Getting into a new character comes with a lot of pressure for any actor or actress, but imagine playing out some of your own real-life grandmother’s most heartbreaking memories on screen?
British actress Ruth Wilson, 36, has taken on her most challenging role yet in new BBC drama Mrs Wilson as she recreates the moment her gran discovered her husband was married to another woman behind her back.
It was just the tip of the iceberg however, as what her gran didn’t know – and never would – was that he actually had two other secret wives and families that would only be unearthed years later by his own children.
The three-part series is set between the 1940s and 1960s, and follows Ruth’s gran Alison as she meets notorious former MI6 officer and British spy Alexander Wilson for the first time before enjoying a love affair with him, getting married and having his two sons – blissfully unaware of his secret deception.
Only when he dies suddenly from a heart attack does she realise she’s been duped for 20 years, as a woman turns up on her doorstep claiming to be the ‘real’ Mrs Wilson – and is in fact the first of her husband’s four wives.
Wilson (played by Iain Glen) married his first wife, Gladys, in 1916 and welcomed two sons and a daughter with her, before travelling to India and marrying his second wife Dorothy in 1930. They then welcomed a son together, Mike – with neither of the wives knowing about the other at the time.
According to The Australian, Wilson continued to stay in touch with his first family and later returned to them after his work in India. However, while he stayed in his other son Mike’s life for the first few years as well, the young boy was later told his father had died fighting in North Africa.
In actual fact, that’s when Wilson had met and married Alison – Ruth’s grandmother – and fathered her two sons, all while keeping his past two families secret.
In his final deception, after moving around his family with Alison for 17 years, he then bigamously married one more time to a woman called Elizabeth in 1955, who he had one final son with.
Ruth combined notes from her grandmother’s memoir, along with information she and her father have gathered since learning of the family secret, to create a full picture of her grandad’s deception in the BBC TV series.
Speaking on Lorraine, the actress admitted she struggled with the role because she felt immense pressure in balancing her work and protecting her family.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, definitely, because you have the pressure of delivering the story but protecting your family,” she said at the time. “Making sure that all the members of the family that are seen on TV are served in the correct way, or how they’d like to be seen.
“We made sure all of the scripts were seen by all of the family members and that they had a say.”
Of course, the role also meant Ruth had to play the mother of her own father and uncle – something she said recently on The Graham Norton Show was one of the hardest parts of filming.
“I have to give birth to my own father at one point, which is totally bizarre,” she said on the BBC One show. “I do feel sorry for my dad. As an actor, I have put my parents through so much on screen and now he’s got to watch his daughter give birth to him. It’s so weird!”