Claire Foy on First Man
Interview with the British actress Claire Foy.
The film, First Man, in cinemas now, is a thoughtful biopic of the life of Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. In this film, Damien Chazelle, director of the multi-Oscar winning La La Land, is back with another possible contender. It has a wonderful cast, including British actress, Claire Foy ( The Crown), who portrays Janet Armstrong, wife of Neil, played by Ryan Gosling. Interview.
New York Magazine: Tell me how Damien Chazelle persuaded you to be in First Man. Claire Foy: (Laughs) I think it was the other way around. Damien had seen some of the stuff I’d done, but I hadn’t played a midwestern American, and it would’ve been a massive, massive leap of faith for him to go, “Sure! You’ve got the part!” So I came to L. A. and read for it, and we went and met Ryan. It was one of those situations where it should be really weird, and you’re barely able to open your mouth because you’re so honored and in such awe, but I somehow managed to not embarrass myself — I don’t think. I probably did.
2. N.Y. Magazine: You recently described Janet as an “absolute cracker.” Did you get a
chance to meet her before her death in June? C.F.: I was never in a room with her. I’ll always regret that. But then at the same time, I wonder whether, when playing her, it was helpful that I didn’t meet her; there was some distance. She was very private about her relationship with Neil anyway. I didn’t want to put her in a position where she was having to talk to some random actress about her marriage. Nobody wants to do that!
3. N.Y. Magazine: What was the most difficult scene to film? C.F.: Damien is a very trusting director and doesn’t interfere unless he feels like he has to. The hardest scene was Karen’s [Neil Armstrong’s daughter] funeral. But he didn’t put us through the wringer. That felt, as much as it could have, good, in a sense. But there was one scene, the night before Neil goes away before the launch — it was one scene, shot for 12 hours, and we improvised a lot of it. I was driving the scene quite a lot. That’s always hard, when you’re the person responsible for getting it going.
4. N.Y. Magazine: How much of the film was improvised? C.F.: Improvised is a general term for what we did. We were doing takes tied to dialogue and takes where Damien would be like, “Do whatever you want!” It was more of an exercise, I think. But before shooting, we did two weeks of pure improvisation. Me and Ryan and the kids were a family, all of a sudden, in a cabin. We were like, “Hi! Hello. We’re a family.”
5. N.Y. Magazine: Were you living together in the cabin? C.F.: No. Dear God, no. I mean, that’s a lovely idea, but I have a child. I can’t go disappear and be somebody else’s mom for two weeks. But the premise was that we came to work eight hours a day with each other. And that was amazing. There was no pressure; it was just us moving in and out of each other and trying to see the rhythms of their life (before the events of the movie). We had two weeks to build the world that then gets shattered by everything that happens.
6. N.Y. Magazine: There’s a part in FirstMan, the Neil Armstrong biography on which the movie is based, in which Janet says she’s overwhelmed by her sudden fame. Did you ever feel that way after the success of The Crown? C.F.: Janet didn’t ask to be the poster girl for American wives. She didn’t know that by marrying a fighter pilot she’d suddenly be on the front cover of Time magazine. But up until The Crown, I’d been relatively unscathed by any of that. I’m still unscathed, because I’m still me. But I think Janet found it more restrictive and confining, like being in a straitjacket. There’s a scene where she really gives it to NASA. But Janet knew who she was and what was happening. She had such a backbone of steel.
7. N.Y. Magazine: You’ve now played several women who are secretly stressing out while having to seem calm for various reasons. Do you relate? C.F.: I suffer really badly with anxiety. Not about work, but life in general. There’s a thing of thinking somebody’s life on the outside looks amazing, how wonderful, and that’s such dog s**t. Internally, everyone’s struggling. A few weeks ago, I saw someone who was really crying on the side of the road, and I thought, “Oh my God, I want to give them a cuddle.”
“Janet didn’t ask to be the poster girl for American wives.”
Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong in First Man.