Nominated actresses and actors reveal what happened during their auditions, how they conquered their biggest challenges and what inspired them.

From left: Anya Taylor-Joy in 'The Queen's Gambit,' Cate Blanchett in 'Mrs. America' and John Boyega in 'Small Axe' (Everett (3)

Gillian Anderson, ‘The Crown’

Gillian Anderson The Crown

Gillian Anderson portrays former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Netflix’s royal drama The Crown. When series creator Pete Morgan asked Anderson “out of the blue” if he would want to play Thatcher, she didn’t have to think long. “Under usual circumstances, with anything in life, you kind of scan your sense of intuition, and I thought, ‘Actually, that makes sense to me. I don’t know a huge amount about her, but I feel like I get her on a level and it would be fun — a huge stretch but fun.'”

Asked how she was able to “get her,” Anderson explains: “I’m not sure if I can necessarily put it into words, it’s just that I felt like I could do her — I felt like I understood where we met and that it wouldn’t be too difficult of a stretch. There’ve been times when I have said yes to roles where I’ve thought, ‘Mmm, OK, I’m not entirely sure I should have been cast,’ but I’ve said yes because I want to be in this film or whatever and it’s proven that I probably shouldn’t have. (Laughs.) With me, I just get it or I don’t; I don’t often have to be convinced too hard — and if I do need to be convinced, it’s because it’s not necessarily for me.”

Anderson had to transform into the real-life Thatcher both mentally and physically. “I almost feel like the physicality is the easy bit because that’s just technical. What was the most disconcerting was wanting to make sure that the voice was right because you can have the silhouette and the mannerisms, but if the voice isn’t there, the audience is going to go, ‘Ehhhh.’ And if the voice is there, it doesn’t matter whether you have the rest. I did an interview [recently], and they asked for me to read something as Thatcher but with my hair and whatever it was that I was wearing and [it’s like] she’s suddenly in the room,” she says.

She adds: “Pete had said early on that it was important that it wasn’t mimicry and that there was an element of me that was still in there and that I shouldn’t be afraid to allow an aspect of me to still exist. I think that somehow allowed me to relax into it a little bit. Sometimes if it’s forced, it can sound pretend or like it’s not in you — that it’s on top of you, that you’re putting it on.”

  • Cate Blanchett in Mrs America

    Cate Blanchett plays conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in FX’s Mrs. America, which depicts the politically charged fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

    Asked how she researched her real-life character, Blanchett says: “It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but for me, the character is strangely the last point of entry. I had heard of Phyllis Schlafly but didn’t really know the details of her life. Sarah [Paulson] and I were making Ocean’s 8 in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and a lot of this stuff came into play for me then. There was this little old woman who had been brought onto the campaign trail for Trump called Schlafly, and then he went to her funeral. And I thought, ‘Hang on a minute. This woman is a really strong political player for the GOP. I have no idea who she is.'”

    She says a metaphorical light bulb went off. “I sort of reverse-engineered it from there. I thought, ‘She’s so polarizing.’ There were people saying she’s either the Antichrist or the Mother Teresa of the Republican Party.”

    Blanchett says she makes not judgments about whom she portrays — real or otherwise. “There’s no point in judging your character — that’s for the audience to do. I read her authorized biography to try to get a balanced sense of the woman. Ironically, she’s a quintessential outsider. She was always trying to get inside the political system,” Blanchett adds.

  • John Boyega, ‘Small Axe’

    Small Axe star John Boyega as Leroy
    S. Goodwin/Amazon Studios

    John Boyega teamed with British acting school classmate for Steve McQueen’s potent collection of films about Black British life, the Small Axe anthology.

    Small Axe, which premiered in November on Amazon Prime and dropped a new film each week, takes its name from a Jamaican proverb popularized by Bob Marley: “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.” The five feature films, which tell stories of Black resistance, resilience and joy within a Britain that has been largely inhospitable to its Black immigrants, include Red, White and Blue, in which Boyega plays Leroy Logan, a real-life London police officer who integrated a hostile department in the 1980s, and Mangrove, a 1970s-set courtroom drama about activists fighting for the rights of a local Trinidadian restaurant owner, starring Wright as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a real leader in the British Black Panther movement. (All but one of the films, Lovers Rock, are based on true stories.)

    “The creative [side of acting] was like a family member that I had ignored for too long,” Boyega says, drawing a contrast with Small Axe and his blockbuster work in films like the Star Wars franchise. “For the first time in my acting career in a long time, I looked at my art that I really do love and I said, ‘I missed you and it’s good to be here and I’m happy doing this.’ ”