Categories "Love, Love, Love" "The Promise" "Upstairs, Downstairs" "White Heat" Articles

It’s about time I played someone nice again

from The Telegraph / by Jasper Rees

Claire Foy made her name in a series of superior TV dramas. She talks to Jasper Rees about her new role in ‘Love, Love, Love’ at the Royal Court.

It is and isn’t easy being a photogenic young actress. A certain type of two-dimensional role grows on trees. But finding the kind with extra depth can be more of a challenge. Claire Foy was brought face to face with the way the industry at its most nakedly commercial sees young women when she auditioned for a film in Los Angeles.

“The character was supposed to be ‘the most beautiful girl that Johnny Depp has ever seen’,” she says. “And as I wouldn’t be the most beautiful girl that Johnny Depp has ever seen, I was like, ‘I don’t really know what to do because I’m obviously not right for this part.’ But you go up for it anyway and you don’t get it. I think I’m more suited to playing someone with a chip on their shoulder, probably about not being the most beautiful girl in the world.”

The face is nowadays familiar from a number of superior television dramas. Foy’s face is just unclassical enough to have made her convincing as a series of forthright and even stroppy young misses. She was a forthright heroine in Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise, a spoilt Fascist sympathiser in Upstairs Downstairs, and an assertive proto-feminist in White Heat. (When the casting director of Paula Milne’s drama, which finished last week, was looking for an older version of her, they alighted on Juliet Stevenson.)

Foy’s part of the story in White Heat came to an end after a timespan of 24 years, in 1990, which is where her next job begins. By the time she’s completed her run in Mike Bartlett’s new play Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court, she’ll know more about ageing up than any actress of her generation. Its three acts are set consecutively in the late Sixties, the early Nineties and the present day, and examine the impact of one generation on the next. Foy plays the daughter of two hippies; we first meet her as a 16 year-old in school uniform, and later as an embittered single woman aged 37.

“It’s the Philip Larkin thing: she believes her parents did f— her up. They were children of the Sixties and really went for it. The play is about what the children of those sorts of people might be like, the effect it has if parents are really free-thinking as opposed to really strict. But then, you’re buggered both ways if you’re a parent.”

Foy playing a teenager will not tax the audience’s imagination. Born in the year of the miners’ strike, she looks younger in the flesh than her 28 years. Her early childhood was spent in Lancashire, but her parents moved south to Buckinghamshire when she was seven. She now thinks of herself as neither a northerner nor a southerner. “I did have a northern accent, and when I went to university I knew I wanted to go to the North.”

Her film studies course in Liverpool turned her towards acting. After another year at drama college in Oxford she was soon equipped with an agent, and she landed a part in the BBC drama Doctors. She went on to appear in two of a trilogy of plays for young actors at the National Theatre.

It was a useful platform: a similar project a year earlier launched the careers of Andrea Riseborough (Madonna’s Wallis Simpson), Matt Smith (Doctor Who) and Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man). “We were all really young and going,’Help!’ to each other, ‘We don’t know what to do.’”

She must have been doing something right as she was soon playing the title role in Andrew Davies’s BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit. She had to work round the difficulty of embodying one of Dickens’s wan young heroines. “Dickens did just see her as homely, angelic and giving. It was my job to find the real aspect of that. I looked on her as a sort of a carer whose parent or child is ill. That made her believable in my head.”

She’s been lucky enough ever since to investigate some of the more dramatic crannies of femininity: a troubled lesbian toy girl in The Night Watch, adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel about heartache in the Blitz; a feral tabloid editor, inspired perhaps by Rebekah Brooks in Guy Jenkin’s comedy Hacks; and Upstairs Downstairs’ posh little Brownshirt, based on the Hitler-obsessed Unity Mitford.

“You’ve got to keep challenging yourself,” she says, “and I feel bad if I feel like I’m ever doing something that’s sort of similar. Now it’s about time I played somebody nice again.”

Presumably, like other members of the Upstairs Downstairs cast, she is weary of being asked about the overwhelming shadow of Downton Abbey, the period drama which the nation decided to fall in love with. Did it bother her?

She rolls her eyes. “You can never not come across as sounding like you don’t care. If you go, ‘No, no, not at all,’ people go, ‘That was protesting a bit too much.’ You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The honest answer is we were all just thinking, we’re in this programme, as everyone in Downton Abbey would also be thinking.”

If Upstairs Downstairs does limp back for a third series, Foy won’t be in it again: Lady Persephone topped herself in a dramatic exit from the second series.

There was no part Foy pursued more eagerly than the female lead in The Promise. In Kosminsky’s epic historical drama, she played Erin Matthews, an 18 year-old who becomes obsessed with investigating the story of the British soldiers serving in Palestine in the years before our ignominious exit.

“You get so used to not getting stuff and then watching someone else playing the part and even forgetting you were considered in the first place, but with that I would have taken it incredibly personally. I went to God-knows how many auditions, and when it gets that far down the line I was already playing the part. I’d done so much work for it, and knew everything. I just recognised quite a lot of things about me when I was her age.”

Foy is back in her teens for Love, Love, Love, before projecting forward once more to her late thirties. Will there be something of her in this teenager, too? “Oh there has to be because it’s me playing it. Unfortunately, I’ve only got myself to work with. But I hope I’m not like she is when she’s 37.”

‘Love, Love, Love’ begins previews at the Royal Court (020 7565 5000) on April 27

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