Why Suranne Jones couldn’t say no to Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack
(Image credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Jay Brooks)

Suranne Jones has made her name playing strong women. But powerful 19th-century lesbian landowner Anne Lister in the period drama Gentleman Jack is her most spirited and irrepressible character to date. 

Written and directed by Happy Valley and Scott & Bailey creator Sally Wainwright, the star-studded eight-part series was inspired by Anne Lister’s encoded diaries found hidden behind paneling, in the 1930s, at Lister's home, Shibden Hall. The diaries (and the drama) explore how the shrewd businesswoman — who was dubbed ‘Gentleman Jack’ by her neighbors — romanced a string of women including the wealthy, but troubled, Ann Walker (Bodyguard’s Sophie Rundle).

Why Suranne Jones couldn’t say no to Gentleman Jack

TV Times: What do you love about playing Anne Lister?

Suranne Jones: “There’s so much to love! It feels really modern and fresh because she’s a woman in a man’s world. She’s a one-off character who is eccentric, unknowable, flawed, but true to herself.”

Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle as Anne Lister and Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle as Anne Lister and Ann Walker in Gentleman Jack (Image credit: Lookout Point)

TV Times: How do you see her relationship with Ann Walker?

Suranne Jones: “There is a joyfulness about her love of women but there is such sadness when her heart gets broken a lot. Their relationship is so up and down all the time, but they have beautiful scenes together where Anne is unguarded."

TV Times: What do you make of Anne’s distinctive style?

Suranne Jones: “Her top half is very male and every new cast member who saw me with my collars and top hat on went, ‘Wow!’ I like to rehearse dressed as her because I  hold myself differently. Other people’s performances change too because she and the costume are so imposing. She is unaware of people’s personal space too. I can see other actors thinking, ‘Why is nobody telling her she is very close?!’”

TV Times: You worked with Sally Wainright on Unforgiven, Dead Clever and Scott & Bailey, have you enjoyed teaming up again?

Suranne Jones: “I wanted to work with Sally as a director because I’d only worked with her as a writer. She’s so clever. Sometimes she has to tell me, ‘That’s direct from the diary,’ because her writing is so seamless. I’ve had to somehow be a sponge to all of her 20 years of work on this.”

Gentleman Jack airs Sundays on BBC One (UK) and Mondays on HBO/HBO Max (US)

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Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.