Vanessa Kirby Wept After Shooting Her Last Scene in The Crown
December 12, 2017
The bubbly actress behind Princess Margaret talks the royal’s ill-fated marriage and saying goodbye to her beloved character.
The second season of The Crown felt like a more emotional journey than the first, delving into the painful marital conflict between Elizabeth and Philip against the backdrop of a fragile post-war Britain still struggling to find its place on the world stage. Though the British stiff upper lip is still present and correct—the queen’s icily polite putdowns become a devastating art form this season—everybody’s heart was a little closer to their sleeve this year.
But Vanessa Kirby’s impulsive and passionate Princess Margaret has always been the show’s heart. She’s beloved by viewers in large part because she’s so unguarded and spikily candid. In the wake of her sister forcing her to break off her engagement last season, Margaret is devastated, throwing herself headlong into an all-consuming affair with Matthew Goode’s roguish Antony Armstrong-Jones. The pair are married before the season is out, and although that marriage lasted more than a decade, let’s just say it was not smooth sailing.
Kirby spoke to BAZAAR.com about Margaret’s “dark nights of the soul,” how The Crown changed her opinion about the royal family, and her emotional final day on set.
Harper’s BAZAAR: Have you noticed any differences in how Americans versus Brits respond to The Crown?
Vanessa Kirby: People are so much more fascinated by the royal family generally over here than in England. I think it’s because of the mysticism around them—they are the last public figures that have managed to stay so private. Growing up, I was so uninterested in Buckingham Palace and that side of things, and now I’m fascinated! I’m grateful, actually, that the show has made me more engaged in my cultural history, and more proud of it. I think I was a bit judgmental of them before, and Peter Morgan has managed to find the humanity behind this establishment, and the human beings that operate within it.
HB: Margaret suffered this terrible double whammy in the Season 1 finale, losing Peter and also feeling betrayed by Elizabeth. Even though she falls in love, Season 2 feels like another pretty sad season for her.
VK: The last thing Margaret said last year is “I’m lost without him” and that’s really where we pick up with her. She’s so wounded when we find her at that wedding in Episode 4, just hearing these vows being spoken is so painful. It’s the strangest of circumstances where your big sister tells you you can’t marry the man you love, and even the fact that she’s the one who decides is bizarre. Margaret’s always been somebody that feels everything so deeply, much more than Elizabeth or anyone else in the show, I think, and this season was really about the extremes. I always felt Margaret didn’t have a filter, she just can’t help but feel what she does, and express it, and that’s a magical person to play.
“Margaret’s always been somebody that feels everything so deeply, much more than Elizabeth or anyone else in the show.”
HB: Matthew Goode makes such an instant impression as Tony. How was it developing that dynamic with him?
VK: He’s become a great friend of mine—he’s so playful and funny and vibrant and interesting, I loved him. We and Ben Caron, the director [of both of Margaret’s big episodes this season, 4 and 7] really wanted to find the fact that this is not a Romeo and Juliet love story. It’s very much these two people meeting with fragility and deep wounds, and coming together with electricity and abandon.
HB: I think the mostly widely-known thing about Princess Margaret is her very publicly tempestuous relationship with Tony.
VK: Yes, and it was hard because of course we’d read lots of stuff about it, but we had to be careful because we’re playing the beginning. This season is really them falling in love and getting married, and I desperately wanted to play the end with lots of smashing plates and throwing glasses of water over his head, or something stronger! But we had to not play that. It comes a little bit at the end of Episode 10, which is a kind of precursor to the next actress who plays Margaret—who I’m very envious of because she’ll get to have lots of brilliant dysfunctional arguments and plate-smashing!
HB: Margaret’s extreme swings in mood become very apparent this season. What do you think about when you’re getting into her headspace?
VK: I wrote in my notebook about Margaret early on that I think she has dark nights of the soul. She was always somebody that I imagined to have a lot of existential questions and existential pain, and we got to really explore that in Episode 4. It’s her lowest point, when she finds out that Peter’s getting married, and when we see her in her bedroom alone at night, that was a really beautiful moment for me. We so rarely see Margaret on her own, because she’s always out and about, and there’s a mirroring at the end of Episode 4 when she comes home and she’s just met Tony, and is absolutely high on life. It was wonderful to play those scenes in the same day, because it really summarized her, this person who feels incredibly deeply, and feels everything 100 percent.
HB: Were you disappointed that Margaret wasn’t part of the dinner party with the Kennedys?
VK: I think it would have been fascinating! I always said to Peter, oh my god, these two have to meet, because it would be such a battle. Margaret would try to out-dress Jackie, and I wondered how that would go in real life, to have them both at a dinner party! I saw lots and lots of pictures of them in the makeup trailer and got very jealous of Jackie’s clothes.
HB: Was there anything you learned about the Royal Family that surprised you, in the process of researching for the role?
VK: Almost everything about Margaret surprised and delighted me, because she’s such a colorful, vibrant life force of a person. I rarely post on Instagram, but I had to post the other day because a friend sent me something he’d found, which was a diary of Margaret’s usual morning. It involved two hours of chain-smoking in bed reading the newspapers and leaving them strewn all over the floor, and having a vodka pick-me up at 12:30 PM, which I love. And having an hour-long bath, and a long lunch with the Queen Mother where she drank half a bottle of wine… You can’t help but love her!
HB: Knowing that this was the last time you’d play Margaret, what was your last day on set like?
VK: I cried my eyes out, when they called cut! We were on the set of Buckingham Palace, which they’ve built in Elstree Studios, and we were filming a scene of Claire and I having lunch. They literally got all these disco lights and champagne and music and as soon as they called cut they brought it all out, and I cried loads—in typical Margaret fashion—and Claire was just a bit numb, I think. I was sobbing and she was holding it together completely, which is how it’s always been between us. There’s a picture of us and I’ve got a completely swollen face from crying and she just looks completely fine!
HB: There’s so much subtext in the sisters’ relationship, and so much that goes unsaid. Do you and Claire talk a lot about the things they’re not saying?
VK: We did, to begin with, in the first rehearsal week, but I noticed that we sort of stopped doing it. I think part of the beauty and the fun of playing it was that I couldn’t always work out what Claire was playing as Elizabeth, and what was going on underneath, and I think vice versa. We use such different tactics to get what we want: Elizabeth is diplomatic and pragmatic and direct and calm, and Margaret is utterly emotional and very outward and uses feeling to try and achieve something. I think if we talked about it too much, we would have become too aware, and what I really needed to do was sort of over-emote in Claire’s face.
I remember in Season 1, the scene where we both had to go and visit King George’s body in the room, and I think we shot it on similar days. I went in and cried my eyes out and there was snot dribbling all over the body, and she went in and was just utterly composed and internal. That was really early on and that’s when it really hit me: oh my god, we are so different and I’m definitely the pantomime ham in this! I was quite worried about that before the series came out. In the end I just had to trust that it was right, and try not to judge myself too much and worry that I was being too hammy. I don’t think she can help it, Margaret, that’s just who she is, and it took a little while for me to trust that it’s her, and not me just fully milking the moment!