The British actress burst onto the awards scene with her impressive regal turn as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown.” And with the second season just released (on Dec. 8), she’s also earning buzz for her feature film work in “Breathe,” as the wife of a man diagnosed with polio at 28.
Was the second season harder for you than the first?
They were both really special. I think season two is just like a difficult second album. The first time out, we just set out making something that we believed in. and just tried to make the best possible show we could. When we started season two, I think everyone was a bit like, oh god, we can’t figure out the chemistry of why it was good in the first place. It’s just something that happened. It does make you kind of go, what we should do differently this time? What should I change?
This season marks the end of your reign, with Olivia Colman set to inherit your crown. Did you accomplish all you set out to?
The show is Peter Morgan’s creation. And he is the mastermind behind it. I follow him in everything he does. He was taking her down the road and I just followed. He goes into an interesting direction with it. He looks at her as a wife, as well as trying to answer bigger questions about her and the monarchy and the country. That’s what he’s a genius at. I didn’t have an agenda at all. All I ever had to do was to be true to the script. And be as honest as you can possibly can. I knew there wasn’t going to be any kind of crying, emotional, teary kind of thing.
She’s much more internal this season.
Yes. I think the show is bigger than her in this season. I think you get much more perspective, far more insight into other characters than in the first season. For that reason you see her more from the outside. Everything she’s dealing with is about what she thinks about her state, and her place in the world. And she doesn’t fuss over people. It is very internal. You do kind of see her struggling a bit more. In the first season, she was overwhelmed. In the second season, you see her trying to figure it all out.
Did you walk away with a deeper understanding of her?
Yes. I say that with also saying that this is Peter Morgan’s version of the queen. He has no insight into her as a person. But with all the circumstances that she grew up with and who she is a person, we were able to see her in a different light. I have definitely have a huge amount of respect for her and what she’s done in her life. She served her country and the people of the U.K. And with all the pressure that was put on her as a wife and a daughter and a mother. She’s missed her life.
Is there something you’re going to take away from the part?
I don’t know yet. I think so. I think her attitude is keep calm and carry on. Which I think is incredibly admirable. But I will also take away the danger of that, I suppose, the danger of not expressing yourself or speaking out. I have the option and luxury of being able to vote and having a choice and an opinion and speak openly about things. That’s what I take away from it. She doesn’t and she never will. All of us have that freedom. We should use it.
What do you think of the choice of Olivia Colman to replace you?
Amazing! I’ve known about it for ages so I’ve secretly been jumping up and down for about three months. Going into the second season, there was a rumor that they were thinking of her and I was just like, “yes, yes, yes.” I just think she’s extraordinary. She’s an extraordinary human being as well. I just think that she will just make it her own. I can’t wait to see what she does with it.
What made you sign on for “Breathe”?
It chose me, really. It was just a very, very serendipitous out-of-my hands kind of thing. It came along at a time when I made a joke about the only thing I could do after doing “The Crown” was something that was two days long. We shot for six weeks. All of a sudden I met Andy Serkis in the park and he said I’d love you to play this part. Everything that’s come out of it has been incredible. It’s a period of my life that I will never, ever forget.
You met with Diana Cavendish, the woman the film is based on. What questions did you have for her?
What she would hate for the film to be like and what she would dread. As along as I knew where she didn’t want it to end up, I could make sure that I didn’t do that. She said, “Don’t make a saint. I’m not a saint. Don’t overdo the sense of duty.” That’s what (director) Andy (Serkis) did. It’s just truthful to how they approached life.
With the queen, that makes a streak of you playing real people. Is it harder for you as an actor?
To me, there’s a different process in a way because if you can actually talk to somebody, then that makes a difference. Obviously with playing Elizabeth, I couldn’t talk to the queen. But I knew she was there. You just have to make [your characters] as real as humanly possible.