‘Liar’ Star Joanne Froggatt Says Rape ‘Shouldn’t be a Taboo Subject in Our Society’ (Exclusive)

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Joanne Froggatt
Photo: Getty Images

On Liar, Joanne Froggatt (of Downton Abbey fame) plays school teacher Laura Nielson, who accuses a handsome widowed doctor (Ioan Gruffudd) of drugging and raping her. The two go out for dinner, where they hit it off, before heading back to Laura’s apartment. Once inside, they flirt over a couple glasses of wine before Laura wakes up alone in bed the next morning, with the sick feeling that she’s been sexually assaulted.

The British miniseries airing on SundanceTV isn’t so much a show about rape, but rather, what happens when someone reports a rape. What unfolds over the six episodes (which will draw to a “satisfying conclusion,” Froggatt tells ET) is scrutiny of Laura’s past as well as the night of the incident, a decision to go public that polarizes friends and family as the show’s anti-heroine becomes more and more unstable. 

“I hadn’t seen a TV show tackle the subject matter of rape from that standpoint of really making the viewer ask themselves questions about why they are perceiving these people in a certain way,” Froggatt says of her interest in joining the series, her first major TV role to follow six seasons as Anna Bates on Downton Abbey and the PBS TV movie Dark Angel.

While the actress has portrayed a rape survivor on Downton, Froggatt says that Laura and Anna are extreme opposites, adding that “the choices and freedom Laura has is polar opposite than the choices and freedom that Anna had.”

In fact, some trepidation over playing another rape survivor is what helped convinced her to do The Missing creators Harry and Jack Williams’ new series. “That’s quite telling isn’t it?” Froggatt recalls. “I gave myself a talking to: Why should I not be a part of this show purely because I've played a character that's been raped. That's part of the problem isn't it? That this feels like such a taboo subject still. It shouldn't be such a taboo subject. We should be talking about it and educating our society and our young people what constitutes consent and how to respect others and yourself. So I thought that's a reason not to do this job.”

Unfortunately, the show seemingly reflects society all-too-closely, as more and more women come out with allegations of sexual misconduct against studio mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose initial response to a New York Times expose was to threaten to sue the outlet while apologizing for inappropriate behavior that he blamed on coming to age in the ‘60s and ‘70s when “the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” 

Joanne Froggatt
Photo: PBS / Getty Images / Sundance TV / Getty Images

Liar also follows the success of Emmy-winning series, The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies, which both deal with stories about sexual assault. “Unfortunately it happens so much in reality. What all those stories are doing is reflecting something the writers see in society,” Froggatt says.

As for the character of Laura, she joins a growing number of anti-heroines -- from Elisabeth Moss’ Robin Griffin on Top of the Lake: China Girl to Kyra Sedgwick’s Jane Sadler on Ten Days in the Valley -- seen on TV, marking a notable shift in storytelling dominated by the likes of Walter White and Don Draper. “I’m loving all these strong female-led shows and all these brilliant roles for women,” Froggatt says. “As human beings, we’re not straight forward. We’re all complex beings and it’s really nice to see work reflect that.”

For her, in particular, she feels “very fortunate” to be working today “because those roles are becoming more and more available,” Froggatt says. “There are more and more of those roles being written -- 50 years ago it wasn't the case; 30 years ago it just wasn't the case.”

And when it comes to Liar, which Froggatt says “absolutely comes to a conclusion,” she’s up for continuing Laura’s story -- at least for a few more episodes. “Because of that conclusion there are questions to be answered -- you know, there is another twist to come from that. So, I think there could be scope to do one more season, which I would love to do,” Froggatt says of a second season, which was confirmed in the U.K. by ITV. (No official announcement has been made in the U.S.) “But I don’t think it would be any more than that.”

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