By Mehera Bonner published
The Crown isn't a show to watch while checking email and making dinner (read: ordering Seamless). You'll want to pay attention so that you don't miss a single moment of Claire Foy, whose portrayal of Queen Elizabeth as she ascends the throne is so good it'll be a travesty if she doesn't crush awards season.
America has long been fascinated by the British royal family, and the genius ofThe Crown is that it breaks through their perfect facade and delivers exactly what we want: drama. And thanks to subtle performances and an insanely high production value, that drama is never heavy-handed and almost always on-point. We spoke to Foy about what it was like to play a living queen, Elizabeth's feminism (it's complicated), and whether she thinks the royal family will tune in.
Marie Claire: Do you think Queen Elizabeth is a before-her-time feminist? So much of The Crown seems to focus on finding her place in a very patriarchal world.
Claire Foy: I suppose she was a protofeminist in a way, but from a personal point of view, I'm a bit reluctant to say that's what she is—only because I think it makes things less complicated. The beauty of the series—and the beauty of her as a person—is that she's massively complicated, and I don't think you can pigeon-hole her as one thing. A feminist wouldn't say in marriage vows that she wanted to obey her husband, which is what Elizabeth stipulated. It wasn't because she was under the influence of her husband or she was a misogynist, that was just what she wanted. She wanted to obey her husband, follow him, support his career, and be a dutiful, and respectful wife. That made her happy. She was a very reluctant figure head, and head of family. To me that doesn't seem to be a massive feminist icon.
MC: So in a sense, her complicated role and personality transcends labeling?
CF: I think she learned how to do her job, she's stood up to men and women, she's been a mother, a daughter, and a wife. She's been vulnerable and strong, regardless of being a man or a woman. There's huge amounts to respect in that. She's a complicated and interesting character who had to navigate a very male world, and did that by convincing other people their ideas were best when they were actually hers.
MC: What do you make of America's obsession with the royal family?
CF: You're more inclined to be cynical about your own country, and you romanticize it from the outside. And why not? It's much more interesting than thinking, "oh everyone's struggling and normal." With the royal family, you don't want to see them as people because it takes the sheen off. They're distant, you can idealize them. But there's room to have compassion for people and see them as human beings. Just because they're royalty, it doesn't mean they don't love, or feel loss, or feel pain.
MC: Did you initially have any apprehension about taking on the role of a living queen? And do you think she'll watch?
CF: The reality for all of us is that we don't think they're going to watch it, really. The chances are very, very slim. You can't really think about it, because it would make your job very difficult. So [playing the role], it's the same as anything I do, really. Any scene I've ever played where I've thought people who watch it had experienced something like that—for example, people who've had to deal with losing a parent—I want to do it as respectfully as possible for those people.
MC: Since you weren't able to contact her, how did you research her psyche and the way she would have acted?
CF: I read lots of book, watched lots of footage, listened to audio, and did lots of research. But there isn't much source material about her as a person because of the nature of her job, and the nature of their life. That's how they've planned it. There was no one I could talk to who had a relationship with her.
MC: Do you have a greater appreciation for the royal family now as more than figureheads?
CF: I really think about how much of a great job they've done. They work their socks off, and Elizabeth's been working since she was 25 every single day of her life. She's never ever had a day off. She's never been allowed to go away on holiday for two weeks to an exotic island. That's just not in her existence. It's a never-ending job, and I think she's done it really well. I don't think you can look at anyone who's worked that hard and roll your eyes at them. She's a 90-year-old woman and she's still working, and she's still doing engagements, meeting heads of state, and having audiences with the prime minister. She's a check and balance on the government. They've done an extraordinary job.
MC: But did you feel that way before?
CF: I hadn't thought about it. I'd taken them for granted. They'd always been there, and that's that, really.
The Crown airs on Netflix starting November 4.
Mehera Bonner is a news writer who focuses on celebrities and royals.
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