t’s the actor’s paradox: play a character poorly and you’ll never work again, or play it so well you become synonymous with the role – and audiences can’t imagine you doing anything else.
Claire Foy knows it well. After her multi-awardwinning performance as young Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s runaway hit series The Crown took her from hardly known to globally lauded, news dropped that she was swapping a title and tiaras for tattoos and biker boots. Immediately, the British actor was deemed “too prim” to play Lisbeth Salander in the latest instalment of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film series.
Foy herself snorts with laughter at the suggestion that she’s too proper. “I don’t think I’ve ever been described as prim in my entire life,” she tells Stellar over the phone from Barcelona, where she is promoting the new movie (called The Girl In The Spider’s Web) at a film convention. “People think I’m the Queen of England and there’s not a lot I can do about that.” She pauses before adding with admittedly crisp, almost regal restraint: “I’m not, is the only thing I can assure people.”
It would have been easy for 34-year-old Foy to back up playing the Queen with a comfortable period drama or an audience-friendly blockbuster. Instead, she’s veered toward the gutsy and gritty by taking on Salander, a violent and damaged vigilante already played convincingly by Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara in previous iterations. Even her three-year-old daughter Ivy Rose hated the cropped haircut she had to adopt.
But “easy” is not in Foy’s lexicon.from a childhood challenged by illness and her parents’ divorce, through to an adulthood bruised by her husband’s brain tumour and their subsequent separation, Foy has rarely known comfort and quietude. In that sense, she’s perfect to showcase Salander’s unrest.
“It’s important to me to keep learning and keep challenging myself, and taking risks that push me in a different direction and make me uncomfortable,” she says. Foy’s performance is already being compared to that of a “feminist Batman”, though she is quick to note she admires the work of Rapace and Mara. She just wanted the character to live on, particularly since the new movie addresses the death of Salander’s parents.
“The thing about Lisbeth is, in order to understand her and admire her, you have to look at why she is the way she is and what she went through in order to be so aloof, confident and difficult. She marches to the beat of her own drum and is the embodiment of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.”
Foy could be speaking about herself. While her upbringing as the youngest of three children of a Xerox salesman bears little resemblance to Salander’s, or certainly the Queen’s, the actor emits a stillness and steeliness that anchored The Crown. Stephen Daldry, who directed her in four episodes, has revealed her composure was magnetic. “[She] has a very powerful ability to do very little and speak volumes,” he has said. “When in doubt, I just put the camera on Claire. Even in silence, she can say a million things.”
The role made Foy a household name around the world, won her a slew of awards – including the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy for Best Actress – and catapulted her onto Hollywood’s A-list, earning her souvenirs such as a letter of admiration from Helen Mirren, herself an Oscar winner for playing the enigmatic royal.
THE ROYAL TREATMENT (below, from top) Claire Foy with co-star Matt Smith in Crown; Actress award at the 2017 Golden Globes; in her role as Lisbeth Salander in next month’s The Girl In The Spider’s Web.