from You Magazine (UK), by Jane Gordon
She is keen to keep her private life out of the spotlight. But with a starring role in the hotly anticipated revival of Upstairs, Downstairs and a US premiere on the way, can Claire Foy avoid getting the Keira and Sienna treatment?
Claire Foy is hungry. It’s midday in the ground-floor café at the National Theatre and she is eating a slice of lemon drizzle cake so big that it’s a wonder the fragile beauty – brilliantly cast in the leading role of the BBC’s award-winning adaptation of Little Dorrit – has the strength to lift it.
Between mouthfuls, the 26-year-old actress explains that she has just finished an audition that had made her so nervous she had skipped breakfast. ‘I really want the part so I can’t possibly tell you what it is because then I know I won’t get it. It’s a bit too good to be true,’ she says a little plaintively.
It has to be said that in a relatively short time – she had just left drama school when she was cast as Amy Dorrit in 2008 – Claire’s career has been a series of ‘too good to be true’ auditions. Shortly after making Little Dorrit, in which she co-starred with Tom Courtenay and Matthew Macfadyen, she auditioned for the main female role in the medieval thriller Season of the Witch.
‘When we had the first official screening of Little Dorrit I had just done my first audition for Season of the Witch and I said to Matthew Macfadyen, “I am up for this Hollywood film starring Nicolas Cage and that’s just never going to happen.” And then a couple of weeks later I was on location in Hungary and Nicolas Cage was walking up to me to introduce himself and I was, like, “Oh!” It was such a whirlwind,’ she says.
There is something very endearing about Claire’s wide-eyed wonder at her own success. Shy, softly spoken and self-deprecating, she insists that winning such high-profile roles has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with luck (round her neck she is wearing a gold horseshoe on a chain). In addition to her Hollywood debut – Season of the Witch will premiere in the US on 7 January – she has starred in Sky1’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, has the central role in Peter Kosminsky’s forthcoming Channel 4 drama series The Promise and (the reason for today’s interview) has a key part in the BBC’s prime New Year drama series Upstairs, Downstairs.
A ‘revival’ rather than a remake, the three hour-long episodes feature a new family and a new cast in the grand Belgravia house that was the setting for the popular drama that ran for five series in the 1970s. The original drama chronicled the divided lives of the aristocrats on the upper floors of the house and their ‘below stairs’ servants from 1903 to 1930, and the revival takes the story on to 1936 and the arrival of the Holland family. Claire plays the beautiful, rebellious Lady Persephone, the younger sister of Lady Agnes Holland (Keeley Hawes). Fears that the hugely popular Downton Abbey – which was rather like an Edwardian country house version of the original series – might steal the thunder of the revived Upstairs, Downstairs are, Claire insists, unfounded.
‘They are very different. I think it will be a success more in the mould of Cranford. It has a brilliant script and a cracking cast, and my role was very frivolous, with fabulous costumes and make-up, and it was so much fun. I just love my job. The weird thing is that when I went to drama school my parents told me that they thought I was “so brave” to choose such a difficult profession. But I don’t see it as brave, I see it as selfish – so few people get to do the job they want to do,’ she says.
The youngest of three children – her sister Gemma is 31 and her brother Robert is 28 – Claire was born in Stockport and spent her early childhood in the Northwest. When she was eight her parents – her father David is a sales consultant and her mother Caroline works for a pharmaceutical company – divorced and she moved to Buckinghamshire with her mother, her brother and her sister. A born show-off (and, she says, the least academic of the three siblings), she took drama and film studies at Liverpool John Moores University, then opted for a postgraduate course at the Oxford School of Drama.
Her student years were fun but financially hard and involved her taking ‘lots of menial jobs’ to help pay her way through university. She is incredibly close to her family, describing her mother as ‘the most wonderful woman in the world’ and her father, who has remarried and lives in Stratford-upon-Avon, as ‘the best’ (she wears a ‘love’ ring on her finger that he gave her last Christmas). Her brother works in finance and her sister is PR manager of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust – and got married last year. Does Claire have a significant other?
‘I am shacked up. It is an actor but I am not saying a word…’ she says, turning from delightfully open to determinedly private in an instant. Claire’s vow of silence about her boyfriend (they met two years ago through work) makes me think that the actor she is ‘shacked up’ with must be equally successful, and in an attempt to draw her out I keeping returning to the subject and coming up with names. Could it be Richard Coyle, her co-star in Going Postal (‘No, he’s happily married with a baby’), or Stephen Campbell Moore from Season of the Witch, or even Christian Cooke, whom she worked with on The Promise (no comment to either)?
‘My secret boyfriend Mr X will find that really funny. We are not living in secret, our friends know and he’s met my parents. I am not saying who it is…actually, it’s Nicolas Cage. No! Can you imagine?’ she says laughing. Claire pulls a face when I ask what she is planning on wearing to the premiere of Season of the Witch. She loves clothes, is addicted to fashion magazines but gets ‘weirdly embarrassed’ when she has to dress up (today she is wearing a maroon midi-dress from Asos with opaque tights and flat black patent brogues).
‘Oh my God! I don’t know. I have never been to a premiere. I have been to a couple of red‑carpet events and had my picture taken, but no one knew who I was – someone had to say, “This is Claire Foy.” One time I was standing there and Katy Perry came up behind me and suddenly the photographers went from saying, “Claire who?” to shouting, “Katy! Katy!” and I said, “Oh, I will get out of the way.”’
In her charmed working life since leaving drama school (her four best female friends have not had the same luck but remain ‘fantastically supportive’ of her success), she has been privileged to work with some amazing actors. Tom Courtenay is a particular favourite, as are Matthew Macfadyen and his wife Keeley Hawes (‘the best couple ever’), and she has huge admiration for their refusal to become ‘celebrities’. Her future career, she hopes, will be like theirs – with an emphasis on the work not the fame.
‘I find fame a very abstract thing to think about – I don’t think that will happen to me. I would hate to be hounded. I think it would be terrible to be Sienna Miller or Keira Knightley and be turned into this paparazzi person. I’d love to have their careers but not what goes with it. There is such an obsession about looks in Hollywood. When I was in LA doing publicity for Little Dorrit I went for an audition just before I had to get on a plane home. So I turned up wearing what I was going to fly in. I thought I was quite smart in jeans and a cardigan and a bit of make-up. But the other actresses were groomed to within an inch of their life, wearing high heels and fabulous clothes, and it was just another world. And I know that I will lose but on things because I can’t do that,’ she says.
Ridiculously modest about her looks (she has the perfect screen face with pale, flawless skin, huge blue eyes and a rosebud mouth), she hoots with laughter when I observe that she doesn’t have make-up on, saying that she is wearing ‘tons – well, a bit of mascara and some concealer’. Happy to adapt to any role – demure in Little Dorrit, glamorous in Upstairs, Downstairs and positively scary in Season of the Witch – she is not particularly vain. ‘Obviously, when I was a teenager I used to spend hours straightening my hair and I had terrible skin that used to really upset me. But when I was 18 I had a horrible growth on my eye that eventually had to be operated on. That taught me not to care so much about the way I looked. I got over myself. I don’t mind how I look for a part as long as it fits the character.’
By now Claire has almost finished her slice of cake and has slipped what’s left into her handbag for later. ‘I love food. I think everyone in my family has a massively high metabolism because there is no other way to explain how much we eat without putting on weight. But we are all rushing round all the time,’ she says with a grin.
As the interview draws to a close I try again to unearth the identity of her ‘secret boyfriend’ (all I know is that he is ‘well known’ and they live on the same West London street as Rufus Sewell, who is an old friend of Mr X).
‘Oh stop it, I am not going to say. Not because I am trying to protect my identity or anything like that, but because this interview is about my acting not my private life. We might be seen out somewhere and it will come out, but I am not going to say. I just want to do the best work I can and I think it’s perfectly possible to be a successful actress – look at Anna Maxwell Martin or Anne-Marie Duff – without having to be a celebrity. Besides, I don’t think I am interesting enough for people to care – I’m not going to be running around with a million different people,’ she says, pausing and then adding, with a long laugh, ‘Only my Mr X.’
Upstairs, Downstairs begins on BBC1 on Boxing Day at 9pm