
Certainly. It’s really wonderful to see protagonists not being held to impossible moral standards that none of us in life can actually achieve. I understand why we look to our idols for that reason, to give us a sense of a happy ending, but for many of us — and I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how grateful they are to see this reflected, having watched some of Alice & Jack — love looks like many different things. It can look like estrangement, it can look like many years of orbiting each other and not quite being together…. That kindred spirit, burning-type desire/love can look like a lot of different things, and I felt it was courageous of Vic to share an experience he’d had in his own life in this piece. And I really hope people can identify with it.

Playing characters who make so many mistakes and cause such a gross fallout of hurt but are trying their absolute best to love each other in the best way that they know how….. Alice tries to protect Jack from herself because she’s been through some unimaginable, unspeakable horrors, so how wonderful that she’s one of our heroes — and why shouldn’t she be? Love is for all of us, it’s for everyone.

TVLINE | It’s not like Alice tells Jack up front, “Oh, I’m easy like Sunday morning.” She instead puts him on guard.
Intimacy is the one thing that she’s most terrified of, so her entire persona is walled with candor — which is a weapon, really, until she meets Jack. And then she sees that her candor has such a deep effect on him, and she’s never quite had that experience before. He then becomes in every way her hope that goodness exists, a beacon of what is good in the world.

Alice and Jack
Alice and Jack

TVLINE | When I go to describe this series for our readers, what one or two adjectives would you put in front of “_____ love story”?
Perhaps “unfiltered”…?

TVLINE | I feel like we are almost not so much rooting for them to make it as a couple, we’re rooting for them to each sort their s–t out as individuals.
Yes, and that’s the thing that’s led to that deep identification I think people are having with the two characters and what they are going through. Because you root for yourself in that way, to sort your own stuff out, and love is the largest learning curve you will ever come up against, isn’t it? All of your terrors come out, all of your insecurities, everything’s up on the surface. It’s embarrassingly raw and unavoidable. And you can try and suppress it, but it will bubble up.

Alice tries many times to suppress the reality of what she has with Jack, to put it aside for his sake, because she doesn’t want to ruin him or mangle what they have. They both end up ruining many things, and it also doesn’t ruin anything. And I think that’s so true of love and life. Being in love is the most vastly uncontrollable experience you will ever have, so it’s wonderful to be sharing a story that reflects [that truth], rather than only how perfect love can be.

TVLINE | I want to warn viewers that major events will happen in Alice and Jack’s relationship, after which a “TWO YEARS LATER” title card, for example, will pop up — when what we want to see is what happens five minutes later.
Well, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover [Laughs], so we had to hop around a bit.

TVLINE | Did any of those time jumps jump out at you when you were reading the scripts. Like, “Really? Two whole years later?”
Perhaps this is where for the first time ever shooting nonsequentially, as we always do, works for us as actors, because our experience often is “cart before the horse” and choppy. We have to shoot everything out of sequence because of locations and age and time of the day and all sorts of things. So, I can imagine in a sense for the viewer it’s almost like what we deal with on a daily basis as actors, having to hold these many different parts of life and dip in and out of them. Often in one day on a set you can be born, die, have a baby, and then have lunch! And that’s a strange but quite familiar experience to an actor or a director.

I think what’s special about being with [Alice and Jack] for 15 years is that it in a sense reflects how we remember our snapshots of love. When you look back over a long relationship, it may have involved, as I mentioned before, estrangement, togetherness, being with different people, kids, no kids….. We remember, in no particular order, many, many, many different things, so I like that we’re able to dip in out that same way.

TVLINE | I have said that Alice & Jack will make your heart swell, then break it, repeat. What’s your message to viewers who, after one or two episodes are like, “I don’t know if I can stick it out with this couple”?
I think it’s a great, great love story, and it allows us to believe that we are all of us deserving of love, and that love does prevail. It may not look the way you expect it to, but that love prevails. It’s irrepressible.

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