Will 2011 be the year of Claire Foy? She’s getting an early-enough start: The 26-year-old British actress makes her big-screen debut this week in Season of the Witch, starring as a nameless, possibly accursed young woman whom a pair of 14th-century knights (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) must transport to an abbey in the hopes of curbing the Black Plague. If only it were that easy: One misfortune and suspicion after another befalls the knights’ quest, threatening them, their cargo, and maybe the entirety of human civilization. All in a day’s work, right?
Foy’s breakthrough follows a flurry of high-profile TV roles, including her turn as the title character in the BBC’s acclaimed miniseries adaptation of the Dickens novel Little Dorrit. Movieline caught up with Foy recently to discuss Season of the Witch, why Cage might be a little misunderstood, and a couple other, older Hollywood legends she wouldn’t mind having a crack at in front of the camera.
So two and a half years ago, before Little Dorrit, you lived with five flatmates and talked about spending a pound for plates at Ikea. Has success since spoiled Claire Foy?
No! I’m no longer living with five other people, though. I think I’d have to be a little mad to do that now. But no, not at all. My life is still pretty much the same since the time I said that.
What has changed for you, at least career-wise? How has your perspective on your work evolved?
I think it’s probably changed the most by getting a little bit older, really. And a little bit wiser. But you can only learn on the job anyway, so I suppose I have learned a lot about acting. God knows what it is that I’ve learned; I have no idea at the moment. But it’s a lot, just by meeting people and listening to people and watching other actors act. And reading so many scripts and books and things. I’ve picked up a lot. But ask me in 10 years. I’ve got no idea at the moment what exactly it is.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or intended to pursue?
No. I didn’t really know acting was something you could do for a living. I suppose I’ve always liked acting ever since I was a kid. But I went to university, and then I went to drama school. I wasn’t doing it from an early age or anything like that. It was something I came relatively late to, for all intents and purposes. But I’ve always had a performer’s instinct, I suppose you could say.
And now Season of the Witch, which signifies your feature-film debut. What’s it about, and who do you play?
Well, it’s about a knight called Behmen, who is Nicolas Cage, and Felson, his mate, Ron Perlman. And they’ve been in the Crusades; they’re religious men. And they’re given the task of transporting a witch who is suspected of causing the Black Plague to an abbey where she’ll be put on trial and that sort of thing. I play said witch. It’s pretty much about their journey across Europe to get to this abbey and all of the horrible things that happen — some of which I’m responsible for, and some not.
What interested you in the role as your debut?
It’s such a different role for me. It held a lot of challenges, and it’s quite a powerful role — a powerful character. It was something I could have quite a bit of fun with as well. Like Dom[inic Sena], the director, encouraged you to follow your instincts and try different things. Even if things went horribly wrong, it was good to have a good. All those things, really. As soon as I met Dom, I thought he was brilliant. I really got on well with him. And this was something I just hoped I’d get.
In terms of channeling that power you mention, what did you think you could do with it?
It’s quite a manipulative role; the character does a lot of manipulating. Pitting other people against each other, being quite mischievous… That was something I thought would obviously be good to do. I don’t know if I really thought about how I’d play it or anything like that. I just did my work. It was all in the script that Bragi wrote. What he wanted was pretty much there. There wasn’t a lot of deviation from what’s there.
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman. That’s kind of a potent combo—
“Potent” is exactly the right word. I had a brilliant time. They’re both so different but they both get on so well. It’s interesting. And they both have so many stories to tell. They’ve been at this for quite a long time, so it was interesting to see them bouncing off each other a bit. They’re an interesting pair, and we had a lot of laughs.
Because Nic Cage is crazy, right? Or intense, or…
Um… I wouldn’t describe him as “intense.” I’d describe him as really funny. But I don’t know. I think people can get confused; sometimes people think people really are how they appear onscreen — that some people have a certain profile, so they’re a certain way. Or they might have done certain things when they were younger, and people have followed them around forever. But for me, Nic is just Nic. And he’s such a lovely man, and he’s got such a lovely family, and I had such a good time working with him. It’s quite a big deal meeting Nicolas Cage! And he lived up to every possibility of every way I thought he might be like.
Have you seen the video circulating of his biggest screen meltdowns?
Ah. I was curious what you thought might be compatible from Season of the Witch.
Oh, no, no. He’s strong as houses, Nic.
In the States, more and more film actors are taking advantage of roles on TV. Of course, you had your breakthrough on TV. Do you intend to stick with that going forward, or are movies more your speed?
Oh, yeah. I mean, I’ve done one film since I did Season of the Witch, but TV’s where the work is, really. And TV’s where a lot of great scripts are. But every job’s got its merits. I haven’t been over to Hollywood or anything since doing Season of the Witch, so who knows? But my main focus is to do more theater, really. That’s the next thing I’d like to do — really, really. But I don’t know. There are so many wonderful, wonderful jobs in British TV. There are so many opportunities. But it’s really just [that] what auditions you get are what you get. It’s not brain science or anything like that.
Are there any specific roles — in literature, theater, TV, film — you’d love the opportunity to play at some point?
Not particularly. There’s always a specific idea what jobs you’d like to do. I’d like to do something political — something maybe low-budget. I’ve done something like that recently. I always wanted to be in a period drama. I’ve done that now, so that was all right. Oh, I’ve always thought I’d love to play — and I never really think about parts, because you’ve got to wait for people to write them — but I’d love to play Elizabeth Taylor or Vivien Leigh in the story of their life. But only sheerly for my own enjoyment. [Laughs] I’m not sure anyone would want to watch me pretending to be Elizabeth Taylor or Vivien Leigh.
Of course we would? But why them?
I don’t know. I think it’s probably just because I grew up watching Gone With the Wind and wanted to be Vivien Leigh. And also, the glamour — all the things everybody loves about Hollywood. I just think it would be an exciting thing to do.