Claire Foy: ‘The worst mistake of my life’
October 28, 2018
Article taken from The Daily Telegraph.
IT’S the actor’s paradox: play a character poorly and you’ll never work again, or play it so well you become synonymous with the role — and audiences can’t imagine you doing anything else.
Claire Foy knows it well. After her multi-award-winning performance as young Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s runaway hit series The Crown took her from hardly known to globally lauded, news dropped that she was swapping a title and tiaras for tattoos and biker boots. Immediately, the British actor was deemed “too prim” to play Lisbeth Salander in the latest instalment of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film series.
Foy herself snorts with laughter at the suggestion that she’s too proper. “I don’t think I’ve ever been described as prim in my entire life,” she tells Stellar over the phone from Barcelona, where she is promoting the new movie (called The Girl In The Spider’s Web) at a film convention.
“People think I’m the Queen of England and there’s not a lot I can do about that.” She pauses before adding with admittedly crisp, almost regal restraint: “I’m not, is the only thing I can assure people.”
It would have been easy for 34-year-old Foy to back up playing the Queen with a comfortable period drama or an audience-friendly blockbuster. Instead, she’s veered toward the gutsy and gritty by taking on Salander, a violent and damaged vigilante already played convincingly by Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara in previous iterations. Even her three-year-old daughter Ivy Rose hated the cropped haircut she had to adopt.
But “easy” is not in Foy’s lexicon. From a childhood challenged by illness and her parents’ divorce, through to an adulthood bruised by her husband’s brain tumour and their subsequent separation, Foy has rarely known comfort and quietude. In that sense, she’s perfect to showcase Salander’s unrest.
“It’s important to me to keep learning and keep challenging myself, and taking risks that push me in a different direction and make me uncomfortable,” she says.
Foy’s performance is already being compared to that of a “feminist Batman”, though she is quick to note she admires the work of Rapace and Mara. She just wanted the character to live on, particularly since the new movie addresses the death of Salander’s parents.
“The thing about Lisbeth is, in order to understand her and admire her, you have to look at why she is the way she is and what she went through in order to be so aloof, confident and difficult. She marches to the beat of her own drum and is the embodiment of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.”
Foy could be speaking about herself. While her upbringing as the youngest of three children of a Xerox salesman bears little resemblance to Salander’s, or certainly the Queen’s, the actor emits a stillness and steeliness that anchored The Crown.
Stephen Daldry, who directed her in four episodes, has revealed her composure was magnetic. “[She] has a very powerful ability to do very little and speak volumes,” he has said. “When in doubt, I just put the camera on Claire. Even in silence, she can say a million things.”
The role made Foy a household name around the world, won her a slew of awards — including the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy for Best Actress — and catapulted her onto Hollywood’s A-list, earning her souvenirs such as a letter of admiration from Helen Mirren, herself an Oscar winner for playing the enigmatic royal.
But all that is behind her now — and Foy tells Stellar she is happy to hand over the frocks and furs to Olivia Colman, who will play the Queen from Season 3.
“I am very proud I was part of it and I feel very, very lucky,” Foy says. “It’s so lovely to have been acting for 10 years, then to be in something that people enjoyed, watched and were moved by. That’s a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of thing in my job.”
She pauses: “But I have said goodbye to that part, as you do to every part you play. I’m incredibly supportive of Olivia. She’s amazing, and I’m glad the show is continuing. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when it comes out, but I’m sure it will be odd.”
Foy’s compelling performance in The Crown is all the more extraordinary when you consider what she was going through away from the camera. She began filming the show four months after giving birth, and on one occasion found herself halfway up a Scottish mountain with engorged breasts and no way of getting down to feed her daughter.
“It was like someone had stamped on my heart and, as I sat in a Land Rover trying to get a broken breast pump to work, I felt I’d made the worst mistake of my life,” she has recounted.
The worst was yet to come. During filming of the second season in 2017, Foy’s husband Stephen Campbell Moore underwent life-saving surgery to remove a brain tumour, his second in five years. Seven months later, the couple announced they had separated.
Foy contemplates how she has coped. “I’ve learnt a lot about myself and had a lot of knocks and as much pain as anyone else. You can take one of two approaches: you can make it a fight or a war, or you can surrender to it and go with what life is throwing at you and hope that everything will pass. Everything will end, even the good stuff will spectacularly fall to pieces, and all you can do is know that at some point the sun will come out and then it will go back in again. We’re just lucky to be alive.”
It’s a remarkably sanguine approach to suffering borne, perhaps, of familiarity. Foy’s parents divorced when she was eight and her mother struggled to make ends meet. A few years later the then 13-year-old was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and had to cope with swollen knees and hobble around on crutches.
Then, just as she was rounding out her teens and deciding what career path to follow, she discovered she had a benign tumour growing behind one eye. She was on steroids for 18 months, claims she looked like Cyclops and suffered bad skin and weight gain as a result of the drugs.
So when she was asked at her audition for The Crown whether she had anything in common with the Queen, it is little wonder she replied: “I guess we can both be tough old birds.”
If you probe a little more, Foy will describe the complexity of emotions that jostle under the poised facade and arguably make her so spellbinding on the screen.
“You have to wake up every day and see some beauty in the struggle. There is something to be learnt from absolutely everything. Illness doesn’t have to be a bad thing — it can educate you for the rest of your life.”
A year ago, she confessed she was a “deeply angry” person. Asked if she still is, she admits, “Oh yeah, now more often than not. Anger is something you’re taught is bad and people shouldn’t be angry. Actually, the worse thing is pretending you’re not. For a long time, I was massively passive aggressive and keeping a lid on everything, but I now genuinely believe getting it out there is the best thing. Everybody has got anger, but eventually I’d like mine not to be something I carry around but something that comes and goes.”
When Foy speaks to Stellar, she is at the end of eight months filming away from home and won’t go into the details of how she and Moore share childcare, but says her daughter has been with her the whole time. “It’s complicated, isn’t it? But I make it work.”
After The Crown made her hot property in Hollywood, life only became more complicated; she filmed First Man, playing the wife of Ryan Gosling’s astronaut Neil Armstrong, Breathe with Andrew Garfield and Unsane, a psychological horror film directed by Steven Soderbergh and shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus.
Success may have brought a flood of opportunities, but Foy is careful to carve out space for herself. She can still potter anonymously around her North London neighbourhood and enjoys playing the piano and baking cakes. “I can’t work consistently; it does me in,” she confesses. “I need to take care of myself and the people around me.”
Top of that list is, of course, her daughter. Asked the messages and lessons she wants to instil in her, Foy laughs and replies: “That’s an existential question and a half. I want her to see that I’m a human being and I make huge mistakes, but I pick myself up again and apologise, then carry on. Love is the answer, really, and she’s got that in bucketloads.”
So, it seems, has Foy. In two years, she may have gone from jobbing actor to director’s darling, but she’s advocated for her colleagues along the way.
On The Crown she stood up for the rest of the cast, arguing they needed Sundays off, and fought for pay parity after learning she was earning less than her co-star Matt Smith, who played Prince Philip. Smith supported her and, as she tells Stellar, if something isn’t fair she will continue to speak up.
Asked if she took home any mementoes from her time playing the monarch — say, a brooch from wardrobe, or a Corgi needing a home — Foy gives the cheekiest answer possible.
“Yes, I took Matt Smith! I planted him in my garden and there he shall stay.” She sounds whimsical. “No… there were no mementoes except friendships. And I’ll have them forever.”