Julianne Moore opens up about the pressure and freedom of playing a real-life villain in her scandalous new historical drama

 Mary & George.
Mary & George.

Just months after May December hit our screens, Julianne Moore is back playing another unconventional mother. But this time, she's tackling historical drama as 1600s momager Mary Villers.

The real-life historical figure is the subject of a new Sky series, Mary & George, which follows Jacobean Countess Mary Villers, known for coercing her son into having a sexual relationship with King James VI of Scotland and I of England for financial gain and power.

It is easy to paint Mary as a villain due to her inappropriate parenting techniques and the exploitation of her son. But despite her complexities, Moore approached the character with empathy and brought a human aspect to Mary. Moore tells GamesRadar+, "She was someone who did struggle against what the expectations were for her."

"I think she's someone who has, at this point in her life, has got these young adult children that she has to place, she has to care for. And I think as a parent, we all have concerns about how our children will do and how we'll educate them."

Born into humble beginnings, the real Mary understood her disadvantage as a woman in the Jacobean times and did everything in her power to be independent for herself and her children. Often regarded as the smartest person in the room, Mary married her way up the ranks, bribed politicians, and colluded with criminals in order for her and George to become influential players in the English court and the King’s most trusted advisors.

Moore continues by mentioning how Mary’s decision to put George under the King’s nose came from a place of desperation to secure safety for her family in the long run: "After her husband dies, she realizes she doesn't have any money, the next man she marries first thing she says is, ‘You have to send my son to France, that's part of this arrangement like you need to educate my children.’ So she's at a point in her life where she needs to think not just of caring for her children physically, but caring for them in terms of their education and their marriage and their future."

Although the series is based on the fictional novel 'The King's Assassin' by Benjamin Woolley, Mary Villers was very much real. However, since she died so long ago, the Still Alice star had more room to explore the character without the confines that come with portraying a known figure.

Moore explains: "I think when you are up against an actual memory or real person, it's much more difficult as an actor because you have a responsibility to be as exact as possible because people won't believe you unless you match the cadence of the person's movements, that physicality. When there is no memory, you have a lot of freedom."

Mary & George is available to watch now on Sky Atlantic and is streaming on NOW in the UK, and will hit Starz on April 5 in the US. For more, check out our rankings of the best TV shows of all time, or keep up to date with upcoming TV shows heading your way this year.