Suranne Jones says playing sex-mad Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack got her through parents' deaths trauma

Suranne Jones says playing sex-mad Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack got her through parents' deaths trauma

SURANNE JONES has revealed how playing  fearless Anne Lister  in Gentleman Jack inspired her to carry on after she struggled with depression and anxiety.

The actress suffered a public breakdown after losing  both of her parents in the past six years and had to seek treatment.

But Suranne, 43, has revealed she was inspired to carry on by the real-life story of her bolshie, sex-mad 19th-century lesbian character who challenged the norms of the day.

She said: “I’ve talked a lot about my own mental health. Anne Lister’s mental health was very robust and she was so positive.

“She felt things very deeply but managed to dust herself off and move on. That’s what you need to do.

“That’s something she has taught all of us. I feel it when I watch it.”

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Suranne’s mum Jenny — who she has described as her “icon” for her “real strength of character” — was diagnosed with vascular dementia in her fifties and passed away in 2016.  

That same year, mum-of-one Suranne and screenwriter  husband Laurence Akers, 50, welcomed their son into the world. 

Overworked following the success of her telly dramas Doctor Foster and Vanity Fair, and  still struggling with the loss of her mum,  the TV star suffered a breakdown in February 2018 while performing in West End show Frozen.

She reluctantly agreed to take medication, albeit temporarily.

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‘I got to say goodbye to Dad but in full PPE’

Suranne later recalled: “I was so far gone by that point, and my husband didn’t know how to help me.

“We could see that all these things that I was trying to grasp on to, to keep my life well and sorted, weren’t working any more.”

Her condition improved and she came off the medication before appearing in the first series of Gentleman Jack.

But  15 months ago, while filming the second series, Covid claimed the life of Suranne’s father Chris after a three-month battle in intensive care.

The actress said at the time: “Eventually I got to say goodbye but in the full PPE, and then I got Covid myself at Christmas.”

That forced Suranne to go back on to medication to deal with her anxiety.

During that difficult time, she said: “I’ve been to a dark place, but now I can recognise when I’m spiralling out of control.”

Suranne is in awe of the  character she plays in hit BBC1 drama Gentleman Jack, which has returned for a second series.

Anne  Lister was a Yorkshire landowner and fearless lesbian  from the early 19th Century, when homosexuality was scorned.

She owned a colliery — and Suranne reckons she was the first Conservative of her kind.

She said: “We haven’t seen a Tory like this. I think it’s fascinating to see a character with her politics.”

Anne refused to tone down her sexuality  even when locals nicknamed her Gentleman Jack.

In series one, viewers saw her indulging in steamy sex scenes with women she had encountered on her  travels around the world — but it is a different story in the sequel.

Lister moves her new wife, Anne Walker — played by  Peaky Blinders actress Sophie Rundle — into her home, Shibden Hall. That coincides with the appearance of another of Lister’s real-life lovers, Mariana Lawton —  played by Lydia Leonard.

Suranne, who married in 2015, grins as she talks about the characters going from passionate lovebirds to married co-habitees —  a feeling she is familiar with.

She said at an event in Halifax to launch the new series: “In the first series it was all about the chase, and if anyone’s been in a relationship or a marriage we all know that the reality is slightly different.”

Suranne is proud that Anne has become a gay icon  who has “changed people’s lives”, adding: “This is something that can start a conversation with people that perhaps they wouldn’t have had tools to do before.

"So it’s an amazing thing to be part of.”  

She has also revealed that actresses Julie Walters, Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep are her inspiration as they can “mould themselves” into their characters.

And Gentleman Jack’s  writer Sally Wainwright has defended her star against critics who think gay and lesbian characters should only be played by LGBTQ+ actors.

She said: “I defy anyone to understand Anne Lister better  than Suranne Jones does.

“To play a character, you need someone who’s got the intelligence and intensity to absorb themselves in it, and that doesn’t mean somebody who is straight can’t do that.”

Suranne’s triumph in her latest role marks a long journey from her breakthrough on Coronation Street in 2000 and her time as a lads’ mag favourite.

She scooped seven awards in 2016 for her role in Doctor Foster, including the Bafta for  Best Actress.

And while her fans witnessed a slick production last night when they tuned in to Gentleman Jack, it was a different matter  behind the scenes.  
Filming on the second series started in November 2020 but had be  stopped several times due to  Covid outbreaks among the cast and crew.

It was also put on hold  to give Suranne time to grieve following  the death of  her father.

While a third series has not been ruled out, writer Sally is busy with other projects, including the upcoming new series of BBC hit Happy Valley.

Suranne enjoyed getting into the role of Yorkshire landowner Lister, revealing that she based her character’s movements on another swaggering northerner.

She said: “I would walk around the rehearsal room going from straight upright to Liam Gallagher.”

And she admits to being worried about the day she will have  to  say goodbye to her genre-busting character.

She said: “Lister is so intelligent and she’s so ahead of every single character. She’s almost in the next scene before you’ve got to the next scene, so it’s a challenge. But I love it.

“I don’t think there will be a character quite like her ever again and I keep saying to Sally, ‘What are we going to do after this?

“You need to write me something else or just keep making Gentleman Jack’.”

 Gentleman Jack is on BBC iPlayer and on BBC1 every Sunday at 9pm.

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