As British actress Vanessa Kirby prepares for viewers to react to Netflix's highly-anticipated new drama, The Crown, there's one prospective binge-watcher she's particularly concerned about. "I keep imagining Queen Elizabeth sitting on her sofa watching us recite our lines," Kirby tells InStyle with a laugh. The first season of the drama, which reportedly cost over $150 million to produce, follows the early life of the Queen, played by Claire Foy, as she begins her reign. Kirby takes on the role of the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret. "Their father, King George VI, famously said, 'Elizabeth is my pride, but Margaret is my joy,'" notes Kirby. "I always get real smug about the fact that Margaret was his joy. It's what makes her so fun to play." Read on to get the scoop on the characters, then do yourself a favor and cancel any weekend plans that might interfere with watching.
Growing up in the UK, what was your perception of Princess Margaret before you took on the role?
I remember always thinking of her as a quite tragic figure. I recall her being in a wheelchair and hearing that she drank a lot and smoked a lot. Beyond that, I didn’t know much about her, so it's been amazing to properly get to know her as this young girl who was in the most extraordinary of circumstances. I completely fell in love with her, and I read every book I could to figure out what Margaret was like as an 18-year-old girl.
What’s the sweetest thing you learned about her?
She's a complete daddy's girl. They were so close and she just brought him so much happiness. When he died, it hit her hardest, I think, because Elizabeth had a husband and two children and suddenly had this huge weight of the crown–figuratively and literally–on her head. Margaret was kind of sidelined. She had started off being the most eligible princess, the one that was way more fashionable, a real icon. She was out at all hours of the night and making the front pages of the paper She there’s a really interesting psychological conundrum for me to explore as an actor. She had to struggle to find her identity.
Tell us about the transformation your character goes through in Season 1?
We all age seven years in the first season, so by the end of episode ten she's really unrecognizable from the first episode. She’s been chain smoking and not taking great care of herself and she turns into a very hardened woman.
Princess Margaret died in 2002, but so many of the people portrayed in the show are still living—what was that experience like for the cast?
During the first two weeks of filming, we all kept saying, “God, this is kind of strange. We're playing real people.” We had to shake off any preconceived notions we had of the royal family and focus on just trying to capture their essence. I remember the first few days we were filming big state occasions like the wedding the funerals and things. Claire and I were all next to each other and I was a whole head taller. I kept crouching down when I was walking, or I'd take off my heels because I was too tall for the family–Margaret was really small, I spoke to the director and he was like, "Look, give it a break. Who cares? John Lithgow is 6'4" and Churchill was tiny.
What are you most excited for viewers to learn about Margaret?
I don't think many people remember what she was like or the true story behind her romance with Peter Townsend. So I’m really glad there's a part of her that's coming back to life. Especially that love story, which I think is the greatest love story of the century actually, a tragic one that people in that time were completely consumed with but nowadays don't really remember. It's long gone and they don't remember how sad it was. There's something really beautiful about the fact that we're bringing that into public consciousness.
Are you nervous about the possibility of the real royal family watching the show?
I've heard they watch everything and that they're really fascinated by what’s happening in pop culture. No one involved with the show has had any direct relationships with the palace, because they don't do that for artistic integrity. Claire and I sometimes laugh so much because we're doing these blowout scenes where the sisters are in conflict and we just keep saying, "Imagine if Queenie's at home on her sofa watching and thinking, 'I never said that!'" So I don't know what they will think. I imagine watching Claire and Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip, onscreen together and seeing their chemistry might be really nostalgic. If the Queen were to watch it, it could be incredibly emotional. We just hope that it does justice to at least the factual elements.
We have to ask about your look—the costumes are incredible.
Michele Clapton, who designed the costumes, is so meticulous. Every button and every sleeve was exactly as it would have been back in the 1950s for the royals. Some days I would have five or six fittings for one dress. Margaret definitely has the best style. I know because every time I walked on set Claire would say, "That's so unfair! I look really dowdy!" Margaret was incredibly fashionable. She was like the icon. So that was really important for that to come across. When they enter into the 1960s, it gets even more fun. Margaret gets these awesome, crazy hairdos whereas the Queen's hair gets worse and worse. Claire was definitely sighing in the makeup chair while I was getting ready. All I could say was, “Sorry, Claire. So sorry.”
Hair: Chris Naselli, makeup: Mary Wiles
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