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'Liar' preview: 'Downton Abbey' star Joanne Froggatt teases new psychological thriller

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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The truth is out there, and Joanne Froggatt is determined to reveal it.

The Downton Abbey star returns to series television in Sundance’s new thriller, Liar, which premieres Wednesday. The Golden Globe winner plays a teacher named Laura Nielsen who lives in a seaside English town.

She goes on a date with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham (Ioan Gruffudd), who is also a single parent of a boy at her school. But their seeming fun first date turns dark when Laura wakes up the next morning and accuses Andrew of raping her — which he completely denies.

It’s a “he said” vs. “she said” situation that has enormous consequences for them and their families, as secrets start to bubble up from the past.

Froggatt talked to Yahoo Entertianment about approaching the sensitive material, her preparation work, and whether viewers can expect to find out who the liar is.

How did you get involved with this project?
Kind of the usual way. My agent sent me the script and then I met with James Strong, our director, and we were both in L.A. And I’ve worked with James before on Downton and previous to that, as well, so I really trust him.

My first question was who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? And then James told me his ideas and showed me his mood boards, so I could get the feel of the show and the look of it. I just got so excited by his vision, and I was already excited by the script, so the two things together — it was just a very easy decision. I had reservations about a couple of bits, but the job itself, I was just like, you can’t say no to this, really.

Ioan Gruffudd as Andrew Earlham and Joanne Froggatt as Laura Nielson in SundanceTV’s <i>Liar</i> (Photo: Joss Barratt/SundanceTV)
Ioan Gruffudd as Andrew Earlham and Joanne Froggatt as Laura Nielson in SundanceTV’s Liar (Photo: Joss Barratt/SundanceTV)

Rape is a very sensitive subject. Did you have any hesitation about undertaking it?
That was my only hesitation. Ultimately, this show is a psychological thriller. And thrillers are based around a very traumatic event, whether it be murder or kidnap — a very serious crime. And then I thought, why do I feel weird about this? Why does this feel taboo? And then I thought, no, we must do this because it’s a brilliant show and the subject shouldn’t feel taboo in our society.

You also had a rape storyline in Downton Abbey, when Anna was attacked by Mr. Green. Did that weigh into doing this role?
Of course, it was a thought process. But then I thought to myself, I’ve played a murderer three times. I’ve played a police woman a couple of times. And if you think of it in those terms, I didn’t want to let that affect my decision.

It wasn’t a subject matter I was planning on tackling again so soon. But it was four years between that storyline airing and Liar coming out, and the characters are so polar opposite in every way. Laura behaves in a very flawed way on many occasions. It’s a different time period. And it feels completely different.

What kind of research and prep work did you do?
I’ve spoken to a counselor, mainly to build a psychological profile of Laura. Like I said, she behaves in ways that I wish she wouldn’t. So playing a character, you have to make sense of their thought process and get inside their head.

Joanne Froggatt as Laura Nielson in SundanceTV’s <i>Liar</i>. (Photo: Joss Barratt/SundanceTV)
Joanne Froggatt as Laura Nielson in SundanceTV’s Liar. (Photo: Joss Barratt/SundanceTV)

Like you, most people will immediately want to know, who is lying? Can we expect to get a definitive answer on that?
Yes, absolutely. You get a definitive answer before the end of the season. And then after the audience gets the definitive answer on who’s telling the truth, there are so many more twists and turns that happen. That was interesting for me.

When we started filming, I think [Ioan and I] had both read four episodes. But Jack and Harry [Williams], our writers, were still working on five and six. Even though Ioan and I knew where the story was going, we read five and six and we were like, “Oh my goodness, we weren’t expecting this!” So, we were really surprised in a good way.

Two episodes have aired here in the U.K. [on ITV], and the reaction has been amazing. People have completely invested in it and seem really hooked by the story.

Liar airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on SundanceTV.

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