DOWN TO EARTH
FOY PLAYS THE GROUND CONTROL ROLE FOR NEIL ARMSTRONG’S FIRST MAN
Claire Foy has swapped jewelled crowns for the life of a housewife in her latest film role.
The actor, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth II to critical acclaim in Netflix’s The Crown, stars opposite Ryan Gosling in First Man ,a look at the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the 1960s space race that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon.
Q: How did you approach playing Janet Armstrong?
A: Janet was Neil’s wife and her story isn’t particularly known but she is obviously integral to his story and his domestic life. The usual story we get told is the astronaut’s story – the story of the hero, the story of manned space exploration. So, like most people, I’d never really thought about the family I suppose. And so I saw Janet as the leader of that family and I think it’s very easy in that set-up, in a 1960s American house, to think that a man would be leading the household.
He is the breadwinner, the one who goes to work – but it’s Janet who is the one who is keeping it together. So I did lots of research but unfortunately I never got to meet her and sadly she passed away quite recently.
I would have loved to have met her – not to probe her or anything but just to sit in a room with her because I really think she was very interesting and an amazing woman. She experienced something so singular, something that so few people experience, and I have a huge amount of admiration for her and the incredible job she has done bringing up her boys.
Q: Did you meet Janet and Neil’s sons?
A: Yes, Eric and Mark. There was a certain amount of trepidation before I met them. You sort of feel that they might think ‘Who are you coming in and telling the story of my mother? You are not my mother’ but they were just so lovely with me. I think it helped that I’m a mother myself and I wasn’t there to say ‘How did this feel’ and ‘How did that feel?’ I didn’t want to do any of that. I just wanted to know some of their memories of their Mum and Dad. And they just have such positive, lovely things to say about them. We had chats and they were able to give me an insight into what daily life was like.
Q: Did you enjoy working with Ryan?
A: I hated it (laughs). No, I loved it. He is a genius – a very, very talented man. He is incredibly bright, incredibly open to the process of filmmaking and he loves collaborating and he loves to know what people are thinking. And it’s so interesting watching him and (director) Damien together and how they would really excite each other with an idea and just do it – like there was no kind of second-guessing. It was ‘That’s great, let’s do that!’ I loved it. I was given so much freedom. And I felt very, very safe with Ryan. He is such a lovely person and so funny.
Q: The film also touches on Neil’s grief at losing his daughter
A: Yes, Janet and Neil lost their daughter when she was very young. And people have said to me ‘Do you think that’s why Neil went to the Moon? Is that what really happened? Do you think that is true?’. But nobody knows and Neil never spoke about anything – but his silence after Karen’s death is a sign itself that obviously it was something too painful to deal with. And people who have been into space say that it is the most spiritual experience because you look down at the Earth and you think ‘My God, we’re so small but we are so beautiful’ and how can that not make you think about the person that you loved most? So it’s about loss and it’s about how he experiences loss and you can see how it ricochets through the family. First Man opens in cinemas on Thursday.