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Interview: Jared Harris and Vanessa Kirby discuss The Crown

Long before chatter of a Meghan Markle-Prince Harry coupling had reached a fever pitch, gossipmongers examined the every action of Queen Elizabeth II, her sister Margaret (not to mention her paramour Group Captain Peter Townsend), as well as the Queen’s symbiotic relationship with Britain’s then Prime Minister Winston Churchill. That pivotal working relationship was mentioned briefly in playwright/screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Stephen Daldry’s feature The Queen and then focused upon in their Tony award winning play The Audience. Now, with the help of a rumored $130 million budget generously backed by Netflix, Morgan and Daldry have broadened their scope to capture the central pomp and circumstance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in the television series The Crown. Showcasing captivating performances by Claire Foy (who plays Elizabeth in her formative years), Matt Smith (Doctor Who) and John Lithgow (transformative as Churchill), each season of the show will encapsulate a decade in the life of the Queen.

A few days prior to the release of season one on Netflix, we, along with an elite group of local journalists, sat down with Jared Harris (who gives a heartbreaking performance as King George VI) and Vanessa Kirby (a feisty delight as Princess Margaret) to chat about the show. The following is a condensed version of the enchanting conversation.

We rarely get a depiction of the monarchy that’s shown on such a large scale. How were you sold on the idea of the show? 

Jared Harris: Well with Peter Morgan and Stephen Daldry at the helm, you know you’re sold. If they’ve figured out a way of doing it then you know you’re in good hands. Their attitude was that they wanted it to feel immediate and fresh, not that upstairs/downstairs, stiff upper lip, repressed emotion thing which is boring and a giant cliche. What’s entertaining about it is that it’s taking that expectation, and there are times when they do need to present that image for the public, but you see behind that are these incredibly passionate people fighting very hard for the same things that we are.

Vanessa Kirby: There is a fine line between this subject matter being very dry and then also sending them up and having a spoof version of the Royals, which we see quite often in sketches. Then when you see what Peter has done with it and with Helen Mirren, who gave such a brilliant performance playing the Queen, and you go, “Wow, there is an actress who I’ve always admired”, and she showed such integrity and love and something that really connects with people, and you see that there’s something really intriguing about who she actually is as a human being. I think we’re all fascinated with the idea that if that were you, what would you do? You can’t run away. If you do you move to America and marry Wallis Simpson and get ostracized by your family and never return. What Alex Jennings, who is wonderful and amazing playing the Duke of Windsor, nails is that you see through his character that these are objectified people but you remember that they are human beings who have gone through these very strange circumstances in their lives.

I delighted in watching the scene where you both sing “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” together and, separately, I loved where you, Jared, tearfully sang with Christmas carolers, and where you, Vanessa, in a later episode, threaten your sister over the phone. What were your favorite scenes to shoot, either individually or together? 

VK: Ooh, wait for the later episodes! That gets nastier.

JH: You know, both of those scenes of mine were completely unscripted. The duet was Vanessa’s idea and the carolers was Stephen’s idea. As far as my favorite scene to shoot, that’s really tough. I enjoyed doing the limerick scene.

VK:  Everyone loved that one!

JH: I got to swear like a sailor. I was looking forward to our duet too. We hadn’t even practiced and we went and recorded it.

VK: I’d never sung before in my life! Occasionally I sing in my car loudly, but that was quite an experience, wasn’t it?!

JH: I loved all the big church stuff, like the wedding. That was a great way to get into it because those days are quite big days. Those days fell heaviest on Matt and Claire, but even in that context there was still plenty of time on us. And that was almost the first thing we did, where we gently had to find our feet.

VK: I think my favorite was in episode 8 where the Queen goes away and Margaret steps in for Elizabeth. She does a speech at the Ambassador’s reception and she goes off track, improvises, and says some really naughty things and gets in big trouble for it. It was so much fun to unleash a part of her where, had she been Queen, what would she have been like. A complete opposite to her sister and juxtaposition that plays out throughout the entirety of the series. Just because Elizabeth was born first, she has to do this job, a job that she’s done for 64 years, and that’s what it comes down to. It’s not who’s better or who’s better suited to it at all. It was a really interesting conundrum.

What have you learned from and about each other during the production of the show and now on this promotional press tour?

JH: There’s a great energy and vivacity and brightness of spirit that Vanessa carries around with her. As far as the time promoting the show..

VK: (cuts in) ..we’ve had a really good time! It’s been a perfect pairing. Being with him, I’ve felt so proud just watching his performance on the show. I’ve been so inspired and moved because he’s made this man, who could’ve been shown as quite cold and boring, as having such a big heart. That made such an impression on me because my character has to remember you in the whole season and the absence of Jared was deeply felt. We missed him on set anyway.

JH: I missed being there! It was great fun. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. To do this with the company I had and with how Stephen wanted to work was quite memorable. You want to take those experiences on to the next job and wonder how you’ll make it work the same way, but you just can’t. I absolutely love, love, loved the experience and that was because of Vanessa and because of the other actors involved and because of Peter’s scripts.

VK: I also think we had an uncommonly close experience with you because I got to cry over your corpse, but it wasn’t actually Jared! It was a very expensive plastic model.

JH: Yeah a very expensive model now used in teaching hospitals in London. Long after I’m gone that’ll still exist.

VK: Well I’m glad it wasn’t you because I was crying and it was horrendous.

JH: Oh I wanted to be there!

VK: I’m so glad you weren’t because snot was pouring all over the body.

JH: Stephen told me afterward, “I wish I got you in there and snuck you in during one of the daughters’ takes so you could (mimes rising like a zombie)”.

VK: It would have scared the living shit out of me! But actually I saw the body before I did the first take and I was really pissed off because I reacted horrendously. Then Claire had to do the same scene, where she had to look at the body, and you can see the difference in the sisters in the way they react differently to it.

JH: I should say that those are tricky scenes to do.


The Crown season one debuts on Netflix Canada on November 4th.

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.