Much like the furtive relationship she’s portraying onscreen, Vanessa Kirby makes only a few fleeting appearances in early episodes of The Crown, the $100-million series about Britain’s royal family, streaming today on Netflix. But binge-watchers’ diligence will pay off, as this forbidden affair—between Kirby’s Princess Margaret and scandalous divorcé Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles), a trusted advisor of King George VI—becomes integral to the plot of the series’ first season. Though modern audiences may not remember much of Margaret, who died in 2002 at the age of 72, Kirby’s riveting, sympathetic portrayal of a lively young woman caught between her family and her lover is likely to conjure a renewed fascination with the late royal.
Much like Margaret, who had a reputation for being the life of the party, Kirby is a ball of energy, her words tumbling over one another as she discusses the complexities of her character, especially the striking contrasts between the princess and her sister, Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy): “They’re trying to establish their identity in the world alongside each other and in relation to this establishment which only those two were a part of.” Below, Kirby opens up about researching the “exhibitionist” princess, portraying the heartbreaks of Margaret’s life and why her costumes are better than Elizabeth’s:
Harper’s Bazaar: When you were cast as Margaret did you do any research into the role? How extensive did you get?
Vanessa Kirby: I did a lot before [being cast] because I knew how important it would be for playing somebody real, or attempting to—to show the team [the role] was something I would be fascinated to do. I read a couple of biographies and I watched everything I could find. Some of the biographies were really sensationalist, News of the World sorts, but they were great because they also gave first and secondhand accounts of her at home. The butlers come forward and give little moments, some of which you discard and some which ring somehow true and you use. The other [books] were really scholarly, biographical, factual, sentimental historian-type books which were a bit dry but you can find a few real moments. I watched tons of archive footage of her and listened to the music she loved; that was really immersive and brilliant…Then once you start [filming] you have researchers who are constantly giving you information. Ultimately it isn’t about impersonating or trying to be an image of somebody and more trying to capture the spirit and the soul of the person somehow.
HB: Did you study her movements? Did you try to copy them, or did you just let yourself be you as her?
VK: I remember somebody saying something to me about Frost/Nixon, when Anthony Hopkins does his famous speech, and the difference in the way Anthony did it was to dramatize, essentially, what was a documentary-style version of that speech. I remember someone saying to me, “There is artistic liberty.” I watched her do speeches, but the only footage we could find of Margaret was archive footage, which was of her public presentation of herself.
I felt too tall when I first started. I was stood next to Claire and Victoria [Hamilton] at these big state funerals and often I thought, “Oh my God, I’m like a head taller than them.” I would try to take off my heels or something in the first couple of days. Eventually you go, “Oh, fuck it.” You’ve got to surrender to the fact that you are you playing [show creator] Peter [Morgan]’s version of her and let it all go, basically.
Read the full article/interview in our press library.