Vanessa Kirby astounded audiences as Princess Margaret in The Crown. Now she is starring opposite Tom Cruise in the new Mission: Impossible. She talks to Sophie Heawood about theatre crushes, all-night parties – and what the Queen really thought of The Crown.

When I went to see Vanessa Kirby starring in Julie at the National Theatre, it turns out I picked “a really bad night. Oh God everything went wrong,” she says when we meet a few days later, in a café in Chelsea where she has just ordered scrambled eggs. In one climactic moment she has to kill a budgie on stage, but the blood capsule didn’t burst until well after she whizzed the fake bird up in the food processor. “That happened two nights in a row! But it was better than before, when we used to start the scene with a real budgie and then kill a fake one, because one night the real one started tweeting after the lights went down, when he was supposed to be dead. I was trying to shut him up. He was called Gordon. We had to get rid of Gordon. There have been letters to the theatre: ‘We need to know that Gordon has not been harmed.’”

Kirby is a 30-year-old actor from London, a galloping laugh a minute, and quite probably the future of British acting. You may know her as Princess Margaret from Netflix’s The Crown, a role she describes happily as “the gift that I was given”, and which turned what could have been a staid drama about duty and class into something much more delicious. She gave Margaret a youthful vulnerability – we saw the damns she had to give before she stopped giving any – and now, after two series and winning a Bafta, she is handing the role over to Helena Bonham Carter, who will play the older incarnation. And Kirby is gutted.

The Crown was the best time of my life,” she says, in her quick voice. “Saying goodbye to it was awful, I really grieved it, actually.” Kirby kept a photo of Margaret on her bedroom wall and used to gaze at it, wondering What Would Margaret Do? “The easy route would have been for me to just play her as the version of her who comes later, the public persona of her that is so – I don’t know the right word – gauche?”

They could have sent you to Mustique!

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