After two seasons of playing Princess Margaret on the Netflix drama The Crown, Vanessa Kirby is set to hand the role over to a new actress playing the part for its third season.
The series, written by The Queen screenwriter Peter Morgan, explores the life of Queen Elizabeth II from her coronation through to the modern age. With each season covering a ten year period, it is expected that there will be several cast changes depicting the family as they age. It is a lavish production that is believed to be one of the most expensive TV series ever brought to the screen.
For Vanessa Kirby, taking on the role has been an eye-opening experience as she has discovered the very human issues facing what she previously thought was an irrelevant monarchy.
SBS caught up with Kirby on a recent visit to Australia where we spoke to her about her role on the show and asked a cheeky question about her Mission Impossible 6 co-star Henry Cavill's moustache.
SBS: When Margaret passed away in real life, you would have been about 15 years old. Were you conscious of her at all? Was she a figure in your life?
Vanessa Kirby: Not at all. No. I knew that she was the Queen’s sister. But I didn’t… There weren’t really many stories about her. There was a bath incident, she was known for being somewhat of a tragic figure, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know anything about her.
If you were in the 50s … she was on the cover of every newspaper all the time. She sort-of courted it. She was like a fashion leader. I think she liked it, but she was followed by more paparazzi than Diana. Peter (Morgan) talks about that a lot. It’s hard to imagine that she was the centre of the nations focus. And then became lesser.
Were your family interested in the Royal Family?
My Dad loves history and loves all the old monarchs. He reads crazy books about them all the time. But they definitely weren’t royalists. I don’t actually know that many people that are. There are some more now though. [Laughs]
In Australia, there tends to be a generational divide…
Yeah, because they remember a time when it was the glory days of it. It’s a different time for the monarchy now.
People seem to be getting a bit more excited with the younger generation now. There’s more vitality.
Exactly. I think that’s what Margaret was always pushing for. Vitality in an older establishment.
When the opportunity came up, how excited were you about playing Margaret specifically? What was the draw-card for the role.
Firstly, because Peter Morgan is the most trusted person to write about the subject. Netflix wasn’t a big thing in my life at the time, but it felt good that it wasn’t just an English channel [making it]. It felt more international. If it were British-centric, it would be either really critical or glorifying them. There was a fine line to tread.
But also, reading it, Margaret was so much fun on the page. It’s so rare that you get such a mixture of things in one person on screen. Somebody that is immensely fragile, very scared, but the strongest personality. Also, fun – a real lifeforce. It’s rare to find that on screen. There’s not enough parts for women and this was really special with two women at the centre of it where the men who were in relation to them. Nine out of ten scripts you open, the man is the protagonist.
In coming to the role, did you feel a strong obligation to reflect the real Margaret? Or did you look to what was on the page and build from there?
It was a combination, really. Because Peter writes from the team of researchers, he knows an awful lot. It was really a combination of doing as much research as I could about the real person and the timeline in working with the researchers to see I had it all right. I felt like I was trying to straddle two things. I listened to the Desert island Discs that she did to listen to her voice and try to absorb her spirit.
Also, I don’t look like her. One of the things that really demonstrates this is Ivana Primorac who does the hair and make-up, who is the most talented person in the world. When we tried on the wigs, she said “I’m not going to give you the exact same hair, because you will look ridiculous and it will look like a helmet. Like a judge wig. I will try and create it to look as real as possible.” It’s not a faithful impersonation, but it’s about creating a person on screen who is real. It’s human beings who happen to be living in this time under really weird circumstances.
How has your own relationship changed to the Royal Family now? Do you view them in a new light?
I love them now. I love Margaret more than anything. I didn’t know anything about her before. It really highlighted the fact I did judge them before for being privileged and a bit irrelevant. Whereas now I really see them as human beings and feel much closer to the Queen, which is ridiculous. Because she has been so long and in most of our lifetimes, she became part of the cultural furniture. But I don’t see her as furniture anymore. She’s a brilliant woman who has done her job for 65 years, nearly. It’s quite extraordinary.
I never even imagined what it would have been like to be 25 and taking over that job. Because your father dies. Because your uncle abdicated. I vaguely knew about Wallis Simpson, but I didn’t really know the weight behind it and never considered the human beings at the centre of it. What the series does well is that instead of it being about a king and his daughter, you see a man and his family that are dealing with terminal illness.
When the new cast takes over for season three, are you excited to watch it?
Definitely. We all are. Matt says that sometimes if you have the same actors for six seasons they can get a bit tired. It will be rejuvenating for the show and the viewer. It’s very cool we get to share the parts with people.
Will you have any input with the actress replacing you? How will that relationship work?
I don’t know because we don’t know who it is going to be yet. Peter won’t tell me who they are thinking about, which is very irritating. Claire (Foy) was speaking with Olivia Colman just after Olivia was approached. They had a little chat as I sat next to Claire. That was an amazing moment as they shared their stories.
You’re appearing in Mission Impossible 6 alongside Henry Cavill’s moustache. Do you have any scenes with the moustache?
I have been walking alongside the moustache. It has become iconic. I remember him putting it on in the makeup trailer for the first time. He quite likes it. I have looked directly into the eyes of the moustache.
How super do you think he looks with the moustache?
Super! Magnificently super! There is a lot of love for that moustache. There will be a lot of close-ups, twitching. It tells a whole story of its own.