To Become Prince Andrew, He Needed More Than False Teeth

Before filming started on “Scoop,” a Netflix feature about Prince Andrew’s notoriously misjudged 2019 interview on the BBC, the actor Rufus Sewell, who stars as the disgraced royal, turned up on set to shoot a few photographs that would appear in the background. Loaded with makeup and prosthetics, including false teeth and a feathery wig, Sewell felt leaden and self-conscious, he said, fearful that his impersonation would slip into parody.

Then, he recalled, he sat down opposite an elderly man working as an extra. Had they worked together before, the man asked Sewell; he looked vaguely familiar. “No,” Sewell told him, “but obviously I wouldn’t have looked like this.” The man seemed confused, and was even more bewildered when Sewell explained, “This isn’t my real face.” The extra laughed: “What do you mean it’s not your face?”

This interaction, though strange, was very helpful, Sewell said in a recent video interview. “I realized that it wasn’t about passing for Andrew,” he added. Instead, the man “hadn’t doubted for a second that I was a human — that I was a real person,” Sewell said. “That gave me a real freedom and a lease on life.”

The right way of playing Prince Andrew, Sewell said, was in “the uncanny valley between me and him.”Credit…Eamonn M. Mccormack/Getty Images

Sewell’s performance as Prince Andrew, who is also known as the Duke of York, is impressive, not so much because of the resemblance (which is, at times, striking), but because he slyly channels the spirit of the man who so horrified the British public by seeming to justify his friendship with the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Sewell avoids the typical pitfalls of playing a real person as a broad, exaggerated impersonation. His duke is a spasm of nervous tics and shifty glances, of unctuous charm and feigned candor. Watching the journalist Emily Maitlis (an excellent Gillian Anderson) walk in to conduct the interview wearing pants, he gawks at her and shouts, “Trousers!” It feels true to the Prince Andrew the public knows, however little viewers may not believe what the character says.

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