Mirror – Actress Claire Foy is hoping to be victorious, happy and glorious at the Emmy Awards tomorrow after wowing 200 million viewers worldwide.
British star Claire – a young Queen Elizabeth in The Crown – is hotly tipped to be voted Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Yet despite her role alongside Matt Smith in the Netflix hit – plus huge parts in Little Dorrit and as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall – Claire can still walk down the street unrecognised.
And while enjoying the lack of intrusion, she admits she’s a little bit miffed!
Mum-of-one Claire, speaking ahead of the ceremony in Los Angeles, even said she would have to beg to get attention!
She said: “I am not joking. I’ve actually been out in my Queen’s wig and full costume for dinner in London while we’ve been shooting, and even then people [didn’t care].
“Me and Matt walked into a restaurant together and a woman went, ‘Oh, you look nice!’ I was like, ‘Are you joking!’
“It never happens. I was on the Tube – I mean, I can’t even tell you! Like, throw me a bone! Christ!”
Claire was on fine form as she told how producers bent over backwards to accommodate her once they decided she should play Elizabeth.
She was heavily pregnant and insisted that being allowed to breastfeed on set was “non negotiable”.
Claire, wed to actor Stephen Campbell Moore, 37, had a daughter in February 2015 – just before filming started.
She said: “I was obviously really pregnant, so I was like, ‘My baby would be three months old when I start this job’.
“And then I did a screen test dressed as the pregnant Queen, and they were like, ‘Yeah, we want you to do it.’
“And I was like, ‘I need to be able to breastfeed on location. I probably need a trailer for the baby.’ ‘Okay, sure.’
“I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t go massively power hungry. That’s where my demands stopped.
“I’m so grateful they decided I was the right person. I feel very, very lucky.
“And I know that is very unlikely in every other job that I do that I’ll have that free rein . . . which is a bit of a pun.”
Of life on set, she added: “There was a lot of walking around with child in pram, very tired listening to the Queen make Christmas speeches on my iPhone and reading and just cramming really.”
Claire said she only took the role after convincing herself she could juggle work with being a mum.
She said: “I didn’t know what physical state I would be in. You could be annihilated. But I also thought ‘what if I don’t respond well to it mentally?’
“It’s like ‘what if, what if, what if’?”
The actress also revealed she and co-star Matt , who plays Prince Philip, initially feared The Crown could be an expensive flop. Talking about the lavish £85million budget, she explained: “It was quite terrifying. It was the unknown. I looked at the actors, the directors and the writer and all the creative team and crew and I went, ‘this is something very, very special regardless of whether anyone likes it or not’.
“Because you’re so used to being in things nobody watches, or nobody cares about, or everyone thinks is rubbish and everyone’s got an opinion and blah, blah, blah’. And so it felt like, in a weird way, it felt like it was just for me.”
Claire’s fears were unfounded as the show became a massive success. Netflix , along with Left Bank Pictures, spared no expense in making the first series over a year.
It has since won a Golden Globe and been nominated for four BAFTAs – while Claire was voted outstanding actress at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in LA.
And the most uncomfortable on-set experience for Claire turned out not to be baby related at all.
She broke an elbow in a tumble at a friend’s wedding – then had to film scenes where the Queen mourns her father King George VI.
Looking back on her early days, Stockport-born Claire recalls suffering stage fright as a young actress. She overcame it and shot to fame with the BBC’s Dickensian drama Little Dorrit in 2008.
Claire said: “It was a real learning curve for me. I am quite expressive, loud and big and she was very contained and tiny and meek.”
She has finished work on the second series of The Crown, which airs at Christmas and will be her last.
And she added: “It’s wonderful to be part of something people have enjoyed. It’s very weird to suddenly be in a position where people think that you’re worth their attention. Even if at all ends from there, it is all really lovely.”
The Hollywood Reporter – One of this year’s biggest breakout stars — she won Golden Globe and SAG awards for her portrayal of young Queen Elizabeth II in the most expensive TV series ever made (Netflix allocated $100 million for its first two seasons) — reflects on auditioning while pregnant, playing a woman famous for hiding her emotions and growing as an actress.
“For me, the most challenging thing about it was endurance,” says Claire Foy, the 33-year-old British actress whose portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II on season one of Netflix’s The Crown earned her best actress in a drama series Golden Globe and SAG awards earlier this year and has made her the frontrunner to win the equivalent Emmy. As we sit down at Netflix’s FYSee interactive exhibition space in Beverly Hills to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast, Foy continues, “I had a small child, I had the biggest job of my life, I broke my elbow — so it was more of just, like, ‘I can do this!'”
Foy was born and raised near Manchester, England, and briefly flirted with careers in dance and cinematography before committing to acting and eventually studying it at the Oxford School of Drama. Soon after graduating, she began working on TV projects of growing prestige, including several BBC offerings — the 2008 miniseries Little Dorrit; the reboot of the drama series Upstairs Downstairs, which ran from 2010 through 2012; the 2012 miniseries White Heat; and the 2015 miniseries Wolf Hall — as well as Channel 4’s 2011 miniseries The Promise. Her performances generally won widespread praise from critics, but it wasn’t until last Nov. 4 of 2016, when Netflix dropped the entire first season of The Crown, that a much larger audience began to appreciate what a remarkable talent she is.
At the recommendation of casting director Nina Gold, who previously had cast Foy in Wolf Hall (and “who I owe my life to,” the actress says), she was invited to audition for the principal part in the drama series, which Netflix had commissioned with 10 seasons in mind, each chronicling a different chapter of the Queen’s ongoing reign. Informed that it was the brainchild of Peter Morgan, the same man who was behind the 2006 film The Queen and the 2015 Broadway play The Audience (both of which also center around the Queen, and which brought Helen Mirren an Oscar and a Tony, respectively), and that several of its episodes would be directed by Stephen Daldry (who also helmed The Audience), she was intrigued — but faced a dilemma. “I was five months pregnant,” she says with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ll just go in and meet them. I’m not gonna get it, but it’ll give me something to do for the next couple of weeks.'” As it turned out, her physical state was not a deal-breaker and she was brought back for a screen test and then offered the part.
Netflix spared no expense on the prestige production, with seasons one and two costing a combined — and unprecedented — $100 million. The first spans the Queen’s marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith), in 1947, through the resignation of Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), prime minister of the United Kingdom, in 1955. “That journey that she goes on in that first series is a fascinating one,” Foy says. “‘You think you know someone,’ is essentially the tale — you think you know someone, and actually you don’t know where they’ve come from, and don’t underestimate them, and don’t think that their life has been all wonderful and marvelous and ‘isn’t it great just’ because of the position that they’re in.” (Season two, which is expected in the fall, will pick up from there.)
For Foy, preparing to play the Queen involved juggling not only a massive script and a newborn child, but also studying biographies of the Queen, audio recordings of her giving speeches and footage of her throughout her early life, as well as working with a dialect coach. Once on set, she faced a new set of challenges. The years of the Queen’s life that she was to portray had to be shot out-of-sequence, starting with her coronation, and then jumping backwards and forwards, which was less than ideal. She also somehow had to convey the emotions of a monarch who has made a specialty of hiding her emotions. And, on top of all that, she broke her elbow mid-shoot. But the experience of making the show was never anything less than wonderful and felt less like working on a TV series than on “a very long movie,” she insists. “It more felt like a movie because the attention to detail and the heads of department and all the people that were on the crew were the best — the best of the best of the best of the best. Everyone. All the set dressers, all the costume standbys, all the makeup girls.”
As people have caught up with The Crown, Foy’s profile has grown, and many have speculated about her future. Some have inaccurately suggested that she has elected to leave the show after season two, when, in fact, it always was the plan for a new crop of actors to cycle through at that time. And she’s as excited as anyone to see what happens them: “I’ll be so interested to see how it works and what they do with it — they’re bound to do something really clever because they’re all really clever. And it is that thing of going, ‘It’s not about one person,’ because it hasn’t been — Kristin Scott Thomas has done it, Helen Mirren has done it—” and now Foy. (There are reports that one of the Queen’s sons and his wife have screened The Crown for her and that she has enjoyed it very much. Foy, who briefly met the Queen at a reception for Little Dorrit years ago, can’t help but laugh at the thought of this — but says she’d have a very different reaction if she actually saw the Queen again, having lived in her skin for The Crown: “I’d cry and I’d tell her I love her,” she says.)
As for widespread rumors that Foy may replace Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she declines to comment, except to confirm that she wants her next project to be a major departure from the sort of period pieces she’s done recently. “I definitely don’t want to do something that’s similar to this [The Crown], just for my own sanity,” she says, before cracking, “but it doesn’t necessarily have to be me going mental.”
Meanwhile, Foy insists that outside of the industry, in the real world, not many pay her much notice at all. “No one gives two shits,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not joking. I literally would have to beg. I’d have to go out in my [Queen’s] wig. I’ve actually been out in my wig and full costume for dinner in London while we’ve been shooting, and even then people [didn’t care]. Me and Matt [Smith] walked into a restaurant together and a woman went, ‘Oh, you look nice!’ I was like, ‘Are you joking?!’ I mean, I was on the Tube — I mean, I can’t even tell you! Like, throw me a bone! Christ!”
More seriously, though, she expresses immense gratitude for the opportunity to star in The Crown and the interest in her that it has bred. “It’s wonderful to be part of something that people have enjoyed,” she says. “It’s very weird to suddenly be in a position where people think that you’re worth their attention — as in, it’s very enlightening and also lovely and also scary. But it’s a very, very interesting position to be in, and I think very few people are ever in this position, and I’m very much following John Lithgow and his sort of way of being in life, which is just, ‘Huh, this is what’s happening now? This is interesting, OK.’ And just receiving it all and just going, ‘This is lovely,’ and really enjoying that people have loved something that I’ve done. Even if at all ends from there, it’s really lovely. Really lovely.”
Deadline – A pioneer in the field of computer-generated performances with such films as Lord of the Rings (portraying Gollum) and King Kong—in which he plays Kong himself—Andy Serkis found his directorial breakthrough in The Jungle Book, which was pushed to 2018 so as not to conflict with Jon Favreau’s 2016 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic collection of stories. But no matter—in the meantime, Serkis shot another film, Breathe, which bowed at the Toronto Film Festival this week.
Starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy—an Emmy frontrunner for her turn as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, that can’t quite process that reality at the moment—the film tells the true story of Robin Cavendish (Garfield), a young man paralyzed by polio, and Diana, the strong, brilliant woman who supported her husband through his deep depression and ultimate acceptance of his fate. With very little expectation of a long life for Robin, he and Diana elect to invent a new life for themselves, straying from Robin’s mandated hospital stay and pioneering in technology to better the lives of those suffering from this terrible condition.
Interestingly, this remarkable true story came to Serkis through his business partner at Imaginarium Productions, Jonathan Cavendish, the son of the couple on display in the film. Known for his work in very different kinds of movies, Serkis made a passionate pitch to direct the film. “Five or six years ago, we started Imaginarium [Productions]. It was a performance capture studio and a production entity with the view to creating lots of different projects, ‘next generation storytelling’ sort of projects, and then we had an old slate of films that he was wanting to make. One of these films was a film called Breathe, which he’d been working on for some time before we got together,” Serkis explains. ” I read it one night and, as most people did who read the script originally, I couldn’t stop crying. It was just so powerful, such a brilliant piece of writing, and I said to Jonathan, ‘I know I’m sort of more known for directing dwarves, goblins and creatures of Middle-earth, and jungle animals, but I really would love to direct this. What do you think?’”
“He said, ‘Absolutely’—without a blink, he just said, ‘Yeah,’” the director remembers. “So we started to develop it, and what I loved about it—what really inspired me to want to do it, actually, apart from the fact that it was the most amazing love story—was that it seemed to me to be a story about pioneering. At that point in the story when Diana says, ‘How can I make life better for you?’ and he says, ‘Get me out of here,’ from then on, they are basically creating life afresh in a way that had never been done before.”
Like Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything—a film which delivered that actor his first Oscar—Garfield is confined to a chair throughout the film, with a ventilator attached to keep him breathing. Undoubtedly, the role must have presented physical and logistical challenges for Garfield, among others, but as with his remarkable turn in last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, the actor is ever modest, placing the focus on the material and the remarkable people who really experienced these events.
“There’s a magic to it. There was a magic to their lives, there’s a magic to Jonathan, there’s a magic to the script that Bill Nicholson wrote, without wanting payment until the film got made. There was a magic to the whole process, and it was palpable,” Garfield says. “From my first reading of the script, I was so deeply and profoundly moved because it felt like a story that was so much more than about these two people. It was about how we can create meaning as human beings, how we can create lives of meaning and of joy, and of community amidst such terrible tragedy and loss, and laugh at the cosmic joke of existence.”
“And those words don’t do it justice,” he continues. “Their lives felt like a poem.”
A real logistical challenge for Serkis—more familiar with the extended shooting schedules of blockbuster films—the director and actors had to tell their story in 7 weeks, three of those weeks, in South Africa. While the production schedule was “incredibly intense,” it was the singular purpose of those involved with the production that made it all possible.
“We really were blessed, actually, because we had a fantastic crew—the most amazing people in all departments—who were all there because they wanted to tell the story,” Serkis says. “So that was brilliant. But watching these guys work together was so phenomenal, and what they released in each other was just beautiful to watch every single day.”
Town & Country – The British monarchy has been very good to Claire Foy. In the year since the actress first appeared onscreen as a young Queen Elizabeth II in the hit Netflix series The Crown, which in its first season followed the monarch’s glittering, tumultuous life from 1947 to 1955, she has become one of the most watched women in the world. Her career (respectable but not exactly on fire before The Crown) has skyrocketed, she has taken home a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Drama (as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award), and she is, at press time, nominated for an Emmy.
There’s only one small catch in regard to her relationship with Her Majesty. “I would hate the idea of her watching it,” Foy says.
Although some of the world’s finest performers have earned raves playing the queen, and the monarch’s life has been scrutinized for nearly 70 years, Foy is loath to think that her own performance might rankle Elizabeth. “When you’re playing a real person, you never want to be ghoulish,” she says. “I don’t want to pick apart a person. I want to invent someone. So I would hate for her to watch it and think I overdramatized anything.”
I would hate for her to watch it and think I overdramatized anything.
And despite reports from the occasionally reliable British tabloids that the series has indeed been viewed in the royal household, Foy swats away the notion, if only for her own peace of mind. “I decided a long time ago that she’d never see it,” she says. “If she ever rings me up and tells me that she’s watched, then I will think differently.” (For what it’s worth, Helen Mirren, perhaps the only other actress so closely associated with the queen, sent Foy a lovely e-mail.)
For the rest of us, watching Foy in The Crown the coming months will be very easy. In December will come back for a second season, picking up at the Suez Crisis in 1956, and in October Foy will take to the big screen opposite Andrew Garfield in Breathe, an affecting, astonishing film based on the true story of Robin Cavendish, a man who contracted polio at age 28 and, against all odds, went on to live a long life as an inventor and advocate for the disabled.
After that she’ll star in Unsane, a hush-hush project that director Steven Soderbergh reportedly filmed entirely on an iPhone, and First Man, director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to La La Land, which tells the story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and features Foy as his earth-bound wife.
“Claire is one of the most exciting actors out there,” Chazelle says. “I was wowed by her performance in The Crown, and even more wowed by her interpretation of Janet Armstrong when she read for the role. Claire has a way of communicating unspoken depths in just a line or a gesture or a look that is truly extraordinary. I couldn’t be more excited to work with her.”
All of this has led to success that Foy did not imagine. “I’ve never been a particularly ambitious kind of actor,” she says. “I was eager to do great things, but I never was like, ‘What I have to do is become massive.’ I just thought, Maybe I’ll do a job here and there, and that’ll be nice and I’ll move on to a different stage of my life.” However, it seems that Foy, like many of the characters she has played, was meant for something greater than she might have planned.
Foy was born outside Manchester, England, in 1984 and grew up in Buckinghamshire, the youngest of three. She was eight when her parents divorced, and while the split was amicable she credits it to some degree with launching her interest in acting. “I watched a lot of films as a child, but that’s because I was being raised by single parents,” she says. “A lot of the time I was put in front of the telly with hope for the best.”
Another early inspiration was her mother’s large extended family. “I grew up in a very Irish family, with character and personality and energy and life, so if you had nothing to say for yourself, what were you going to do?” she says. “There were a lot of us as well, so you had to shout to get heard.”
Foy was a movie buff at an early age but never thought of acting as something she could do professionally. “It was something I loved but didn’t think I could do for a living,” she says. “It was what people in films had done, obviously, because they were special or someone came and found them, but that wasn’t my story.”
I grew up in a very Irish family, with character and personality and energy and life, so if you had nothing to say for yourself, what were you going to do?
Until, of course, it was. While at university she studied drama with an eye toward a career in film production, but in her first year she took a role in a student play and caught the eye of one of her professors. “A drama teacher said to me, ‘What are you going to do with your degree?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” she says. “He asked, ‘Have you thought about going to drama school?’ And I was like, ‘Well, no, because that’s not something that I could do.’ He didn’t say anything. I just remember him raising his eyebrow and walking off. I was like, ‘Does that mean he thinks I should go?’”
Initially Foy was resistant. She was interested in politics or communications or, if she could overcome a distaste for science, medicine. “I thought that drama school was like Fame, that you had to wear leg warmers,” she says with a laugh. “I figured everyone would be incredibly dramatic and I would be like a fish out of water and hate it, that it’d be a disaster and I’d be asked to do things I really didn’t want to do—which, you know, is partially true.”
Still, it proved effective. After completing the one-year course at the Oxford School of Drama, Foy landed her first part, in the British werewolf drama Being Human (“I had a terrible time, and I was really bad in it,” she’d say later), and she appeared on the soap opera Doctors. The title role in a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit was her first big break, and it led to increasingly weighty parts in productions including Upstairs Downstairs and Wolf Hall, in which she played Anne Boleyn.
Then came The Crown. Foy was six months pregnant when she auditioned—her daughter with her husband, the actor Stephen Campbell Moore, was born in 2015—and she didn’t expect to land the part. “There are so many talented, amazing people for every job, it’s a miracle that anyone ever gets one,” she says. “I sort of got to a point in my career where I was like, ‘You know, I’ve done some really amazing things, I really love it, and I’ve been incredibly lucky. But I’m pregnant, and if this is it, then this is it.’ I really got philosophical.” Obviously, she made a good impression.
According to Stephen Daldry, an executive producer and director of The Crown (he also directed Billy Elliot and The Hours), Foy was a natural fit. “She’s always been on my radar, particularly because of her performance in Wolf Hall, but it wasn’t really until I started auditioning her that I realized how perfect she would be to play the young Queen Elizabeth,” he says.
“She’s fiercely intelligent and she has a good heart, but, more important, she has the ability to be both accessible and inaccessible at the same time. On one hand, you think you get to know her, and then sometimes you never quite know what Claire’s going to do next. It’s so true of the queen—in a sense she’s the most visible invisible woman in the world—and I think Claire has some of that.”
Audiences agreed, and the series, which was created by Peter Morgan (who is something of a royal expert, having written the Oscar-winning 2006 film The Queen as well as the 2013 play The Audience), was a huge hit. While Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers, critics swooned (“Netflix can rest assured that its £100m gamble has paid off,” cooed the Guardian), and the show and its cast (other standouts included Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill) became regulars on the awards circuit—even if it wasn’t second nature.
“The Golden Globes were really weird—absolutely amazing, but strange,” says Foy, who keeps her statue in a bathroom. “Because suddenly, without me knowing, while I’ve been busy working, people felt like I belonged in that room. And I’d be like, ‘No, you don’t understand. I haven’t changed. It’s still just me.’ ”
Any feelings of inadequacy were short-lived, however; for Foy there was more work to do. “There was definitely a moment after the awards when I needed to be alone in a dark room to try to understand what’s happening,” she says. “I never got that moment. I got a martini instead and cracked on.”
Indeed she did. After nine months of filming The Crown, Foy took a break before her next project. “I decided that I wasn’t going to work,” she says. “I was going to have loads of time off and just be a mom.” But that didn’t quite work out. A chance run-in with her Little Dorrit co-star Andy Serkis led to her role in Breathe, his directorial debut, and had Foy doing again what has become her signature: playing a real woman whose life has been altered by fantastic circumstances—and making her completely relatable.
“I’m sure everybody in the whole world wanted this part. It’s such an incredible story, and she’s such an amazing woman,” Foy says of Diana Cavendish. “I also felt like Diana and Elizabeth were relatively similar characters in a way, obviously incredibly different but both of a certain generation of women who kept calm and carried on.
That was the challenge for me, to make it different and bring a different life into it.” That effort was successful. Breathe offers a stunning portrait of a couple who overcome terrible odds and gives Foy the chance to sink her teeth into a new character, showing an impressive range and dashing the hopes of anyone wanting to typecast her after Wolf Hall and The Crown.
“One of the great experiences of my creative life was getting to build this relationship and these characters with Claire,” Andrew Garfield says. “I was incredibly grateful and reassured every day working with Claire, because she’s so open and devoted to the truth.”
One truth that’s not so easy for Foy, however, is that the second season of The Crown will be her last. The show reportedly plans to change its cast every two seasons to depict the royal family at different points in time. “I’m in massive denial,” she says. “I don’t feel like it’s over. I’m waiting for it to hit me at some point that this stage of my life is finished, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
And as far as what might come after The Crown—and her forthcoming slate of films—Foy is not certain just yet. “At this juncture I think it will find me,” she says. “I think it will be a good time to sit down and take stock of what I want to do, which is possibly not acting, or where I want to go—all of those things you don’t really have time to think about when you’re working. I’ll probably have to consider all of that at some point, but not quite yet.”
Deadline – Inspired by UK playwright Peter Morgan’s critically acclaimed 2013 play The Audience—which enjoyed a brief but successful Broadway run in 2015—The Crown proved a surprise hit for Netflix when the series debuted in November of last year. Starting with the marriage of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip in 1947, a scant few years before her coronation at the age of 25 in 1952, the 10-part first season served as an origin story for the world’s longest reigning monarch.
It also offered an introduction to actress Claire Foy, who—along with co-stars John Lithgow, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Matt Smith, as her husband Prince Philip—received glowing reviews for her performance, which earned her a Golden Globe just over two months after Season 1 aired. In December, the story will continue, acquainting Her Majesty with dangerous affairs in the Middle East and a more embarrassing scandal closer to home.
How did this part come to you?
It started the usual way – I got sent the script. It was slightly tempered by the fact that I was five months pregnant at the time [in the fall of 2014]. So when my agent mentioned it, I was like, “Do you really think I want to have a three-month-old baby and do a nine-month TV series while I play The Queen of England? Are you insane?” [laughs] So I was reticent about it. But my agent said, ‘They just want to talk to you.”
So I went, and it was nice, and they said, “Would you mind coming back and maybe doing a test?” I thought I’d have to go to LA, because it was Netflix, so I said, “Well, that’s not going to happen, because I can’t fly anymore,” but they said, “No, we can do it in London.” So I went back, and Stephen Daldry and I went over a few different scenes. Then they said, “Do you want to do it?” So it was a bit of an odd experience because at no point did I really consider it a serious possibility. And at no point did I really think that I would be who they were looking for.
What were they looking for in your audition? Were they looking for somebody with a strong resemblance to The Queen?
No. Well, we did do a costume fitting, but obviously, with a giant baby bump it was hilarious, because I was wearing a gown and a wig and a crown—I looked like a pregnant toddler. I think, knowing them now, they just wanted someone to discover [the part] with. It was very open. Maybe because I was pregnant, I was just very relaxed. Then, in November, they told me that I’d got it, and we started shooting in the July the following year. We knew that it was commissioned for two series from the off, and that we’d shoot all 10 episodes in one fell swoop. There was going to be no pilot.
What kind of research did you do?
Oh God. I can’t really remember. I think I did what I usually do, which is to buy thousands of documentaries and watch them all, because you can pretend it’s work. And then I got loads of books and read them. Actually, I had a very long time to get used to the idea of playing the Queen. I’ve never really had that before, actually—that expanse of time to get into character. Then we started working with a voice coach, William Conacher, who’s a genius—we couldn’t have made The Crown without him. It all happened very slowly, which was probably a benefit. There was no pressure to make any sudden, mad choices.
How do you approach playing such a famous real-life character?
You just have to take a step back from it. It’s an exercise in not jumping ahead of yourself and second-guessing every decision that you make—you have to try to go slowly, and not overwhelm yourself. I don’t really know what I do when I approach a character, apart from just try to get to know them and understand them. For the Queen, I just felt like there was a huge hook for me in the fact that she lost her father when she was very young. Just as a person, I was thinking how that must have felt, and how lonely she must have felt, and how scary. Then all of a sudden you’ve got the biggest responsibility of your life, and the one person that you want to help you isn’t there anymore.
What kind of conversations did you have with The Crown’s writer, Peter Morgan?
Peter had written every single script by then, and by the time we’d finished Season 1, he’d finished Season 2 as well. He’d written everything. Obviously, Peter comes from a theater background as well, so he works in a very different way, in the sense that if he’s watching the rushes and he sees something he likes, or he doesn’t like, he will alter it and move things around to enhance the story. He’s always thinking of ways to spice things up, or approach a scene from a different angle if it’s not working. And as an actor, that’s amazing, because you know that there’s someone somewhere who’s paying attention.
What’s the appeal of Peter Morgan’s writing?
I think he’s incredibly intelligent about the ways in which people communicate, and it’s not about what we say—it’s about our actions, and our choices, and also how we hurt each other. I think the undercurrent of a lot of his writing is about how we can be careless without realizing it. The scenes are so full because they aren’t written just to make the story move on, they’re about people being in a room, battling to get to…well, God knows where. There’s always an element of not knowing where the character’s going to go. And sometimes I don’t think he even knows.
In the UK at least, there was a sharp intake of breath when the project was announced, and it does go into some deeply personal areas of the Queen’s life. Were you ever nervous about that?
No. If I hadn’t read the script I would think, Oh my God, that sounds like walking into a pit of fire. Why would anybody want to do that? I wouldn’t have touched it with a bargepole. But then you read Peter’s script and you just go, Well it’s not like that at all. It’s not what you’d imagine, it’s not that kind of salacious biopic. You’re reading it and you’re going, Oh my God, this actually happened. And it just carries you along with it. I thought I’d be an idiot not to dive in.
Did you ever use Peter as a resource during the shoot?
Yeah, definitely. I would say to him, “I don’t think this is right,” and he would say, “Well, it is.” But he would take what I’d said on board, and he’d think about it, and sometimes he might say, “Well, let’s do it a different way, and then we’ll see in the edit.” It was the same with the directors. There was always a conversation.
Can you think of a specific example of a point where you said you thought something was wrong or needed clarification?
I remember one time when me and Matt were about to shoot a scene where we had to have an argument about the coronation. We really struggled with the intellectual argument of it. We were asking, “Are we acting them as a married couple, or are we acting them as the Queen and her consort? Who are we being?” Because in the end, we wanted it to be just a husband and a wife having a row, without bringing God, and all of the royal family, or an orb and a scepter into it. It diminishes it. You can’t run away from the reality of their life, although I think sometimes we wanted to, because it would—ever so slightly—have made our choices a bit easier. But we never took the easy route, I don’t think. As a team, I think we always said, “Fine, we’ll do it.” And the show’s the better for it.
Were you surprised when the show was such an instant hit?
God, yeah. I mean, we knew Netflix wanted it to have a broad appeal, be something that lots of people could watch. But I think we thought that it would mostly attract the kinds of people who would be inclined to watch a period drama or a program about the royal family. I was just shocked about the breadth of the audience and the different people who were watching it. Like 10-year-olds, and 25-year-old men—not really who I’d thought would be the target audience for it. But it was coming at people from all angles—like, their mums would tell them to watch it, or their children would tell them to watch it. That’s a very rare thing in this industry, and I feel very lucky that I’ve been part of something that people genuinely talk to each other about. It’s lovely.
It seems like it was only a matter of weeks between the show airing and you winning a Golden Globe for your performance.
I know! It was mental. Absolutely blooming mental. I suddenly found myself in a very odd situation, and I was thinking, This is strange. Six months ago, I would not have been here.
What can you say about the second season of The Crown? Obviously, there won’t be any bombshells because it’s based on a true story.
[Laughs] No, look on Wikipedia.
Do you have any particular memories from shooting that second leg?
Oh God, so many. It’s sad because people go and people come. There’s no John Lithgow this time—you have prime ministers coming and going, which is sad because you have to say goodbye to another actor. But we all went through the whole thing together, at the same time, so me and Matt just became terribly close through the whole thing. I always will love doing scenes with him. We just became even more of a family. It wasn’t like they were forcing people to come back to work—people genuinely wanted to come and make it again, and that was before we even knew it had been a success. Before it had even come out, people had signed up for another nine months of the same thing.
What’s next for you?
I’m in Andy Serkis’s new film, Breathe, which comes out in October, and I’m dead proud of that, so that’ll be lovely. And this is absolutely ridiculous what I’m about to say next: I’m doing a film with Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling—in October, as well—where I play Janet Armstrong. It’s called First Man. [laughs] I’ll probably be struck by a bolt of lightning before then, but apparently, that’s happening.