This story about Matt Smith and Claire Foy first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Peter Morgan was forthcoming from the start about the nature of his drama series “The Crown,” in that the series would span several decades and would require multiple actors to portray the British royal family and their cohorts at different ages.
But every time we saw Claire Foy and Matt Smith (Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, respectively) discuss their inevitable exits, it didn’t feel quite real.
The pair were dazzling as the pre-coronation couple of Season 1, before Elizabeth’s father passed and she was called to duty. They were even more compelling in Season 2 as two people in an imploding marriage, with an ancient monarchy and increasingly modern subjects hanging in the balance. By day they may have represented an aspirational ideal, but in the bedrooms and hallways of Buckingham Palace they lived out entirely common human melodrama.
“Just because this family is royal doesn’t mean that they don’t go through the universal things we all do,” Smith said. “That’s where I think the show lives and dies, in that domesticity — yes, they are royal, but they do come in drunk and dive on the bed.”
And make no mistake, those are the moments he loves. “Often, the stuff that looks really ugly on the screen is the stuff that you’re enthralled by as an actor,” he said. “It means you can sink your teeth into something. Sometimes the mundane can be the hardest to play.”
Olivia Colman (“Broadchurch”) will take Foy’s crown and scepter to play Elizabeth II. Tobias Menzies (“Game of Thrones”) will step into Philip’s shoes, a baton-passing Smith is familiar with thanks to his work on the BBC anthology “Doctor Who.”
“There’s something kind of groovy about going, ‘Hey, here’s this part,'” he said. “No matter what you think of him, Philip has been a wonderful servant to this country and a wonderful support. There have been bumps in the road, but he’s making a laugh. He’s a total rebel.”
We’re not worried about Morgan’s long-proven ability to pull compelling drama out of the dustiest historical retellings — “The Crown” has an episode about an unpleasant fog that plays more like an action movie — but it will be difficult to let go of seeing these icons in their historical infancy.
For his part, Smith is happy to be relieved of his title — though he will miss one of the role’s best perks. “Claire and I are very close friends and have had a wonderful working relationship,” he said. “We were a team, on screen and off.”
That friendship was tested by one offscreen story: the revelation that Foy was paid less than Smith despite her more prominent role.
“I am incredibly proud of what I’ve been part of, and I don’t want my work in that program to be overshadowed by my pay,” she said. “Something good has got to come out of all the shame and the embarrassment of talking about my worth in comparison to one of my best friends.”
To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire issue, click here.