Playing Princess Margaret in Netflix’s breakout royal drama The Crown is a dream role for Vanessa Kirby, who gets to shine as the palace wild child. As season two kicks off, we find Margaret and Elizabeth at odds over the Queen’s refusal to let Margaret be with the love of her life Peter Townsend. We dig deep with Kirby on the art of portraying simmering rage and her new love interest.
You had some really tense moments with Elizabeth (Claire Foy) at the end of the first season where there’s just…
The boiling rage underneath.
Full-on boiling rage. Were you waiting for a love interest to come along and take your focus off that anger?
Yeah, completely. And I think the interesting thing is they never have a huge massive blow-up, do they? I remember Peter always saying that in the first season, you know, part of the difficulty with the family is that people don’t talk about their feelings and they don’t – so it’s quite hard to heal from that. How do you heal that sister relationship in our story anyway?
I love the way you and Elizabeth fight with your eyes. You just glare at each other.
We just glare at each other and don’t say what we really think. You know, Margaret tries as much, you know she’s pretty good at not having a filter but the Queen just wants to brush everything under the carpet and not look at it. I think it’s really, the tension underneath I think is something. I definitely had a desire for them to make it up, but I don’t think it’s possible after that scene at the end of last season…
And it’s interesting because it seems like the Margaret character would speak her mind to anyone else.
Yeah, I know, what is that? What stops you? I think it’s family dynamic isn’t it? And it’s also accepting, I think the most interesting thing with Margaret is that she’s the most royal of all of them really. She takes the most pride in being the King’s daughter and a princess, and at the same time she wants to escape it completely.
And she likes the attention.
Which is part of the job.
Exactly, so you must accept that your sister has taken this role, right, and you’ve always been brought up knowing that she was always going to take the role. And so, how do you reconcile the fact that’s your sister, but you have to be okay with the fact that she’s Queen even though you resent her for it, just because she was born earlier. It’s very layered and very confusing, I think one of the great things about the series is the fact there’s so many things going on for them all the time, at once. It makes much better drama.
And I guess, they can use that to distract themselves from whatever they don’t want to think about.
Exactly, exactly. I think Margaret’s great at that slightly hedonistic escapism.
In Australia we have this impression that a lot English people are stoic and posh – was it hard for you to embody someone like that, or did you have training in it?
It was hard to begin with. It was such an alien world to me, and there hasn’t really been a series that’s really examined that behind-closed-doors thing, something we really knew so little about. So a lot of it was imagination. Like defining the parameters of what they could and couldn’t do. Very early on, there was a scene with Margaret’s assistant or whatever and she was saying ‘I want to change the speech and change it to what I want to do’ and I had a cigarette and I was sitting on the desk and I was like leaning very close into him and leaning in very close and sort of like breathing all over him, and after the take the director’s like, ‘Um, do you remember? Do you remember that she’s um, she’s royal…’, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I totally fucking forgot.’ And so learning those parameters about what you definitely couldn’t do, and then defining them. That became really interesting. And then slowly, it became kind of second nature. As I understood the world, and those limits, that’s when you could either push against them or conform, and that was like a choice I think Margaret had to make all the time, daily.
Did you love a cigarette before you shot The Crown?
Not massively, only occasionally, kind of socially, but oh my God, Margaret smokes a lot. Luckily they were all herbals, otherwise I think I probably would have died. They’re not very nice, they give you massive headaches.
Still burn the throat a little bit?
Yeah, they do. And also, you just stink of it. And poor Mark, who did props, he ended up having to light them all for me cause there were so many of them.
When you’re on set, do you find yourself gravitating towards other actors? I mean there’s not many people that would qualify as a free-spirit among the royals, do you find yourself siding with Matt (King) because you’re the only two characters on it that are a little bit fast and loose?
Do you mean on set or in the story as characters?
On set, do you find that you kind of resent the other people and gravitate towards him a bit?
It’s really interesting, what an interesting question, I think I noticed that I started to, because especially in the first season, every state occasion – so it’s coronation, wedding, funerals, whatever, unveiling of statues – Margaret was always on her own, either with the Queen Mum and little Prince Charles, but then Peter Townsend who’s obviously her guy, he was five rows from the back, like never with us, so it was a set up-in a way, I got to imagine what it must have felt like for her to actually feel quite lonely and…
A bit isolated…
And to see her sister marry when she can’t. She got to see Elizabeth get her way and marry the person she wanted to marry, and yeah there was times where I definitely envied Matt and Claire, cause I was like, you two get to be partners in crime, you’ve got a little allie, and I never had that on the first season as Margaret. And then in this one, I got Matthew Good which was really cool and it was like a really big moment for me as Margaret in Episode 10 where they’ve got two kids by this point, and she’s standing next to him, I’m standing next to Matt Good and I was like ‘Yes! I’ve got my little wingman’. It’s really nice even though things are getting really tense for them at that point already.
Obviously TV is quite different to stage, which is your bread and butter. How do you find TV at the moment? Is it a crushing pace? Do you find it really stressful?
The Crown was like a film really. I can definitely feel it in the industry, my agents talk about it, that TV is like having a golden era now, and I feel really lucky to be a small tiny part of that movement, because I think what it does do, is that it allows you to grow your part. Like if Margaret was in a film, she’d be there for 30 seconds in the back, swearing and pissing people off and then that’d be it. But we got to explore her arc and her journey, and we wouldn’t have had time to do that in a film.
And it’s an interesting show because you’ve only got this season, and then all of the actors will be replaced, so you know that there’s an end in sight, whereas if it was a TV show where you didn’t know that, you’d be like, ‘Oh I’ve got plenty of time to make myself memorable’…
Yeah, I think it makes you make the most of it actually. I think we always knew it was going to be two seasons only and so just this finite time, and time in this person’s life and so all my research was only up to 1964 and I had to stop beyond that point, cause it made me too sad that I wasn’t able to do it.
And then you’d be like one of those pests that’d come up to the next actor and go, ‘Actually I’ve had some thoughts that you could do’…
Yeah, pass on my notebook.
Are you tempted to do something that she’s not going to be able to do as well that she’ll have to continue on, like introduce some funny tick or something?
Oh I know, so funny! Do you know what? I couldn’t.
Some of the shows on Netflix have now got their own talk shows afterwards.
Have they? Like what?
Like Stranger Things.
Have they got a talk show? Seriously? A Stranger Things talk show?
Yeah, comes on directly after. You can watch it and then go straight into the cast and crew talk show.
Oh my god, that’s amazing. I had no idea about that. That’s mad.
I can imagine that could be The Crown…
A talk show…
It has that sort of appeal I think.
Yeah, there’s so much to talk about, isn’t there? I suppose it must be really fascinating from the outside of how it all came together.
When the show first started, was there a bit of doubt as to whether or not it would work in that binge-watch format?
Yeah, definitely. I remember Peter being really not sure about it. He’d never done anything where everything landed on the same day in lots of different countries, all ten episodes, and he was worried that the election, that was like four days before, he was like, ‘No one’s gonna watch it’, everyone was either going to be depressed or like totally distracted, so no one’s gonna watch it.Just prepare everyone for that.’ So like I was fully prepared for my mum to watch it and that’s it. Really!
Were you aware of the international obsession with the Royals?
It doesn’t feel like people are obsessed with the royals at home. It really doesn’t, only when things like the Harry thing happens, everyone goes a bit mad, but that feels like quite more global. Especially being here, and like Canada, and America – American’s love it especially cause it’s an American girl isn’t it, I think it’s like super like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God.’
They’ve got a chance!
I know, it could have been me!
And ginger people the whole world over.
I KNOW! I know, I know, I know. Suddenly it got cool, which is great for them. But no, I didn’t ever feel like that. And I think there’s a lot more interest now, and that is really just sort of credit to Peter that I think he’s managed to try and get behind this very like sort of cold public image. I don’t think they’re cold, I just think the image of the establishment, it always felt, like an image? I didn’t really know who they were, I have no idea what the Queen would be like. You saw her Christmas speech now and again. But now, I’m so much more interested in the human beings behind it and how she’s done it for 64 years in that way. It blows my mind, I have a lot of respect now for them.
Have you gotten any hate mail? Is there every any outrage about how – I was watching the episode where Philip went on his sex odyssey world tour.
Wait until it comes out. I’m sure there’s gonna be a barrage of it. I’m sure they’re gonna be livid. Not much hate mail for me so far. I got a couple of people who told me I was way too tall to play Margaret, so…
Yeah, so maybe they should recast. But apart from that, not much hate. But you know, we were prepared for it. Cause we were filming it when the first season came out, we were like fully prepared to just not want to go to set and just cry.
Did you find that playing Margaret has effected the way you dress and hold yourself normally?
I wish, oh my god no. Not at all.
I can’t imagine you going out for a run in some Ed Hardy tracksuit or something.
I know! Could you imagine? I learned a lot about clothes, stuff I didn’t know about and the craft of it, actually Michelle Captain taught me so much about creating someone like Margaret who cared so passionately about what she wore, and also how much her clothes really reflected her internal life. We made that decision quite early on, that she was somebody that would choose things based on her mood, unconsciously or otherwise, so it’s quite an interesting process really. I think the Queen just picks up anything that’s laid out for her, but Margaret would throw it all away and actively spend hours deciding. I read this great quote, when she was very, very little, she said something like she ‘Took great pleasure in making us all wait’ as she dressed, so like choosing pearls and just being really particular.
And that’s interesting, because Margaret always just appears wearing something amazing, and then there was that episode where Claire had to go through the fitting for Elizabeth’s tour with all the outfits and hates it.
Hates it. Hates it. Margaret would revel in that.
Did you have to learn to ride a horse for the show?
Luckily, I’d already ridden when I was little. Claire hadn’t, so at one point she just refused I think, and so we just did lots of shots with her already off the horse, but me I went for it. But the only thing was the stirrups didn’t have those rubber things in, so actually it was quite hard and very slippery and someone who used to teach me horse riding years ago was like, ‘Your ankle was not in the right position’, and I was like, ‘Don’t! Don’t give me a hard time!’. Whereas Margaret would have been absolutely perfect. But um, yeah, it was quite fun getting to gallop across with a drone. There’s no riding in this season though. I think she’s grown out of it, cause she meets Tony and she wants to be cool.