Sarah Lancashire has said that “trying not to fancy” Richard Gere while working opposite him in a new TV drama has been challenging.
The Happy Valley actress stars alongside the Hollywood star in BBC Two’s new eight-part series MotherFatherSon, a politically-backed drama that focuses on Gere’s powerful media tycoon character Max and his strained relationship with son Caden (Billy Howle) and estranged wife Kathryn (Helen McCrory).
Lancashire plays Angela Howard, a businesswoman turned MP and leader of the opposition who forges an allegiance with Max – the owner of one of the world’s most influential media empires – to back her political campaign.
The Bafta-winning actress said the series, penned by The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story writer Tom Rob Smith, feels “beautifully epic”, and that she was drawn to the show for the quality of the writing.
But, asked about the most challenging thing about working on the programme, she said: “I suppose trying not to fancy Richard Gere. That’s been quite hard!”
She said working with the Pretty Woman star has “been tremendous and we’ve had a lot of fun”.
Referring to their characters, she added: “It’s a fun relationship between the two of them, because it’s a power struggle really.
“Angela admires Max and Max admires her. It’s a meeting of minds in a sense, almost like a chess match.
“At the start she needs him more than he needs her, but it becomes apparent that if he can get her into Number 10 then she could really use the power that would give her to benefit him. So it’s potentially a good relationship for both of them.
“They’re quite evenly matched in their ambitious trajectories.”
Set against the political backdrop, MotherFatherSon is centred on Gere’s ruthless character Max, whose business empire is put into jeopardy when his son Caden – the youngest ever editor of Max’s newspaper The National Reporter – suffers a stroke.
The story follows the tussle between Max and Kathryn as they fight for the soul of their son, whose stroke was caused by drug use.
The programme marks Gere’s first TV role since he was in the TV movie And The Band Played On in 1993.
Gere said: “I’ve never done anything like this – playing a lead character in a TV series, or even playing a character for this amount of time.
“I’ve not done anything for television before or since (And The Band Played On), so this is my first time making a whole series with the kind of novelistic approach that you just can’t do in film.
“I see MotherFatherSon as an eight-hour movie.”
He said he did not base his character on “real life” public business figures – such as Sir Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner – and that he is “someone new, a work of fiction”.
He added: “So my question was ‘How do you create a character that’s unique, but at the same time is clearly recognisably a contemporary or counterpart to them, and therefore reaches the audience in the same way, but has a personality of his own?’”
Gere said Max is a “mix” of good and bad, and that he was “still trying to figure out as I was playing him just how dark he could go”.
MotherFatherSon begins at 9pm on March 6 on BBC Two.