By Mira Catherine B. Gloria
“THE WORLD is changing and no one is prepared for what’s about to happen.” This was how award-winning actress Claire Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown, teased the series’ upcoming second season, which will premiere on Netflix on December 8.
Foy returns as England’s sure-footed monarch who has to endure scandals and political crises both at home and abroad. The sophomore season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed historical drama will air 10 episodes, chronicling major political events that shaped Britain in the second half of the 20th century, from British armed forces fighting an illegal war in Egypt, to the downfall of Britain’s third Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. This season won’t be complete without highlighting the drama within the royal household: Prince Philip’s rowdy behavior has threatened the Queen’s marriage, and Princess Margaret’s romance with fashion photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones has drawn unwanted attention to the royal family.
Also reprising their roles in Season 2 are Matt Smith as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Vanessa Kirby, as Princess Margaret. Joining the cast this season is Matthew Goode (Burning Man, The Imitation Game), who stars as Antony Armstrong-Jones.
While filming Season 2’s last episodes in Lancaster House in London back in March, the four actors sat down with a group of visiting journalists and talked about what the new season brings — “mayhem,” hinted Kirby — and the challenging part about portraying members of one of the world’s most fascinating families:
What was it like playing a living monarch?
Claire Foy: I don’t really know how it feels. I’ve played real-life people quite a lot. It’s sort of less strange than getting feedback [from the person you’re portraying] because [in this series] you don’t get any feedback [from the Queen].
So I think at a certain point you can’t be scared of a) what the world is going to think, or b) that person (you’re portraying). We were never gonna be sensationalist about it or disrespectful or mean in any way. I would never ever want to do that with any part that I play just to offend people.
It’s a great character that Peter [Morgan, the show’s creator] has written, because it’s his invention. And it’s really the opposite of me. So I really enjoy playing her.
What was your perception of the royal family while growing up?
Claire Foy: I think as a British citizen, you just sort of grow up knowing that they’re there. They’re part of the fabric [of society] that we live in, so you just sort of accept that they’re there. You see them — Christmas, Easter, so they’re part of… sort of your family, in a way.
Matt Smith: Well it’s sort of ingrained to your cultural sensibility. I was aware of them, but I didn’t really pay that much attention to them. They were sort of just there, like the Buckingham Palace. But now I drive past it there’s a renewed sense of interest. I’ve become much more fond of them having made the show.
Vanessa Kirby: [I was] a bit indifferent. I didn’t really know much about them. I loved learning about historic kings and queens like Henry VIII — that was always fascinating to me. The current [royals], I didn’t really see what their purpose was necessarily, I don’t think that it’s that clear anymore. But I feel really proud of the show because of what it does and being inside it, too, and even as a person, it has helped me really lose the judgment and dissolve prejudices I have against them as human beings.
How do you prepare for your role?
Claire Foy: Just trying to approach it as an outsider… you really have to approach [the character] with a blank page. You can’t go with any preconceptions or judgment that you’ve known before because it just won’t work. So you just have to go forget everything you’ve been told or remember. And that’s sort of your job as an actor, anyway.
I supposed, your tendency as an actor is to want to emote, to feel everything, you want to be angry, you want to be sad, and you want to be happy, and you want to do all those things because, it’s a release, and it feels really good. But with Elizabeth, the type of person that she is, she doesn’t have that outlet… She’s just a very contained person, that’s part of her character. And that’s part of her generation; they keep calm, they carry on, and they sit around and go, “Oh, boohoo,” and navel gaze, all those things. [Crying] was just not part of their make up.
So it wasn’t necessarily hard [playing the part]. It’s just a different kind of direction, I suppose. And sometimes, you know, putting a restriction on yourself is amazing, because then it means you have to find other things to explore and stuff so, it’s challenging. It’s still great. I love it.
Matt Smith: [Prince] Philip, he’s got a particular gait and a particular stand, so I try to adopt that. He’s quite an interesting one, really, but I dip in and out [of the character], trying to get my head around it just before we’re about to go and then the rest you take your mind off it.
We have a great vocal coach, who helped us out and just kind of steep us really in the time and the period and the history of the [royal] family. Actually I learned a great deal not only about the royal family but of culture, history and the state of Britain.
What did you discover about the character you play?
Matt Smith: Quite a lot. I love that [Prince Philip] has been a great servant to the country and the Queen… I’ve just been fascinated really by his humor and his wit and his charisma. I think Peter Morgan has written a great character.
He’s been a great father, he was great in the navy. But in this series, we explore his relationship with [Prince] Charles, which is interesting, and just explore the sort of debt that he had to pay in many respects. When you marry into a royal family and the parts of your life that you give up forever and I think that was difficult for him and it’s been interesting to explore the conflicts of him.
Vanessa Kirby: I didn’t know anything about [Princess Margaret]. I’ve seen pictures and I sort thought of her as an old lady with a drinking habit… It’s been amazing to recreate somebody or look at someone again in her early life and really get to know who they were then, and I try to read everything I could — lots of different accounts from sensationalist, musical-world type books, which are actually really great, to historically accurate, sort of very reverential accounts of her. And then there was lots of stories from different people, from different generations… I try to go back and find out who she was because, you know, someone just doesn’t end up like that.
I really loved taking on the journey of somebody who was all set for one thing and then your father dies and it completely changes. And how that affects everything, from the man you’re going to marry and have children with, and how that changes the course of your life.
What can we expect in the second season?
Matt Smith: It’s still all about [the royal family], really. But we learn more about [Prince Philip’s] history, where he’s from. We touch on [Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s] marriage, and we explore the difficulties as any marriage would face, and that, I think, is ultimately what’s interesting about the royal family. And when it works, at its best, is that you glimpse them as basically, normal people, who get up and… I always like the scenes where they get ready for bed…the domestic stuff. I think these are, most often, the most dramatic and most compelling.
Vanessa Kirby: What we left off in Season 1, Margaret was not in a good place and, unexpectedly, this man [Antony Armstrong-Jones] walks in and there is an instant electricity, sort of meeting of equals in a way that she’s never felt before and mayhem ensues.
For me, personally, thinking about what [Princess Margaret] had gone through, or what she did, I think the aftermath of recovering from something like that — when your big sister says you can’t marry somebody that you’ve been waiting to marry for years and you’re in love with — how that affects you psychologically and going into love and just life in general.
Finding out who she really is, that journey, is I think [what can be expected] in this season.
Will the romance between Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones be featured in the second season? How do you describe the chemistry between your characters?
Matthew Goode: It was the full 1960s. It was a new movement in music and art and everything. And I think it was one of the most exciting times to be around, especially with the general election, people thought there was change coming… and I think that fed very much into their relationship.
Vanessa Kirby: I think they found a match in energy and power that both of them had. And Margaret, I felt, needed somebody to say “No” to her. Somebody that intellectually matched her and that also somebody who showed her this whole other side of life — the underground London, the bohemian London, the jazz clubs, the art scene, all of which are essential to her but she never had access to inside these walls.
In the first season, you got a girl who’s desperate to get out but doesn’t know how. And she’s so intrinsically part of the family and her whole identity is just “princess,” that’s her name…
And she meets somebody that throws that away, which is incredibly exciting, alluring, electric, dangerous. “Get on the motorbike” — it’s danger, it’s thrill-seeking… And I think she goes head first into it. The rebel meets the rebel.
Why do you think the series was such a big hit?
Vanessa Kirby: I think that they are the last reigning public personas that [people] don’t have access to and don’t really know who they are behind closed doors.
Matthew Goode: The royal lineage goes back hundreds of years and it has affected a lot of countries mainly due to the Commonwealth. And I think what this show has done is peel back a lot of layers [about the royal family] and show a lot of stories that people didn’t remember or know about. Although the royal family had a lot of problems, a lot of their problems are exactly the same as ours and so people may feel very akin to it. And I think the show boosted the popularity of the royal family, quite a bit.