It’s good to be Queen Elizabeth II when Peter Morgan writes your dialogue, Claire Foy told me. The 32-year-old English actress has that enviable role in the new Netflix series “The Crown,” which debuted Friday, November 4.
All ten episodes are available, and the series has already been picked up for a second season. Peter Morgan, who wrote “The Queen” and the play “The Audience,” both about Queen Elizabeth, is fairly familiar now – at least on the page – with England’s long-reigning monarch.
Matt Smith, best known as the youngest Dr. Who in the popular Brit long-running sci-fi series, plays the Queen’s consort, the Duke of Edinburgh. Smith’s performance gives Philip a major makeover since he’s portrayed not only as a loving husband and father, but also as a sexy man in his youth.
Smith and Foy participated in a round table discussion together at the Essex House in Manhattan recently to discuss their roles in this story of the Royals in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and especially what their lives might have been like behind closed doors.
Here are selected highlights:
What’s it like to play Royals?
Matt Smith: Look, it’s a wonderfully written series. We’re blessed with great costume designers, a great team. We have wonderful directors. It’s privilege enough to work with Ms. Foy. (Laughs).
What research did you do? How important was it that you not portray them in a way that looked like imitation?
Claire Foy: We approached it with the same feeling in mind, as the directors did, which is they never said to us, it has to be like that or that’s not right… We had so much support of people informing us of etiquette and all those sorts of things but also historically, we had an amazing voice, dialect coach and amazing researchers who gave us all this source material and videos and books and funny little quotes. Or certain scenes where you’d be like, ‘Did that actually happen?’ And then there’d be sort of like a bible of things saying what would happen … We were just incredibly supported all the way and never made to feel like we were on our own. We had rehearsals all together.
Matt Smith: It’s a fine line. There’s that fine line between wanting to tell the truth and giving people a version of the character they know and understand. Then also you want to tell a story that’s dramatic and interesting and engaging as a drama… We’re trying to catch the image of these people. It’s not a spitting image…
What do you think the Royals reaction would be to the show if they tuned in? Do you think they’d be pleased?
Claire Foy: I think that’s one of those things that is so surreal and out of our imagination.
Matt Smith: With me I’d be intrigued at my own life and I hope with the Queen’s life .. I guess she’s probably really indifferent. I think some of the Royal house will watch it, but probably not them.
If the Royals do watch, what do you think their reaction will be to the scene of Matt naked on his stomach as Philip?
Matt Smith: What would they say? Is that my bum? (Laughs).
Is it harder playing a historical character than someone who is a contemporary figure? Do you have to do much more work?
Claire Foy: Actually in a weird way, it’s sort of easier. It’s sort of like playing a character from a novel or something like that. You have all this extra stuff… You have to make it up all yourself. It’s really quite hard.
Matt Smith: And you’ve got all these clear perimeters. You know … You’ve got these events in their life that clearly shape people so it’s quite useful… You’ve got all these books. The difficulty is getting them right.
What did you learn about the Royals that surprised them?
Matt Smith: A lot about Philip. He had the most extraordinary life. … We have a preconception of Philip nowadays as the man he is, this man who makes social gaffes and stuff. Actually he lived this very tragic sort of formative years. My affection and appreciation for him and indeed the whole family grew enormously.
Peter Morgan had source material for the historical stuff, but did he tell you his process for writing about what they were like and what they said in their private lives?
Claire Foy: Peter’s absolutely extraordinary doing that. He’s able to somehow get some of the most powerful and interesting people that the world’s ever known and put them in a room and create a believable and honest and thoughtful relationship and scene. And it’s not what you see in public… It’s actually (a show) about people having real relationships and real conversations. I genuinely don’t know how he does it… He said with certain scenes, for example, that he wrote in ‘The Audience,’ that take place between prime ministers and people like that, afterwards he spoke to certain aides in the Palace and they said, ‘You know it didn’t happen exactly like that, but it was very similar.’ That’s extraordinary because he’s able to tap into that, and then for us, it’s just a matter of playing the truth of it.
Your chemistry is great on screen. What was it like working together?
Matt Smith: It was a real chore actually. (Laughs). A lot of acting required. Actually we’re good pals. Do we take it seriously enough? (Looks at Foy) It’s just sort of ridiculous because she’s always dressed up as the queen.
What is it like wearing those costumes, especially in the coronation scene?
Claire Foy: The scepter is heavy. The ermine is really heavy and then the corset and then the five underskirts and then the scepters and the thing, the round thing, and then the platform shoes I had to wear because the dress was too long. Ten hours we sat there just sweating. There are lots of worse things to have done, but it requires a sort of meditative Zen state.