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The sisters behind 'The Crown' bonded with each other, along with their royal roles

The sisters behind 'The Crown' bonded with each other, along with their royal roles
Actresses Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby, who star as not always friendly sisters Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, respectively on the hit Netflix series "The Crown." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

After “The Crown’s” second season streamed, in which Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) married a man who wasn’t right for her because her sister, Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy), couldn’t allow her to marry the man who was, viewers had to bid farewell to the women who’d assayed the roles so far. As the story jumps forward, series creator Peter Morgan will use another set of actors for the next two seasons. Foy, who scooped up both Golden Globe and SAG awards as Elizabeth, will hand over her scepter to Olivia Colman, and Margaret will transform from Kirby into Helena Bonham Carter.

Foy and Kirby touched down in Los Angeles recently for a chat at the Netflix offices. Kirby noted that it was only the second time they’d been interviewed together. More’s the pity, for they made a delightful pair, teasing each other with the affection of actual sisters. And both have the most enormous eyes — it’s no wonder they captured the camera so thoroughly.

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How did you pull off the wonderful sibling tension the show called for?

Foy: We both have sisters, and we’re both very close to our sisters, and what I really found most interesting was that when we talked to each other about each other’s characters, we approached the other character as a sister. So we were never really able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. We were always like, “But she does that!” “Well, she does that!”

Kirby: There is no better actress in the world than Claire, I think, at having so much stuff going on underneath, and Margaret isn’t that person. So there were times when there’d be like spit coming out, and endless tears, and snot, and snarling at her, and cigarettes, opposite —

Foy: Opposite a brick wall.

Victoria Hamilton, left, Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby in a scene from season 2 of "The Crown."
Victoria Hamilton, left, Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby in a scene from season 2 of "The Crown." (Alex Bailey / Netflix)

They were utterly complementary.

Kirby: I remember this book we both read, “The Little Princesses” — their nanny [Marion Crawford] had written it about when they were little — there’s a line, “There were never two sisters less alike.”

Foy: And there was quite an age gap between them, but one couldn’t exist without the other one. Margaret couldn’t have had the life that she had if she’d had a sister who was like a renegade, loosey-goosey off doing whatever she wanted, then she would have had to be the responsible one.

What helped you most to immerse yourselves in your roles?

Kirby: I think it was probably Claire, to be honest.

Foy: Oh, shut up. No.

Kirby: It really helped, the early days, thinking back to it now how terrified I was about getting the role, and of doing a sort of caricature pastiche, especially with Margaret. But I think being as a family all together — we often stayed in the accent sometimes on set a bit — that really helped, because we were all in the same boat, so if we were sinking, we were sinking together.

Now that it’s over, was there anything you took from the characters?

Foy: I think Noo and —

Kirby: That’s my nickname —

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Foy: Oh, sorry —

Kirby: No, no, no. It’s fine —

Actresses Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby
Actresses Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Foy: — that Vanessa and Margaret have a symbiosis. Like you took her inside you. You knew that you knew her, and she became a part of you, and that you will always have her. I mean, I will always have that with the queen of England. I have an affection and admiration and deep, deep respect for her, but me putting on that character was more of an investigation. I’ve played characters where I’ve literally gone in there and can never get out again, and they’ll always be in there, but with her, even though, obviously, she did touch my heart, she’s still a mystery to me. I don’t think I ever delved to the depths of her, because she didn’t either, in our story.

Kirby: I didn’t know that. It’s so amazing to do these [interviews], because I learn so much. I’m just watching the outside.

Foy: You can’t get rid of Margaret. She’s totally there.

Kirby: You can tell?

Foy: Yeah. I think even from the first time you knew, at the audition — and it happens sometimes with some characters that you play, you know that fundamentally there is something inside you that gets what’s going on inside them. And there are other characters where you go, “I have absolutely no idea what motivates you in your life. I have never made a decision like you’ve just done. I’ve never felt what you feel.” But with you, it was a calling.

Kirby: Can I just say that the fact that you didn’t identify with your character as much as me means that you’re a much better actress, because you actually acted it, and I would have thought that you did get —

Foy: Oh, you’re such an idiot. It’s not that. You know what I mean —

Kirby: I know exactly what you mean; it makes me think even more highly of you. It’s disgusting. (At that, they break into peals of laughter.)

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