Julia Roberts says she was so gleeful at the sight of Sean Penn arriving on the set of their television series Gaslit , she nearly caused a wardrobe malfunction. “He came in full hair, make-up and costume, and I was so excited I ran to hug him and I was running with such velocity that between my body pad and his body pad, I just kind of bounced off of him. I can’t believe that his head didn’t come off apart from his costume,” says Roberts. “We were laughing so hard.” Penn plays John Mitchell, attorney general when Richard Nixon was the United States president. Roberts is his wife, Martha Mitchell, known as “the mouth of the south”, a regular on talk shows who would eavesdrop on her husband’s phone conversations and tip off reporters with gossip about Washington’s elite. Her loose lips were viewed as such a problem that her husband ordered security to keep her in a hotel room for 24 hours after the Watergate hotel break-in that spawned a political scandal and led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Mitchell claimed they removed the phones and television, and that she was assaulted and injected with a tranquilliser to keep her from trying to leave. The ordeal was so traumatising it led to her eventual breakdown and the end of the couple’s marriage. Gaslit , available on Amazon Prime from April 24, isn’t just another retelling of the Watergate scandal; instead it focuses on lesser known stories from the era, like Martha Mitchell’s. The show is based on the first season of the podcast Slow Burn hosted by American journalist, radio host and author Leon Neyfakh. The Gilded Age is a showcase for the brilliance of Beaux Arts New York Roberts, who is also an executive producer, was interested in “the idea that we can dig into something that’s a part of American history and show people things that they didn’t know at all, or that they thought they knew but maybe they were wrong”. She feels protective of Mitchell’s legacy and hopes viewers see beyond the exterior of the big personality. “She had a stutter. She was dyslexic . She had a lot of anxiety talking in front of people, which you would never see when you watch any of the footage of her,” says Roberts. “She’s so witty and quick and sharp, and she doesn’t miss a beat. It’s impossible to believe that she was nervous in front of people, and yet she really was. “It really kind of crippled her, and I think it’s one of the things that led her to drink excessively before some of these performances – because they really were performances – that really wasn’t her personality deep down inside.” Gaslit also gives a literal voice to Maureen “Mo” Dean, the wife of White House counsel John Dean. Our show takes creative licence, and it’s not, you know, an exact transcript of what happened Betty Gilpin Maureen Dean, a striking woman with blond hair, was a regular on camera during the Watergate hearings, seated stoically and silently behind her husband as he testified. Betty Gilpin portrays Maureen Dean in Gaslit (with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as John) and says she was surprised by her research of the series. “My dad was a huge Watergate-head and was obsessed with the hearings and would always tell me about how everyone was glued to the television. I was prepared to watch this thrilling series that I couldn’t take my eyes away from.” Instead, she found, “it’s the driest, most boring [thing] and just drones on”. That realisation gave Gilpin a window into her character and the public’s fascination with this young woman in the background on their television. “I feel like the cameraman was like, ‘Look at this beautiful blonde. I’m going to frame her in because we got to keep the viewers.’” The Maureen Dean we see in Gaslit is much more than just a woman standing by her man, but an informed person with strong opinions on the administration who won’t hesitate to check her husband’s ego when necessary. “Our show takes creative licence, and it’s not, you know, an exact transcript of what happened,” says Gilpin, who also read the 1975 memoir Mo: A Woman’s View of Watergate to prepare. “I wanted to honour the real Mo Dean, while also taking my own licence and creating a three-dimensional person,” she says.