The Sun – Having won a Golden Globe last year for her plummy-voiced portrayal of the Queen in Netflix TV series The Crown, the 33-year-old British actress appears to be the princess of Tinseltown.
But she is far from royalty.
She was born in Stockport, Greater Manchester, raised by her single mum, worked on the checkout in Tesco for five years and described herself as “a massive commoner”.
Claire’s childhood was marred by illnesses, one of which — a tumour in her eye at the age of 17 — could have shattered her dreams of becoming an actress.
Instead it made her more determined to succeed.
She said: “It was horrible and debilitating, but it made me realise that I needed to grab the life I wanted.
“If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to throw my cards on the table and say I wanted to study drama.”
Fortunately the tumour was benign and could be treated without invasive and potentially disfiguring surgery.
She said: “I’m quite lucky to have a face. I was a bit like Cyclops and it was all a bit scary.
“I was on steroids for about a year and a half afterwards that makes you put on a lot of weight and have really bad skin.”
Claire grew up in a huge Irish extended family — her maternal grandparents, who came from Dublin and County Kildare, had 22 siblings between them.
Her mum, Caroline, was an office worker, and her dad, David, was a salesman for photocopier giant Rank Xerox.
Claire had an older brother and an older sister, and her parents found paying the bills was already difficult.
But when she was eight they divorced, and her mum became a single working parent.
Claire said: “I don’t know how she did it.
“She took a job that meant she could be there for us when we got back from school. She is an extraordinary mum.
“There is not anything that she has not given us.”
But with money tight, Claire found work in a pub in her teens and said: “I was always very, very aware of money and not having any.
“I always knew there was no money coming from anywhere else, so it was a case of ‘Well, I’ve just got to get out there and make it myself.’”
Pulling pints was just the first of a long line of menial jobs she took in her youth.
She said: “I did telesales, I gave out magazines at Tube stations, I worked at Wimbledon as a security officer. I was a piano teacher for a while, I worked in sales.
“And for a long time I worked at Tesco, which was actually a dream job because I’d always wanted to work on a till.
“Seriously, when I was younger I used to look at tills in the Argos catalogue, I was so obsessed with them.
“So when I started working at Tesco, I was thinking, ‘OK, here we go. Ping! Ping!’ I loved it.”
But Claire’s ultimate job was always going to be as a performer.
Her first ambition was to be a ballet dancer, but soon after the family moved to Longwick in Buckinghamshire, that idea was crushed.
At the age of 13, the previously sporty girl developed juvenile arthritis which left her temporarily crippled and in agony and set her apart from the rest of her schoolgirl pals.
She said: “I was on crutches while the other girls were running around. My knees were swollen while theirs were being shown off in miniskirts.”
The experience gave her confidence a knock.
It was only after the eye tumour at 17 that she applied to study drama at Liverpool John Moores University, and later at the Oxford School of Drama, but it did not automatically transform her into a confident actress.
She said: “I was never the prettiest or the most talented girl. It was always an uphill struggle. I’ve loved drama, but somehow I just thought everyone else was better than me.”
Like most actors, it took her a long time to make her breakthrough, but it came in 2008 when she landed a small part in the pilot of BBC Three drama Being Human, which then saw her get the title role as Amy in BBC1 period drama Little Dorrit, later that year.
After that, the parts steadily rolled in, from the 2010 revival of Upstairs Downstairs, to The Promise in 2011 and Wolf Hall in 2015.
Some of the roles required her to do sex scenes — which Claire hated.
She said: “If I never had to do a sex scene again, that would be the best thing in the world, because no one in their right mind would enjoy that.”
“You’re worried about what the crew are thinking, whether they’re really uncomfortable, whether you’re uncomfortable. You’re just thinking, ‘God, let this be over!’”
While making her first film, 2011 fantasy Season of the Witch, Claire fell in love with co-star Stephen Campbell Moore, and they married in 2014.
The following year she gave birth to their daughter and landed the role of the young Queen Elizabeth in The Crown.
Then at the end of 2016, when the first series aired, Stephen was diagnosed with a benign tumour on his pituitary gland at the base of the brain, which controls metabolism.
The 38-year-old actor said: “You realise you’re not the most important person in that process, and everybody who loves you goes through far worse.
“My daughter didn’t know what was going on at all. But my family did, and I could see it in them.”
The couple, who live in North London, had to prepare for the worst when Stephen had to have more surgery last summer.
He said: “There are certain things that you make sure you’ve done before you go into surgery.
“You write a letter. But it’s all very much on the offchance that something did go wrong, because every part of you is saying that nothing will.
“Waking up and being told the operation had gone well was understandably a huge relief.”
Though Stephen now seems to be on the mend, the fear of losing her husband could not have come at a worse time for Claire.
She could cope with being pregnant while filming the first series of The Crown, but last year she had to make the second series amid the stress of not knowing whether she would soon be a widow.
Now Claire, who has never discussed her husband’s illness, has started a whole new chapter.
After her Golden Globe for The Crown, she has now left the series, with the older Queen Elizabeth being played by Olivia Colman.
Claire Foy is a part of the December issue of Vogue USA, which celebrates the 125 years of Vogue, and she talked about her carreer, about her life and about the second season of ‘The Crown’. She was also photographed for the issue and you can check everything related to this below:
What happens to an actress once she has played the queen? Does some magisterial DNA rub off on her? Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench have all been appointed dames. Only Cate Blanchett, who so magnificently illuminated Elizabeth II’s namesake, Elizabeth I, is yet to receive a title. But since she’s an Aussie and thus, technically, a subject of Her Majesty, there’s still a chance. Besides, Blanchett exudes innate queenliness.
“The role can give you quite a lot back if you let it,” says Peter Morgan, who should know, since he wrote not only The Crown (for TV) and The Audience (for the stage) but also The Queen, the 2006 movie that arguably restored the monarchy’s popularity following Princess Diana’s death. “When Helen was a guest of the Obamas at the White House Correspondents’ dinner,” says Morgan, “everyone else was being mercilessly teased, but the entire room stood up and cheered her. I’m not sure Helen didn’t grow two inches.”
The glow of imminent stardom flickers like Saturn’s rings around Claire Foy, who will be back as Elizabeth Regina in season two of The Crown this month. Directors from Steven Soderbergh and La La Land’s Damien Chazelle to Evil Dead’s Fede Alvarez have lined up to work with the prolific but previously little-known 33-year-old British actress. Far from being in character when we meet for chamomile tea at the chic London members’ club Quo Vadis, she is wearing tortoiseshell glasses, her blondish hair scraped back with visible roots—the remnants of her role in her recent movie Breathe, opposite Andrew Garfield— and a denim jumpsuit from Citizens of Humanity. (There’s no such thing as a bad jumpsuit day in Foy’s book; at the Emmys in September, she arrived in a silver-trimmed black version by Oscar de la Renta.) By the time you read this, she and her jumpsuits will have decamped to Atlanta to film Chazelle’s First Man, which traces America’s determination to get its man on the moon before the Soviets. Foy plays Neil Armstrong’s wife, Janet, opposite Ryan Gosling.
“She’s incredibly resilient and very physically fit,” says Foy, a knotty contrast not just with the body language required for the queen but also, she says, with herself. Janet would happily have gone to the moon, while Foy feels nervous on a crowded Tube. Then there’s Janet’s voice. The dialogue coach, she says, “keeps saying, ‘Stop! You’re doing the queen with a different accent.’”
Foy is used to range. She has played two queens (Anne Boleyn, on the TV version of Wolf Hall, and Elizabeth), an angelic Dickensian heroine (barely out of drama school she was cast as Little Dorrit in a fourteen-part BBC adaptation of the Dickens blockbuster), and Lady Macbeth (onstage, opposite James McAvoy). With each, she excavated layers that academics have sometimes overlooked. “She’s a lot of fun in person and has a kinetic energy,” says Chazelle, “but when you really talk, you realize how much else is going on. When we first discussed the part, she came with this idea of an interview with Janet she’d found. There was nothing in the script about it—it was astounding she’d unearthed it. I wound up putting some of it into the movie.”
With the weight of so much praise comes a burden of expectation, and Foy seems hell-bent on staying grounded. She likes to tell entertaining stories at her own expense. Today it’s about how she’s been struggling to juggle the care of her two-year-old daughter with her mother and her husband, the actor Stephen Campbell Moore, who starred in The History Boys. How she’s a homebody who likes to bake cakes and, having weaned herself off “terrible reality TV,” watches documentaries, particularly those by Louis Theroux. Foy and Moore recently bought a house in Wood Green, an “up-and-coming” corner of North London, and she spends her weekends puttering around the neighborhood shopping for rugs and cushions. “I love putting everything together,” she says, “but nothing makes sense.” She talks about how no one ever recognizes her. How her first forays onto the red carpet “were like roadkill. If it hadn’t been for Felicity Jones, who knew exactly what to do, I wouldn’t have even known you’re meant to twirl.”
But in the golden rays of a fall afternoon, it’s her pellucid blue-gray eyes, the delicate, below-the-surface incandescence—which Tina Brown, writing in The New York Times, described as “luminously ordinary”—that draw you in. For most of our conversation she leans toward me across our little table, back curved: the Conspiratorial Girlfriend Hunch. She can communicate beauty, comedy, or pathos seemingly by tilting her head, depending on whether sexual sorcery or prim, plain-as-milk sourness is required.
One Friday, a few weeks after our tea, I catch up with Foy over breakfast at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, where she is about to take part in a Q & A as part of a whirlwind promotional tour for Breathe. Tonight she will catch a plane to Zurich. On Monday she hits New York. Meanwhile, the Internet has been ablaze with speculation as to what she will bring to her newly announced role in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. If Janet Armstrong is a swerve away from Foy’s previous roles, taking on the raw, anarchic, borderline anorexic Lisbeth Salander in Fede Alvarez’s reboot of the Stieg Larsson franchise is the giant leap actresses dream of. For Alvarez, it was never a stretch. “From her first scene of The Crown, I fell in love with the way she was able to tell an emotional story,” he says. There’s already a cybersphere mock-up of Foy in Salander’s goth makeup and tattoos.
Her take on Larsson’s divisive thrillers, which she devoured, along with the movies, when they first came out, is characteristically nuanced. She doesn’t find the violence misogynistic. “I think the books show how this girl was taken advantage of by the system and by men and had chosen her sexuality,” she says. “Mind you, it’s weird when something’s written by a man. Are you just playing a woman through a man’s eyes? Then again, it’s my job as an actress to bring that missing link.”
Foy is efficiently working her way through a croissant with jam and butter. “The sugar-free thing isn’t going too well today, as you can see,” she deadpans—five minutes earlier she’d been telling me that her greatest luxury, apart from the Bechstein piano she bought post–The Crown, is stocking up on healthy food. Not many actors would be able to segue seamlessly between French baking, blonde highlights (“Being blonde changed my life. I loved it. When you’re brunette, people don’t hold the door open for you—but the upkeep!”), and devastating insights into three different characters. Four if you count Steven Soderbergh, with whom she recently worked on Unsane, a film shot in New York on an iPhone over ten days, and whom she (semi-) jokingly refers to as “a man of mystery.” Unsane was the ultimate antidote to The Crown. “There was no time to stress or overthink anything, no extraordinary lighting and cameras. Steven likes to explode reputation, and that’s completely what I needed.”
It’s probably safe to assume that professionally, Foy will not look back when she leaves The Crown after the two seasons to make way for an older actor and a more recent timeline. “Generally, there’s less pomp in the second season,” she says. “Matt”—Smith, who plays Prince Philip—“and I were always saying, ‘Can we have more domestic scenes?’ because you really, really want to see them as human beings. What’s so interesting is what slippers they wear, and those sorts of things.” As the mother of a newborn, then a baby she nursed on set during filming, Foy found the royal couple’s prolonged absences from their children hard to wrap her head around. During a Commonwealth tour in 1953–54, for example, the queen and Prince Philip left five-year-old Charles and three-year-old Anne at home for five months.
Foy’s own family—sprawling, Irish, and raucous on her mother’s side; unknowable on the other, since her father was adopted—is a tight nexus. The youngest of three siblings, she was eight when her father, a salesman for Rank Xerox, and her mother, an administrator in pharmaceuticals, divorced. Initially, despite the alacrity with which Foy performed at home for anyone who’d watch— acting, dancing, and playing piano, despite not being able to read music—she didn’t even consider a career as an actor, deterred, she says, by the prospect of “singing songs and having to pretend to be animals.” She turned to it only when her application to study broadcast journalism was rejected.
In her youth, Foy suffered from a congenital form of arthritis, which meant she couldn’t do much sport, and spent a lot of time watching old movies on TV. She’s still careful to get rest (“I’m like a child; I like to be in bed at nine”) and insists that after Spider’s Web, “that’s it. I’m categorically taking time off.” Then, at seventeen, she developed a (benign) tumor in her eye that required steroids. “It was definitely disfiguring,” she says. “Before, I had a relatively symmetrical face, and now my right eye is a completely different shape.” The sunny interpretation is that the tumor’s aftereffects somehow caused what Alvarez describes as “her ability to express a sea of repressed emotion with only her eyes.” “Maybe the muscles had to learn to work in a different way,” muses Foy. “What it taught me is that it’s human nature to get ill.”
Which means that, like the queen, for whom she has acquired enormous respect, she is stoic. Foy has met Her Majesty only once, briefly, at a Buckingham Palace celebration of Charles Dickens’s birth in 2012. They shook hands—Foy remembers the queen’s were gloved. “My overwhelming feeling was, God, it’s 10:30. She’s in her 80s, and she’s still up. How incredibly hard she works! What really breaks my heart,” she continues, switching back to the show, “is her relationship with her sister. Margaret’s so effervescent and aliv… I think the queen would love her freedom. But she wouldn’t do what Margaret does—which is the point.”
Foy, meanwhile, relishes not just freedom but risk-taking, which is why she’s ready to say goodbye to the queen. “I’ll probably cry when it’s finally over,” she says. “But what’s the point of doing all this if you’re going to play it safe?”
Vanity Fair – The Crown has cast Olivia Colman as its new queen. The actress, seen most recently in the U.S. in AMC’s The Night Manager and Amazon’s Fleabag, will step into the role of Elizabeth II for the series’ third and fourth seasons, replacing Claire Foy as the action of the show moves closer toward the present day. Creator Peter Morgan has said he always planned to replace the cast in later seasons in order to accurately portray the show’s characters as they age. And Foy, for her part, is “thrilled” to pass the crown to Colman.
“I’ve known for a long time. I found out many, many months ago, and I was just like, yes, just do it! Whatever happens, don’t let her get away. Make her do it,” Foy told Vanity Fair at the B.A.F.T.A.’s Britannia Awards in Beverly Hills Friday evening, where she was honored with the British Artist of the Year award. “It was to the point where I actually spoke to her on the phone and told her, you have to do it. You have to do it! She’s the most extraordinary actress and person in every single way. I love her, so I’m thrilled. I have always loved her. I can’t wait to see her in it.”
Foy, who has won a Golden Globe award and a Screen Actors Guild award for her compelling performance as Queen Elizabeth, has one piece of advice for Colman—not to compare herself to the other actresses who previously portrayed the Queen.
“There’s no shortcut in playing the Queen. It’s for her to discover, and she’ll probably find out lots of things that I never found out,” said Foy. “She’ll play the Queen at a very different time to me. It’s a rolling thing, and it’s ever-changing and ever-revolving. That’s the secret in portraying the Queen—no one owns it. It’s everyone’s interpretation, and that’s also the beauty of it. I think the most important thing for her is to just do it, and not think about anyone else who has ever done it before. It’s a challenging role, but she knows what she’s doing. She’ll completely reinvent it and make it her own.”
The second season debuts December 8 on Netflix, and it’s been several months since Foy has wrapped production. Now that her successor has been announced, her time on The Crown is officially coming to an end. What she’ll miss about playing Queen Elizabeth is not the beautiful costumes or the grand sets, she says, but her costars.
“People have said it before, but it’s the truth. We really became a family, and I will miss them the most. Meeting John [Lithgow], meeting Matt [Smith], Vanessa Kirby, Victoria Hamilton, Peter Morgan—they are these people who I got so close with and had such a bond,” said Foy, who will next appear as Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming film adaptation of The Girl in the Spider’s Web. “We shared such an experience. So that’s what I’m going to miss, the people. I’ll miss them so much!”
During the Britannia Awards ceremony, Foy reunited with Lithgow, who earned an Emmy last September for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. While presenting Foy with her award, he gushed to the audience that “acting with Claire was one of the greatest joys of my life in my 50-year career.” He also shared that he was in awe of his costar’s professionalism and her strong work ethic.
“Though she was unquestionably the star of this vast project, I never once saw her assert the slightest whiff of privilege or entitlement. She cheerfully slogged through the mud to the makeup trailer from her cramped Honey Wagon dressing room, identical to everyone else,” said Lithgow. “I never heard her mutter a single complaint or even saw her frown at any of the daunting conditions that we frequently worked under. And this was the young mother of Ivy Rose, a beautiful 1-year-old baby girl. Claire’s kind nature prevailed over the cast and crew of 100 people. Off-camera, she never let more than 40 seconds pass without that cheery, bell-like laugh breaking forth. In fact, the only problem that Claire and I faced in playing the many two-handed scenes between Elizabeth and Winston Churchill was cracking each other up.”
Besides missing her costars, the one regret Foy has from her time on The Crown was not being able to take home any props from the set. “I wanted so many things, but we weren’t allowed,” she said. “They need it all for the next couple of seasons. A crown would have been fantastic!”
Vogue – It is an appropriately serene afternoon in Regent’s Park: hazy golden summer light, long shadows and the smell of cut grass. We walk, Claire Foy and I, from a long, chatty lunch in Primrose Hill towards the West End, where she is due to drop off a signed contract with her agent. The brown envelope in the small hemp carrier bag she is swinging commits her to an upcoming project: Damien (La La Land) Chazelle’s First Man perhaps, playing the wife of Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong, or Fede Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web – the fourth in the Millennium series – in which she will play Lisbeth Salander.
“If this had happened to me when I was 23, I think I would probably have spun into a vortex”
One thing is absolutely certain. This brown envelope does not contain a contract committing her to a third season of The Crown, Netflix’s £100 million drama series written by Peter Morgan, in which she gave a masterfully poised Golden Globe-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth II. Foy’s commitment was to only two series – the second of which is released next month. By the end of this forthcoming season, which spans the years between 1956 and 1963, the monarch will be approaching middle age and Foy will therefore, in the interests of authenticity, be replaced by an (as yet unnamed) older actress. “To say that Claire is going to be a hard act to follow is an understatement,” says Morgan. “Everything – everything – pivoted on her performance, which was faultless, by the way. Without someone as technically brilliant and as hardworking as Claire at its centre, a show like The Crown would have completely disintegrated.”
Disintegrate it didn’t. If the naysayers needed proof that long-format television series were capable of filling a hole which a quick-fix society has left in our souls, The Crown was it. Clever writing, sumptuous production values and truthful performances gave it a core strength and solidity not unlike the 65-year reign of the woman whose life it follows – whether you support her or wish to depose her – and that has also threaded through the tapestry of our lives.
On paper, there is nothing to link the two women – one a jobbing actress from Buckinghamshire, the other a jobbing monarch from the mid-20th century – and yet… There is an essence, a certain poise, which chimes. It’s there in the face, in the pretty plainness that simultaneously distinguishes and disappears, and it’s behind it in the sense of a spirit, a silent strength which speaks – from somewhere beyond that blue-eyed gaze – of a certain knowing.
Bubbling and chatting and sharing jokes, as a lunch companion Foy, in dressed-down, fresh-faced mode wearing a blue denim Citizens of Humanity boiler suit, silver Converse All Star hi-tops and with her hair loosely braided back from her face, behaves like an old friend. But behind the jokes – the stories of her two-year-old daughter, Ivy, thinking that every stately home or town hall they ever pass is “Mummy’s work”, and her entire extended family trying to use her as a means to get to Matt Smith (her co-star in The Crown) and “basically lick his face” – there is a secret self that is harder to reach. This self is the one whose parents divorced when she was eight, whose single mother then struggled to make ends meet, whose early teenage years (more on which later) were marred by a battle with juvenile arthritis, and whose later teenage years were shattered by the discovery – and subsequent treatment with steroids – of a benign tumour growing behind one eye. Little wonder that, when asked if she had anything in common with the Queen, whose elusive combination of delicacy and steeliness she portrays so flawlessly, Foy was reported to reply, “I guess we can both be tough old birds.”
Making The Crown has required Foy to draw on all her deepest reserves of resilience. Famously hardworking – professional and uncomplaining to the umpteenth degree – she started filming the first series a mere four months after giving birth to her daughter. “On the first day of filming, I found myself halfway up a Scottish mountain, with engorged boobs and no way of getting down to feed my baby,” she remembers. “I had to ring my husband [the actor Stephen Campbell Moore, whom she met on the set of Season of the Witch] and tell him to give her formula. It was like someone had stamped on my heart and, as I sat in a Land Rover trying to get a broken breast pump to work, I felt I’d made the worst mistake of my life.” In retrospect, Foy – who had a very traumatic birth involving haemorrhages and blood transfusions – thinks her hormonal exhaustion might have served her well. “Because I was so tired, I just played each moment as each moment,” she explains. “I didn’t over-think it, and I genuinely didn’t have the energy to invent any emotions that weren’t there. It was just one steady bulldozer of emotion pushing me all the way through.”
For season two – in which we see the Queen entering middle age, with all the accompanying crises (particularly within her marriage) that that might entail, and her sister Margaret embarking on an explosive relationship with society photographer Tony Armstrong Jones (Matthew Goode) – Foy had a different kind of hardship to contend with. As well as the pressure of the success of the show, and always being “mindful of complacency”, she had to juggle the demands of her work – a rigorous, sometimes six-day-a-week shooting schedule sustained over nine months – with the needs of her family. Ever the company player, Foy – who, for the most part, had Ivy with her on location (“she’s basically in love with Matt [Smith]”) – took it upon herself to speak up for everyone when, on occasion, the demands of the production became too much. “Because I was number one on the call sheet, I was in a position to stand up for my department and say, ‘I don’t think you can work people on a Sunday. And no, I’m not being antsy and I’m not being tricky. I just think it’s out of order and we all need a day at home with our families.’’’
While on the one hand the success of The Crown spurred cast and crew on – “Everyone upped their game,” says Morgan – on the other, it played against them. For Foy and Smith, in particular, days off from filming were spent promoting the first series around the world. “Eleven-hour flight there, blah, blah, blah about the show, 11-hour flight back and straight back on set saying, ‘Oh, that was glamorous.’ Not! And now I’ve got an eye infection…” By the time filming finished in May, Foy was a physical and emotional wreck. As the director called “Cut!” on the final scene – an exchange between her and Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret) – disco lights started flashing and a spontaneous party was held on set. “And I didn’t cry or laugh or feel anything particularly. All I could think was, ‘I need to go home now.’’’
To say that The Crown has been life-changing for Foy is an understatement. Little more than a year ago she was relatively unknown, aside from her complex portrayal of Anne Boleyn in the BBC’s Wolf Hall. Now she is a Vogue cover girl (“Who would have thought it? Claire Foy on the cover of Vogue!” she laughs), the star of a show that has been watched by tens of millions around the globe. “I know, it’s completely mental, isn’t it?” she says. “I can’t really get my head around the fact that people like Elton John and Helen Mirren actually know who I am because of my acting.”
An unlikely pairing, Elton John and Helen Mirren, and one that makes Foy laugh – as she does frequently and uproariously throughout our interview. But that’s just the madness of it. One minute she was a quietly jobbing actress, the next she was getting letters of admiration from Mirren – “incredible stuff that she really didn’t need to say” – and accepting Golden Globes in a shimmering pale pink sequined Erdem gown. “Genuinely the weirdest experience of my life,” Foy remembers. “There I was, standing in a sandwich between Stevie Wonder and John Travolta, having a completely out-of-body experience.” For a moment, at the after-party, Foy started to feel utterly overwhelmed. “All I kept thinking was, ‘Um, I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know what to do with this thing that’s happening to me.’ But then I had an espresso martini and WhatsApped my family and friends with all the gossip, and then I felt fine.”
If there’s a certain guilt that comes with Foy’s new-found fame – “I really cannot see why this has happened to me and not to someone else” – there is also a healthy cynicism: “I’m under no illusions as to how fickle success can be. I’ve been on the outside of it enough to see it come and then see it go. If this had happened to me when I was 23, I think I would probably have spun into a vortex but I genuinely have enjoyed the past year for what it is. It’s great that people like the show. Really amazing. But I have never, at any point, thought, ‘Yes. This is where I should be,’ because, dear me, if you do think that then you’re going to have some serious problems further down the line.”
The world that Foy grew up in was a world away from the one she now inhabits – “I didn’t even know these people existed. I’d never met an actor.” The youngest of three, she was born in Stockport but moved to Buckinghamshire when her father, a salesman for Rank Xerox, got a job there. Foy endlessly forced her older brother and sister to stage plays in which she usually cast herself as the star. Aged 11, she joined her siblings at the local grammar school, where she gravitated more towards sport than drama. But at 13 she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and taken off games indefinitely. “I didn’t really register that I was ill,” Foy recalls. “I was simply annoyed that I had to be on crutches while the other girls were running around, and that my knees were swollen while theirs were being shown off in miniskirts.”
If it was at this point that Foy’s interest turned towards drama, her ambition crystallised five years later when she was struck down by another auto-immune condition, this time the tumour behind her eye. “It was horrible and debilitating, but it made me realise that I needed to grab the life I wanted,” she says, matter-of-factly. “If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to throw my cards on the table and say I wanted to study drama.”
After gaining a degree in drama and screen studies at John Moores University in Liverpool, Foy studied acting at the Oxford School of Drama. Success was by no means a given and Foy worked hard – “for a film catering company, in a hat-making factory, you name it” – to support herself between bit-part acting jobs. Her big break came in 2008 when she was chosen to star in Little Dorrit, a BBC adaptation of the Dickens novel. “What stood out was her fragility and her extraordinary eyes,” remembers director Dearbhla Walsh. “Big saucer eyes that were like a window into her soul.”
By the time Foy went to audition for The Crown some seven years later, she had built up an impressive CV made up of mainly television roles – Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise, Upstairs Downstairs, White Heat and Wolf Hall – and was six months pregnant with her first child. “I’m sure that’s why I got the part,” Foy remembers. “Because by that point in my pregnancy, I was so distracted.” Peter Morgan remembers it differently: “She was electric, even in composure and silence.”
Several months before our interview, Foy filmed a banquet scene at Wilton House near Salisbury, set during John F Kennedy’s presidential visit to England in 1961. In it, she and 60 other actors, including Matt Smith, Michael C Hall (JFK) and Jodi Balfour (Jackie Kennedy) are in their full finery, but it is Foy who stands out – not for anything she says or does, but for all the things she doesn’t say or do. As she walks through a majestic backdrop, head high, saying nothing, it is, above all, her stillness that resonates. “Claire has a very powerful ability to do very little and speak volumes,” says director Stephen Daldry. “It’s an incredibly powerful combination which serves the role perfectly. On the one hand we, the audience, feel that we know her Queen, but on the other hand we don’t feel that we know her at all. When in doubt, I just put the camera on Claire. Even in silence, she can say a million things.”
When Foy acts, she does so with her gut. “She instinctively knew things about my mother that even I, the person who arguably knows her best in the world, didn’t know,” says Jonathan Cavendish, the producer of Breathe, the tear-jerking true story of his father’s refusal to be cowed by a paralysing bout of polio and his mother’s unbreakable love for him, in which Foy stars opposite Andrew Garfield. “Claire didn’t mimic my mum. She felt her way into her. It was extraordinary to watch.”
Despite her self-deprecating insistence that “it could all be over in five years”, Claire Foy is indisputably here to stay. Yet she puts her chameleon powers to good use, as a means of disappearing into normality. She lives a grounded, consciously unstarry life in a small house in Wood Green; her greatest extravagance is a second-hand Bechstein piano on which she can hardly ever play because the only space for it is directly underneath her daughter’s bedroom. But this is the way she likes it – keeping life simple, maintaining her integrity, and staying invisible when she needs to.
“I’m telling you, nobody recognises me at all, ever,” she insists, when I question whether she can really travel by public transport unnoticed. “I think it’s because I look normal, like someone’s sister or cousin.” As she says this a woman approaches – a polite, middle-class, middle-aged woman who will surely have watched The Crown – and asks the way to Baker Street. “Oh, crikey, now you’ve got me,” says Foy, getting out her phone to help. I watch, delighted, waiting for the passer-by to register that she’s talking to the Queen and watch, deflated, as she walks away. “You see?” Foy smirks triumphantly, amusement dancing in those majestic clear blue eyes, as she puts her phone back in her bag and walks purposefully on.
“Breathe” is in cinemas from October 27.