‘Oh my god, I’ve perved on Margaret for too long!’, says Vanessa Kirby of the woman she plays in Netflix’s eye-poppingly opulent mini-series ‘The Crown’. Her once-in-a-lifetime role as the extrovert princess has fast-tracked her into Hollywood’s sights and on to the next ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie. In person, the Wimbledon-born actress is hardly princessy – ‘I look like Medusa from “The Rescuers” in some shots!’ – but her infectious turn as the maverick royal is one of the show’s biggest joys. Season two kicks off in a darker place, though: forced to leave Peter Townsend by big sis (Claire Foy), the woman she affectionately calls ‘Margs’ is hitting the self-destruct button.
Margaret is in a bad way when we meet her in season two. Was it a challenge to get into that kind of headspace?
‘I had to ask Peter [Morgan, the showrunner] how to make it believable for her to admit that she may be losing her mind. She’s already grieving for her father [King George VI] and then has her relationship ended by her older sibling. To be in love and then have it taken away... just thinking about it makes me feel sick.’
You’ve described yourself as a ‘Margaret pervert’ in the past. What’s your favourite bit of Margaret ephemera?
‘I’ve got a picture of her in my downstairs loo. People never ask me about it, I think they just do a wee and say, “Oooo-kay!” I also have a photo in my bedroom from the Royal Variety Show where Margaret lit up in public for the first time. She’s in this really low-cut top and looks amazing. It reminded me that Margaret and Elizabeth were brought up to be the opposites of each other. That’s what fed their tension.’
Do you have any mementos from filming?
‘I went home with one of Margaret’s necklaces by mistake, and the costume department nearly lost their minds. My nickname on set was “Bambi”, because I can’t seem to hold it together.’
‘The Crown’ is a great showcase for London. Was there one day of filming that stuck out for you?
‘They closed off The Mall for us. It was 6am on a Sunday and Matthew Goode [who plays her future husband Lord Snowden] and I were on this little motorbike, and I had one of Margaret’s vintage handbags with my phone in it. I went “Woo!” and the bag flew off. By the time we could go back, it had gone. Someone stole Margaret’s handbag and my iPhone.’
Have you encountered any surprising superfans of ‘The Crown’?
‘Apparently Steven Spielberg has seen it twice. It’s crazy, I never thought people would like it as much as they have. I thought my mum would.’
‘Mission: Impossible 6’ pairs you with Tom Cruise. What do you remember about your first scene with him?
‘It was very scary to begin with, but Tom is super-enthusiastic, very professional, remembers everybody’s names. I get pretty nervous, though. It’s a strange thing standing up in front of people pretending to be someone else.’
Do you have a lot of action scenes?
‘God, yeah. They put me in training, but then Tom broke his foot and I stopped. I went on the lash [laughs]. Now I have to get back on it. Learning to fight with a knife is quite surreal.’
And you’ve already been making tabloid headlines.
‘They reported that I was going to marry Tom Cruise – before I even went on set! I was so embarrassed on the first day, then we did a scene outside where we’re double-crossing each other, and at the end I kiss him – not in a romantic way – and that was the confirmation. That whole side of stuff is so weird. My boyfriend thought it was funny.’
‘The Crown’ season two is available on Netflix on Fri Dec 8.