Claire Foy: From the Queen to more than just Neil Armstrong’s wife
LOS ANGELES—Claire Foy was appropriately dressed in a cool white dress amid the heat and humidity at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. In “First Man,” she plays Janet Armstrong, the wife of Neil Armstrong whose Saturn V rocket lifted off from this Nasa field center and made its historic landing on the moon.
Thanks to Claire’s acting depth and emotional range, she is more than just a wife waiting at home opposite Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle’s absorbing drama. The story is based on the astronaut’s life and the legendary Apollo 11 space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. Claire’s compelling portrayal of Janet Armstrong as an equal partner of Neil and a brave mom to their two sons, Mark and Rick, has stirred buzz of potentially her first Oscar best supporting actress nomination.
As Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown,” the English actress won best actress-drama series in the 2017 Golden Globes and the 2018 Emmy Awards. Now that the monarch role has been taken over by Olivia Colman as the series tackles the Queen’s later years, Claire sported Lisbeth Salander’s brunette short do and black leather duds in yet another transformation in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”
At 34, the Oxford School of Drama alumna is turning out to be one of the finest actresses of her generation. She has a daughter with her actor-husband, Stephen Campbell Moore, from whom she is separated.
Excerpts from our chat:
Did this movie make you think that while you play an independent woman, back in those days, a woman couldn’t be an astronaut? It is crazy to think that it was 50 years ago and 20 years after, that was the first time there was a female astronaut, which just seems ridiculous, as it always does when you’re looking back and you think about progress and how long it’s taken us to get to a point.
But that’s the thing that I felt was amazing about the film—it didn’t make it seem like these women were living half a life or that they were beholden to the men that they were married to, especially Janet who had a very equal relationship. And he knew how lucky he was to have her in his life.
That was some moment when Janet implores Neil to give a talk to their kids, that he might not come back from the Apollo 11 mission because of the dangers involved.
We know that it was Janet who made Neil do that. So it was our job to figure out how that might happen with those two different personalities and how she got him to do it. Because he was an immovable beast, in a way.
Within a span of a few years, you have tackled radically different roles in “The Crown,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and, now, this. I’m so lucky and grateful. It’s rare that you’re given the opportunity to stretch your legs as an actor. And especially play someone who’s so far beyond your reach.
There is that thing that I had with my first ever job with “Little Dorrit.” People assume that you are that character and that you’re meek, sweet, kind and little (laughs). I was surprised when I started getting scripts for things that were just like that and I thought, that’s weird.
But I could only ever follow my gut and hope that leads me … to somewhere interesting—and that’s what I hope I can keep doing. But I would love to play Queens for the rest of my life (laughs). There aren’t that many left.
This Janet role is as American as they come. That must have been daunting. Yes, it’s daunting. The main thing for me was that I would be playing someone’s mother, and I was responsible for depicting Rick and Mark’s mom. I just found that a huge responsibility. But I relished it.
I know the East Coast and the West Coast and a couple of places in-between, but I don’t know Midwest America. So it was amazing to get to know those people and their values, especially at that period in time.
What kind of reaction do you still get from people who loved you in “The Crown”? What’s amazing is the breadth of people who have seen it—all ages and different backgrounds. People who said that they absolutely despised the monarchy, but have said, “Oh my God, I love the show.”
I’ve been in people’s living rooms (through the show), which is lovely, but I find it strange that they know me, as opposed to just Elizabeth.
What did you think of Ryan Gosling before you worked with him? I think he’s such an incredible actor. I auditioned for Damien, and he was like, “Let’s meet Ryan.” And we were going to have breakfast together, and there was no time for me to be weird about it. I’ve never sat across from him and said, “I love your work.”
He is so like Neil in that way, in that it’s not about him; it’s about everybody else. He is what he says he is and that’s the thing about him—he’s kind, funny, intelligent. Just lovely.
Did you enjoy the dance scene with him? Yeah, but it didn’t last long enough. I was glad that Damien put a bit of romance into Janet and Neil’s story. And it came in the shape and form of a dance.
How did you enjoy the transition from “First Man” to “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” which required you to do many action scenes? I loved the action. I hadn’t done it before in that way.
When you started going to awards shows, did you geek out on certain people? Every human being, especially at my first Golden Globes. I was nominated, as well, so the whole experience was incredible. I was on autopilot. There’s no way, when you admire someone that much that you can go up to Meryl Streep and say how much she has meant to you (laughs) because I would come across as crazy.
When did you start dreaming of becoming an actress? I’m really an annoying person who never had the dream of being an actress. I just knew that I got to a certain age when I knew that I had an inclination toward acting.
Then, I realized there was a drama school I could go to where I could just do it for myself, and that’s what I did. I never had any intention of being able to do it for a living.
So, when did you realize that you could do acting for a living? About three or four years in, and even then, I would be like, oh, maybe that’s it, when am I going to get another job?
So is there a plan B? When I have to think of one, I will think of one.
Do you have something lined up at the moment? No. Diddly-squat (laughs).
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