With the exit of Downton Abbey and the general sense of wonder that surrounds the British royal family, it seems like Netflix's grandiose aristocracy series, The Crown, has arrived at the perfect time. Each episode documenting Queen Elizabeth II's rise to power and the early days of her marriage to Prince Philip is more lavish than the next, and with a rumored (and frankly jaw-dropping) $130 million budget, it might be the most expensive television production in history. Adding on to the weighty anticipation that has surrounded the series leading up to its Friday debut on the streaming service is the fact that The Crown's two key characters, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, are still alive and well. How does actress Claire Foy even begin to handle the pressure?
"God, you just take baby steps. Take everyday as it comes," the Wolf Hall alum reveals when asked about how she prepared to tackle the role of the young queen, looking jarringly modern with platinum-blond hair and simple dark clothes in a hotel room overlooking Manhattan's Central Park instead of walking the halls of Buckingham Palace in Elizabeth's brown curls and $35,000 wedding gown.
"You're playing scenes with the most powerful people in the country, so if you were to sit down and think, 'Right, I'm going to think about the enormity of the role I'm taking on,' you'd probably not be able to get up in the morning. I think you just have to take every day as it comes and then you eventually find yourself on set the first day, and it's all come together," Foy says. "The costume, the wig, the voice, the movement, the relationships . . . and then we just got on with it, I suppose. We did as much as we possibly could to get there."
Foy sits beside costar Matt Smith, the former Doctor Who actor charged with embodying the Duke of Edinburgh, and it's hard not to compare their charming, lighthearted rapport with some of Elizabeth and Philip's tense conversations throughout the series. Obviously there's no way to know exactly what went on behind the closed doors of the palace, but writer Peter Morgan — who also penned The Queen — does an exceptional job creating a realistic, in-depth character study of the couple, who struggles to find balance in their marriage.
In the first episode we see Philip, a dashing young Prince of Greece and accomplished Naval officer, sacrifice everything to marry Elizabeth. He puts aside his title, and on a number of occasions, his pride. "I will not kneel before my wife!" he explodes at one point later on in the season. "What kind of marriage is this? What kind of family?" Morgan delicately and astutely lifts the veil on how the royals actually lived. Unlike some onscreen adaptations of the royal family, The Crown isn't one bit salacious. In fact, some episodes almost feel too slow, due to Morgan's focus on ensuring that Elizabeth and Philip are portrayed as real people with real problems in their relationship, just like everybody else. Despite the obvious turmoil, Foy and Smith have no doubt that Philip and Elizabeth truly love each other, both replying to the question with an emphatic "yes."
"Really, you sort of learn the most about them when they're being the most normal," Smith says, adding that before he signed on to the show, he had no idea of "the nuance and the kind of profundity" of their relationship. "There's a bit of trepidation I suppose, but I'm proud of it, absolutely," he says of playing the now-95-year-old Philip. "I think it's good, quality work. You do as much research, and as much thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, and then you stop thinking. You start doing. That's it."