The beloved actress talks about Jean’s nosiness ahead of the second season of Netflix’s comedy, Sex Education.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 56, no one wants to hear their parents talking about graphic sex. Embarrassment can come at any age when it comes to relationships with your parents. For Asa Butterfield’s Otis, however, he can’t avoid it because his mother, Jean, is a sex therapist, and she definitely can’t see that invisible barrier that every parent is afraid to cross. Luckily for us, Jean is embodied by Gillian Anderson, and she is absolutely delicious in this role.
The funniest thing about Anderson’s performance is that Jean just doesn’t know when to stop giving advice. You can see it on her face as if she’s contemplating leaving the conversation where it is. . . and then she says one more thing to mortify her son. Her heart is in the right place, and I believe Jean is a lot more vulnerable than she allows us to see. Jean wants to make sure that Otis does the right thing and has all the knowledge about sex before he leaves the nest in a few years.
If we had more people like Jean Milburn in the world, I believe we wouldn’t be as timid to talk about sex and our feelings. Does she have all the answers to everything? Absolutely not. Anderson infuses Jean with a sexy intelligence and warm, maternal glow that we could all learn from. Even if it’s embarrassing as hell.
Awards Daily: Jean is so confident. Where does that come from?
Gillian Anderson: That’s interesting. Since there’s not much to go on, and I had to gather that myself. It seems like you get a sense of that with the online video with the courgette. That’s pre-divorce and during the marriage, so we get a sense from that. We can all see she’s pretty confident. There is a moment where she is told that she never really believed in herself, and she’s got this look on her face like, ‘I don’t think that’s true.’ That doesn’t ring true for her.
AD: That must be really freeing to live in. I mean, Jean Milburn was a real person.
AD: She could teach us a lot about many different things, I suspect. Do you think she would approve of the advice that Otis is giving to his classmates?
GA: I think she absolutely would. She realizes that there’s a moral obligation that somebody has that does it for a living. For someone that is making money without the education or pulling it out of thin air, that could be dangerous. She’s concerned for that for him. But if she listened to the advice that he’s given, I think she’d be very proud of him.
AD: You have that line in the very beginning of the season where you remind him that therapy is not a career but a vocation.
AD: Jean and Jakob have a really wonderful chemistry, and you tell him towards the end of the first season, ‘Christ, you make me feel like a teenager.’
AD: She probably hasn’t felt that way in a very long time. Is that a point where she can feel closer to Otis or relate more to his age and what young people might be going through?
GA: I think so, but I also think that she is sometimes very self-absorbed and not entirely sure that she would step back enough to consider the similarities, you know what I mean?
GA: Or the struggle she might be having with how she can experience them at her age. I say that because we’ve seen plenty of opportunities where she could step back and she wouldn’t say what she ends up saying. She could be more discreet if she understood where he was coming from. That’d be nice…
GA: But I’m not sure if it would be able to work out that way in reality.
AD: In the finale, you kind of reassure him when you say, ‘You are part of me,’ and Otis responds with, ‘No, I’m not.’ Your face sort of falls there, and it’s really sad. I felt that maybe that would be a moment where Jean truly sees that she’s not relating to him as much as she thinks she is.
GA: And I think she tries or her intention is to. But I just don’t think she can help herself. You see in the second season where she’s biting her tongue, but then she makes her biggest, boldest mistakes that are just embarrassing. In such a big way. It’s almost in spite of herself whether she gets it right or she is able to handle something in an appropriate or discreet way. It takes a lot of energy for her to concentrate on that.
AD: Is she aware that the advice just spills out of her mouth whether people want her to give it?
GA: Yes. . .she just can’t help it. (Laughs.) She genuinely thinks she’s doing the right thing and that she’s helping. There’s a scene very early on in the second season where she—similar to the masturbating scene—has to talk to him about. . .things. You think she’s done. . .and there’s something else. . .you can’t believe he’s being subjected to all this. On the one hand, it’s very reasonable—it makes intellectual sense. But you can see it on Otis’s face where he’s thinking, ‘. . .do you have to say all of this out loud?’
AD: There are a lot of great moments where you can tell Otis thinks Jean is done and then you have. . .one more thing to say. . .
AD: I read that you were surprised by the audience reaction in terms of the audience not all being so young. What’s that feedback been like?
GA: I guess surprising because I assumed what the demographic was going to be. I was surprised that friends in my age bracket and above were telling me how much they love the show. It’s not like the kids are at home watching it, and then they sit on the couch with them. It’s people where their kids are out of the house. Or the kids are watching it in one room and the parents are in the other. It makes sense, especially in the second season, we explore more with the adult cast members. They have their own story lines, so it’s possible that the writers, too, saw the trends and are wise to that. It’s really appealing to know there’s such a wide range in terms of audience.
AD: I have been seeing some people in that age bracket who have been talking up the show throughout the year since it dropped in early January. They keep saying, ‘You have to watch this show!’
GA: That’s so great.
AD: You are going to be on the fourth season of The Crown. The third season just debuted here, and people are loving it. You are playing Margaret Thatcher—someone who is so quite opposite of Jean Milburn.
AD: You are so articulate and thoughtful in your performances. What appealed to you to want to tackle such an infamous historical figure?
GA: I guess. . .that? (Laughs.)
AD: Of course.
GA: Before I said yes and before I started researching her, I knew there was something familiar and I didn’t know what it was. I am not sure if I could put me finger on it. My partner, who writes the series, would say that there are as many similarities as there are differences which I’m not sure. . .you can take that with a grain of salt. (Laughs.) I feel like I understood something. No matter your feelings about her—and there is a lot of hate—she had quite the negative impact on them and their livelihood. She was really reviled by some. She was unique, and I’m not sure if we’ve seen someone like her since. Certainly not a woman. That fascinated me to get into what that was about her. At the end of the day, the version of her that we see needs to be siphoned through The Crown. It’s different than a documentary or a biopic, so it’s snippets of how particularly relevant she is to the queen and at the crown. That’s something within itself. At end of the day, I need to step back and allow the version of her as it needs to be for the sake of this particular show. I certainly have enjoyed getting into her shoes.
AD: And I’m sure we will look at Margaret Thatcher in a new way, because we are in a different political climate. The Iron Lady came out almost 10 years ago, so it’s important to keep coming back to people like her, especially if they cause such a negative reaction.
GA: Yes. That’s a good point.
AD: You shared
— Gillian Anderson (@GillianA)
“>some pictures on Halloween of some really fun chocolates. Would Jean give those out to more. . . adult trick-or-treaters? Or would she just pass out condoms and tell everyone to be safe and come back if they have any questions?
— Gillian Anderson (@GillianA)October 31, 2019
GA: That’s so funny. (Laughs.) She would definitely give those away to people.
Season 1 of Sex Education is streaming now. Season 2 will debut in January of 2020.