7 Questions with… Sian Clifford and Michael Jibson: ‘Quiz raises bigger questions than whether the Ingrams are guilty or not’

The actors, who play Diana Ingram and Tecwen Whittock, talk exclusively to BT TV about the ITV drama following the infamous ‘coughing Major’ scandal on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

By Sophia Moir Published: 11 May 2020 - 12.27pm

Hit Play above to watch Sian Clifford and Michael Jibson from Quiz talk the making of the show exclusively with BT TV

Some of the characters in ITV’s new drama Quiz - about the infamous ‘coughing Major’ scandal on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? - are more well-known than others.

Most of the public could identify Chris Tarrant, for example, who is played by Michael Sheen in the three-part drama. 

And then there are other characters who you’ve probably heard of, but don’t really know, like Major Charles Ingram. Diana Ingram. Tecwen Whittock.

Well get prepared to know them a whole lot better.

British actress Sian Clifford (Fleabag, Vanity Fair) plays Charles’ wife Diana, while Michael Jibson (Les Miserables, 1917) plays Whittock - both of whom were found guilty of conspiring to cheat on the show, alongside 'cheating major' Charles.

Speaking exclusively to BT TV ahead of the launch of the show, the actors discuss how they approached playing their characters, the challenges of playing real people, and why none of us will never really know whether the Ingrams are truly guilty or not... 

1. What real-life interviews and archive footage did you watch to research your characters?

Sian Clifford Diana Ingram Getty

Sian Clifford: Everything that was available to be honest. Anything we could get our hands on. I had access to documentary footage of the Ingrams [Diana pictured above right], there’s a Fiona Bruce documentary which is fantastic, which was my main resource.

There’s also a Martin Bashir documentary that has a lot of other footage, like behind-the-scenes footage of that night on the show, but the Fiona Bruce one is the Ingrams at home, so that was really, really useful for me and Matthew [Macfadyen, who plays Major Charles Ingram] for developing our characters.

Michael Jibson: It’s all there on YouTube, the actual event, it’s all out there for people to see. It’s quite a luxury as an actor to actually see what happened. 

2. Did you consider approaching the real-life characters you play while making the show? 

Sian: No, absolutely not. Our producers, and James Graham our writer, had a very close connection with them. They were very much involved in the making of and the development of the show, and they were kept informed. But no, we would have gone through official channels if that were to happen.

I did end up meeting Diana - her and Charles came onto set on the last day of filming. We wanted them to come on the last day, not only to protect them but to protect the integrity of the work and to make sure we weren’t influenced either way. 

Michael: I didn’t meet Tecwen [below right] but I met his son. He came to set one day and he was very pleasant, and quite excited to be on a film set I think. I talked him through how things worked really. It was nice to meet him.

Michael Jibson Tecwen Whittock Getty

3. Are you hoping they watch it?

Sian: I believe they’ve already seen it. I don’t think we’d make them sweat it out until it got released. I think they’re happy, which is great. 

4. Has anything been changed or history altered from the real-life story to the TV series?

Sian: It’s pretty accurate as far as it can be. I think the Ingrams’ defence [counsel] in the show is potentially stronger than it was in the actual courtroom. Our QC Sonia Woodley, played by Helen McCrory, she’s pretty damn good. 

Michael: The story itself is out there, and I think James drew it all from there, so there’s nothing made up at all I don’t think. 

Sian: Diana has two brothers, but they’ve been consolidated into one character in the show. So there’s been a little bit of poetic license, but I think as far as possible this show is examining our relationship to the truth, so I think we’ve tried to be pretty accurate.

5. What’s the biggest challenge of portraying a real-life person?

Sian: It’s not an impersonation at all. We didn’t want to do that, that wasn’t our job. We wanted to play who James had written, but for me it was really about capturing their essence.

So much was written about the Ingrams in the press coverage at the time and I was very, very careful to stay well away from that. She was portrayed as this Lady Macbeth character, and I just didn’t get that off her at all. I felt that was a manipulation of the press.

So I really just studied her, and I observed her. In the footage that I watched, I sometimes used to watch without sound, just to observe physical traits in her, and I watched it repeatedly. Probably daily I watched that, even on set, which I found really helpful, just to get to her core and to capture something of her.

It was amazing to meet her, because it just radiated out of her, this kindness, which I really wanted to emulate. That, and her naivety, her introversion and her nerdiness, you know? Those things that make her a multi-layered human, as opposed to this other narrative that was told. 

Charles and Diana Ingram ITV / Getty

Michael: I think it’s being OK with not making it perfect, if that makes sense. You’ve got to bring something to it that’s part of what you do as an actor, using who they are, but at the same time being OK with the fact that you’re not that person, and you’ve just got to play a character, just like you would any character you’d approach, whether it’s in a play or a historical character that’s no longer with us. That’s how I would approach it.

6. What was it like working with Michael Sheen, and what was your reaction to his Chris Tarrant wig?

Michael: I just sat and watched. Michael [Sheen] is my cousin-in-law, so I know him as an in-law, but it was extraordinary to watch him work and to watch him just be Michael with a wig on, and then it’s ‘action!’ and he just produces this extraordinary voice and persona. It isn’t Chris Tarrant, but it is, and you kind of forget…

Because I was sitting in the fastest buzzer seat, you just forget what [the real] Chris Tarrant is like. That’s what’s brilliant about Michael, he’s just done that over the years, he plays these parts [based on real people] and the line becomes blurred between Michael and the person he’s playing. He’s a clever guy and lovely to be on set with.

Michael Sheen Quiz ITV

Sian: You totally got lost in it. I mean, we were in an exact replica to scale set, with a full lighting and sound rig, it was like being on the real Who Wants to be a Millionaire? set. It was amazing.

Michael: With all the lights and the sound, and all the tension, and all the glitter going off.

Sian: Michael’s transformation is absolutely extraordinary, and I have to give a shout out to Julie Kendrick who’s our hair and make-up designer, who slaved away every morning and evening on his head to make that happen, because I just couldn’t imagine how they were going to do it, but they’ve done an incredible job.

7. What do you think actually happened?

Sian: I think the much bigger question for me is whether they should have a criminal conviction. I think everything else is unanswerable, but I do hope that the show raises a lot of questions and is thought-provoking.

I think press harassment and online bullying, and all of these things, are all very topical, and this couldn’t be more timely, honestly. I think it's much more important that we examine that. 

Michael: I just think it’s a really interesting examination of this world of quizzes and people. I think whether or not they did it or not, this show itself gives you a kind of ‘Yes they did’, ‘No they didn’t’, ‘Yes they did’, ‘No they didn’t’ and I think that’s what’s brilliant. I’m sitting here, and I don’t really know, is my answer.

Sian: We’ll never know.

Michael: And we’ll never know…

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