Claire Foy: ‘I’m just a ridiculous, embarrassing person’

The British star talks to Time Out about switching roles from the Queen to a punky Swedish hacker

When we meet Claire Foy, we’re ushered into a quiet room with two leather armchairs facing each other at an angle. We sit in one of them, patiently waiting for the former star of Netflix’s The Crown to arrive. Weirdly, the set-up feels kind of like we’re about to have an audience with the Queen.

Of course, we’re not in a plush room in Buckingham Palace, we’re in a studio. The 34-year-old actress is nothing like her HRH, either. Dressed in a denim jumpsuit, she sits cross-legged and sips herbal tea. Not to mention that Foy has officially abdicated from the throne. After two seasons of the hugely popular show, she’s swapped a crown and block colour twinsets for a biker helmet and leathers as she takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider's Web, the latest in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. She plays a fierce computer hacker who hunts down men who have hurt women.

By her own admission, The Crown has had a huge impact on Foy’s career – she even scooped an Emmy for her performance this year. Still, she isn’t looking back – and with another huge film released this autumn, it’s easy to see why. She stars alongside Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong’s wife, Janet Shearon, in First Man, which was directed by Damien Chazelle of La La Land fame and is already generating Oscar nomination buzz. Now feels like a turning point in Foy’s career – she’s gone from TV actress to bonafide Hollywood movie star...

Lisbeth Salander is different. Was she fun to play?
For me, the interest in playing the character is that she is really difficult. I don’t mean she’s moody or anything, I mean she’s tough. She’s a complicated character who’s full of contradictions. I found it quite a scary prospect to play someone who’s so damaged, because it was like, this is going to be dark.

Did you have to do any stunts?
I did all the stunts, really. All the fights, I mean – not launching myself out of windows. Whether they are in as me doing them or it’s the stunt double, we’ll see. Weirdly, I enjoyed that. It’s like learning a dance.

What was your favourite scene to shoot?
I enjoyed all the fight sequences – they were really satisfying. I loved the ones where I was screaming and shouting and fighting and clawing my way out. I could do with doing that a bit more I think, in life.

Lisbeth is going after bad men. Did the #MeToo movement impact shooting at all?
That was all happening when we started shooting. The thing is about Lisbeth is she’s not going out there to help all women. She’s doing it to make men pay. There’s a real revenge to it which is not necessarily honourable. It’s going to be impossible for it not to be taken as completely of the moment. But the #MeToo movement shouldn’t be belittled by saying a film is being made out of it and the film shouldn’t be put into a box. It’s tricky.

The role of Lisbeth has been played by two other people. Did that play on your mind?
Initially, when I heard about it, I was like I wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole. I’d seen both those performances. I thought Rooney [Mara] was incredible in that film [the 2011 David Fincher remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] and Noomi [Rapace] was amazing in all three [original Swedish movies]. I watched them as a viewer. I was like, why would anyone invite that upon themselves?

What changed your mind?
I relished having to think about something in a completely different way. I’ve had to do that a lot in the roles that I’ve played. If you’re inheriting a part from someone else or it’s a part that comes with a lot of expectation because it’s an adaptation or a famous character, you’re coming up against everybody’s preconceptions. Everyone else owns that character apart from you. It’s about trying to own it for yourself.

Olivia Colman is stepping into your shoes as the Queen in The Crown. How did you feel about that?
I spoke to her when she was first offered it and said you have to do it! She’s an extraordinary actress. I can’t wait to watch her do it.

Will you miss playing the Queen?
No. I’ll miss all the people. I loved that part but I don’t long to hold onto characters in that way. The story is done. It’s over for me.

Did you expect it to be such a hit?
No way. We had no concept, because it’s an unknown entity, Netflix. It could just be on there and nobody watches it. We knew it was a risky endeavour. Also if you’re in something you just automatically think it’s terrible – they’ve cast me so it’s going to be dreadful.

Has The Crown opened doors for you?
Yes. My career is completely different now. My career was completely different by virtue of doing The Crown in the first place. I wasn’t expecting for that to ever happen. People view you differently even though you’re exactly the same. People see you in a different way, I suppose… as The Queen [laughs].

First Man is already being tipped for Oscar nominations. Do you pay attention to that?
I’ve never had to. I don’t know! It’s a whole new world, I can tell you. It’s an incredible film.

Have you ever been star struck?
I just made a film with Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle! So yes. It’s really weird. I need to humanise these people and I think that’s the leveller really when you’re an actor. Everybody’s scared the whole time, everybody thinks they’re going to get found out and told they don’t deserve to be doing this for a living. It’s like when you go to awards shows – I wouldn’t be able to make conversation with Meryl Streep, because I’d just be like, “Sorry there’s no point, because I’d just want to tell you I love you all the time.” I tell people I love them a lot. Louis Theroux was the last person I assaulted [laughs] at the BAFTAs. It’s a really weird thing where you’re in a room with lots of people who you think are extraordinary. I don’t know how to deal with it.

Have you had any moments where you haven’t been able to keep your cool?
Kirsten Dunst. I told her I loved her. We ended up having this quite tearful heart-to-heart on the dancefloor. It was one of those things that can only happen at a party. There is no cool. I’m just a ridiculous, embarrassing person.

How did you feel when it came out that Matt Smith has been paid more than you on The Crown?
The first thing I knew about it was that it was a news article. I was like, “Oh, that’s news to me and the rest of the world and now people are asking me what I think about it”. I think that’s the weird thing, people suddenly expect you to have the answer. People expect you to be able to put it succinctly and be an authority on it. And I’m like, I don’t know, I’m learning as much as anyone else. I found it slightly terrifying because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. It was an eye-opener.

Is there anyone from the industry who’s been like a mentor to you?
There are lots of women who I think are amazing, like Annette Bening and Emma Thompson. No one’s really taken me under their wing but I think you just have to listen, learn and be kind. And not turn into a massive egomaniac because it’s very easy for people to think that all this is real. And it’s not.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is out in cinemas across the UAE on November 28.

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