By Teddy Jamieson
The actress Claire Foy plays Anne Boleyn in the new BBC historical drama series Wolf Hall. But how’s her own knowledge of the Tudor era? Let’s test her. Complete this sentence, Claire. “Henry the Eighth was a …”
“A bit of a tyrant, I think,” Foy says, smiling, as we sit in an office in central London. “He was like the perfect king. He was tall. He was strong. He had red hair.”
Red hair? Maybe that’s why the BBC chose Damien Lewis to play him in this new adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel.
“He was the most English, virile bloke,” Foy continues. “He was amazing at all sports. But he really did do some incredibly dubious, sly, untoward things. He was a kid really. He couldn’t deal with the consequences of any of his decisions. He got other people to do everything for him. And how could you sentence your wife to death and meanwhile be in the country romancing another girl and never think about her? It shows how tyrannical he could be.”
So, we’re agreed then Claire. Henry the Eighth was a sociopath. “Yes, I think that’s definitely the word. But then saying that, he was incredibly charming and gregarious.”
Do we know that though? Who would have dared tell the King he was being rude? Yeah, Foy agrees. “He could just have been horrible and flatulent. But Damien was very charming.”
So what can have we learned? Perhaps that Damien Lewis does not fart on set. Good to know. We’ve also learned that Claire Foy has done her research about the Tudors. She was a big fan of Mantel’s novel even before she was approached to appear in Peter Kosminsky’s new drama. The star of TV dramas Little Dorrit and Promises was worried that she wouldn’t be able to play Anne because, having read the book, she didn’t actually like her very much.
Even now, she admits, it’s difficult to understand Boleyn’s actions. “A lot of the stuff she did I just couldn’t get my head around. She’s really religious but she is incredibly cruel to people and if something’s wrong she deliberately takes it out on other people straight away. She just instantly lashes out.
“And she could be incredibly pious but then flirt ridiculously with men and maybe kiss them and, who knows? Possibly even have sex with them. There are too many contradictions. I can’t figure out how she makes any sense. But that’s sort of my job, I suppose, to hopefully get to the bottom of it.”
And that’s the fun of being an actor, she says. The chance to play someone who is the opposite of you. “I love confrontation when I’m acting. In real life I don’t really love it that much, but when I’m acting I love really well written back and forth. It’s great.”
Foy was born in Stockport in 1984 and landed the lead role in the BBC’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit within a year of leaving drama school. She’s been a regular on our screens since then, appearing in everything from the Channel 4 Middle East drama The Promise to the BBC’s ill-fated remake of Upstairs Downstairs.
And after Anne Boleyn there are rumours that she might appear as Queen Elizabeth II in a new drama for Netflix but she’s not allowed to say anything about that, she says.
She’s clearly used to appearing in costume. Was Anne’s any more uncomfortable than usual? “It got difficult towards the end because it got hot. You get pissed off with every costume you wear. If I was wearing skinny jeans I would be pissed off with wearing skinny jeans every day. You end up hating every costume because you wear it every day.”
People get too worked up about what actors wear she says. Especially on the red carpet. “There is this thing if you’re an actor now about what you’re wearing all the time. If you go on a red carpet you’ve got to be wearing this … And all of a sudden someone who’s been in one film is ‘best dressed’ or something. And you think ‘but surely that’s not the point?’ Nowadays it’s like you have to have a publicist, you have to have a stylist. I don’t, but that’s what you’re supposed to have in order to be seen to be doing well. It’s really peculiar. I’m sure it will end at a certain point.”
Perhaps she’s not so wrapped up in these things because she has a life too. She got married at the end of last year to fellow actor Stephen Campbell Moore and 2015 will see the birth of their first child. She says she’s never been happier. “Now’s a bit depressing actually. For some reason everything in the world seems to have gone a bit bonkers in the last six months. But in my life I’m at my happiest and having a great time”
But if she could travel in time when would she choose to live? “The seventies because I just loved the clothes and I think it was a really exciting time and you could just go and dance to disco.”
Wonder if Anne Boleyn would have liked Studio 54?
Wolf Hall begins on BBC Two on Wednesday at 9pm.