There’s nothing prim and proper about Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, who smoked, drank and fearlessly flirted her way through the first two seasons of “The Crown,” earning her an Emmy nom. But now Kirby is getting to show off her action chops as the latest femme fatale in “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” opposite Tom Cruise, which will be released July 27. “I’m so clumsy, I wasn’t sure if I could be [an action star],” says Kirby. “But there’s something incredibly liberating and exhilarating about pretending to kill people with knives.”
How has playing Princess Margaret changed your career?
She’s given me so much, really. It was just such an amazing thing to play somebody who’s so colorful and so vivid. There’s not that many parts like that, that are in full multicolor or have vibrancy. To play somebody that has such a range of feelings and depth and such extremes of feelings. I always want to try and find people like that. She set a benchmark for me.
So what kinds of roles do you look for now?
I’m just so determined to play women who are like the women I know. I always thought it was really important with Margaret to make her a woman’s woman. I’ve had those breakup breakdowns in my bedroom where I’ve thrown stuff around or argued with my sister. I wanted to make her relatable. And now more than ever is the time for the women on the screen that we represent, that little girls are growing up watching, to be idiosyncratic and messy and clumsy and weird and brilliant and pushing for things with a really clear voice. I’ve just made it my mission, really. And more than anything, I want to make my own stuff. It’s a big dream of mine.
Why did you choose the role in “Mission: Impossible”? What was it about it that appealed to you?
It was totally different than Margaret. I just always want to push myself and do things that are completely different. I like this about “Mission: Impossible” girls, they’re never sexualized. They’re always really individual, unique energies, whether it’s Vanessa Redgrave or Kristin Scott Thomas in the early ones. And I’d never done stunts before, so that was super exciting. And watching Tom [Cruise] do it, you’re watching a master at work. It was quite incredible, actually, watching him do it. Until I saw him in person, I didn’t even appreciate how exquisitely brilliant he is. It was just a whole genre I hadn’t done before and I wanted to see if I could do it. I still don’t know if I could pull it off, but I tried.
What stunts did you have to do?
Tom’s are scarier than anybody’s in the entire world and that’s a fact. Mine was mainly with a knife. [My character is] this elegant con artist, underground arms dealer. And so we had to find a weapon that suited her and it was this butterfly knife. I think only teenage boys have them and they’re actually illegal! I carried it around with me everywhere without realizing until the stunt team were like, “What are you doing? You can’t carry that!”
What was the hardest thing you had to learn?
I have to sing in it, which is completely mad! I’ve never sung a note in my life! I did this tiny little song on “The Crown” but I’ve never sung even in the shower. It was a huge challenge and really scary for me. It was the first time I’ve ever heard my voice but I broke through that. It’s because the character’s spontaneous and impulsive and totally in power. She’s in power of her own empire.
Where did you look for inspiration for her?
We watched a lot of Lauren Bacall. [Director] Chris [McQuarrie] referenced “The Maltese Falcon,” so I watched that loads. Lauren Bacall is just so amazing. I’ve already seen loads of her stuff but I ended up watching everything again because I was just obsessed with her. She’s got such gravity and such power with doing very little. So that was my source of inspiration. I kept lots of pictures of her. Even on my lock screen.
What was your reaction when the pay gap story broke about Claire Foy?
I’m just really glad that overall there’s a conversation happening and that it’s even a conversation that is being talked about across the board. Because I think it’s needs to be addressed across every single industry. It’s not just exclusive to the entertainment industry, where you have to feel safe if you go into auditions or on a set. It’s women everywhere that should be able to say, “This doesn’t feel good for me.” And somebody listens.
What conversations have you had with Helena Bonham Carter, who’s taking over the role of Margaret?
She’s been so gracious and beautiful about it. She’s asked all my notes and all my books and play lists and so we really get to share her together, which is amazing. Because I think there might be someone else just as obsessed with Margaret as I am. You can’t really, other than just enjoy every single minute of it. It’s nothing that’s not magical about doing it. There wasn’t one minute that I wasn’t on cloud 9.
Any chance that you would be back for a flashback?
If I can persuade them. I’ve got to do some serious emotional blackmailing. I would love it!
Things You Didn’t Know About Vanessa Kirby
AGE: 30 BIRTHPLACE: London NICKNAME ON “THE CROWN”: “Bambi, because I would knock things over.” FAVORITE ACTION MOVIE: “Point Blank” ON HER NIGHTSTAND: “Love’s Executioner,” by Irvin D. Yalom NOW LISTENING TO: Odie’s “Analogue”