The magical art of creative language in speech, thought and written form

Watch this face: Vanessa Kirby wears shirt by Mother of Pearl. Photograph: Dean Chalkley/The Observer
Vanessa Kirby astounded audiences as Princess Margaret in The Crown. Now she is starring opposite Tom Cruise in the new Mission: Impossible. She talks to Sophie Heawood about theatre crushes, all-night parties – and what the Queen really thought of The Crown


When I went to see Vanessa Kirby starring in Julie at the National Theatre, it turns out I picked “a really bad night. Oh God everything went wrong,” she says when we meet a few days later, in a café in Chelsea where she has just ordered scrambled eggs. In one climactic moment she has khổng lồ kill a budgie on stage, but the blood capsule didn’t burst until well after she whizzed the fake bird up in the food processor. “That happened two nights in a row! But it was better than before, when we used to start the scene with a real budgie & then kill a giả one, because one night the real one started tweeting after the lights went down, when he was supposed khổng lồ be dead. I was trying to lớn shut him up. He was called Gordon. We had to get rid of Gordon. There have been letters to lớn the theatre: ‘We need to lớn know that Gordon has not been harmed.’”

Kirby is a 30-year-old actor from London, a galloping laugh a minute, & quite probably the future of British acting. You may know her as Princess Margaret from Netflix’s The Crown, a role she describes happily as “the gift that I was given”, và which turned what could have sầu been a staid drama about duty và class inkhổng lồ something much more delicious. She gave Margaret a youthful vulnerability – we saw the damns she had to give before she stopped giving any – và now, after two series và winning a Bafta, she is handing the role over to lớn Helena Bonham Carter, who will play the older incarnation. And Kirby is gutted.

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The Crown was the best time of my life,” she says, in her quichồng voice. “Saying goodbye to it was awful, I really grieved it, actually.” Kirby kept a pholớn of Margaret on her bedroom wall & used to lớn gaze at it, wondering What Would Margaret Do? “The easy route would have sầu been for me to lớn just play her as the version of her who comes later, the public persona of her that is so – I don’t know the right word – gauche?”

They could have sent you khổng lồ Mustique!

“I know! Livid! But I wanted lớn try & find the person she was before she hardened, before she became bitter and self-loathing, which is what I sensed. I wanted to lớn find the torment that’s underneath those things. That, for me, made a real woman, even though the circumstances were ridiculous.”


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‘I wanted lớn find the Margaret before she became so bitter’: Vanessa Kirby wears top by Stella McCartney, selfridges.com. Photograph: Dean Chalkley/The ObserverShe played opposite Claire Foy as the Queen. Both of them have sầu just been nominated for this year’s Emmy awards for The Crown. I ask what it’s like lớn be on the receiving end of the enigmatic, brooding looks that Foy’s Elizabeth so regularly deploys.

“Oh, she used khổng lồ give sầu me the look in our scenes together and I’d just be feeling, aaaargh – you’re so internal! You’re so good! You’re so subtle và I have lớn try so hard to rein it in! But Claire was much better about the show ending than I was. She said it was because I had such a personal synergy with Margaret, whereas the Queen remained a mystery to lớn her.”

It transpires the real Queen is a fan, though. Kirby only knows this because a friend of hers was at a fancy các buổi party recently, “where he didn’t know a soul so when he heard some people discussing The Crown he was like: ‘Actually I know someone in that.’ They were like: ‘Cool.’ He goes: ‘No, but I really know someone in it,’ and, meanwhile, this girl says: ‘Well my granny likes it,’ & he suddenly realises her granny is the Queen. It was Princess Beatrice. Although, I told someone else recently it was Eugenie,” she laughs, “but I got that wrong.”

Kirby grew up in Wimbledon, south London, the middle child of three, và attended the private Lady Eleanor Holles School. Her mother, Jane, had been the editor of Country Living và her father, Roger, one of the country’s leading prostate surgeons, “always watched loads of films with me – totally inappropriate ones like Midnight Express when I was about six. He put all films on. I think my sister was five when he took us lớn the cinema lớn see A Perfect Murder.” They were also taken to a lot of plays, “and I got really bored until I was about 11 và then suddenly it clicked for me, like: oh, when theatre’s really good it can be transformative sầu. More than anything, it made me understvà people.”

At primary school, “It was always the drama side of things where I felt the most alive sầu,” she says. “The most myself. I was quite badly bullied for a few years và I became self-conscious about everything I did in relation to the bullies. But drama was the place where I didn’t.”

Was it other girls?

“Yeah it was… systematic. Quite awful. A teacher said to lớn my mum on my very last day of school: ‘She survived it. She’s done it,’ which means they knew it was happening.”


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‘In so many scripts, the women are seen through a male lens. It’s cartoony’: Vanessa Kirby wears roll neck by Jil Sander, matchesfashion.com; trousers by Roland Mouret, brownsfashion.com, & shoes by Nicholas Kirkwood, farfetch.com. Photograph: Dean Chalkley/The ObserverStrangely, Kirby doesn’t sound remotely bitter about it and mutters a half-finished thought about it perhaps being a useful experience now. She describes her childhood as very happy & she knows how socially & financially privileged she was, but she also suffered from giardia, an intestinal parasite, which went undiagnosed for a long time and made her feel permanently nauseous, as if she was about to vomit. “All these nightmare injections, pills up the bum, all of it. Prodded around from age nine khổng lồ 11.”

At school there was a noticeboard with a picture of Ben Whishaw as Hamlet at the Old Vic on it. Kirby stole it for her bedroom wall, went to see the play three times and became obsessed with hlặng, which was not helped by bumping inlớn hyên ổn on a London bus. She was in amateur local productions at the time, but after studying for an English degree at Exeter & then giving up a place at Lamda to lớn go straight inlớn work as an actor some years later, her first big chance was on The Hour – starring… Ben Whishaw.

The director was tough on her, which may have been because: “I wasn’t paying any attention to the scene. In my head it was just alarm bells going: ‘Oh my God that’s Ben Whishaw.’” Afterwards she had to lớn tell him everything. “And it felt good khổng lồ finally confess my infatuation. Of course, he was with his boyfrikết thúc.”

Hollywood came calling & she’s had khổng lồ become better at dealing with famous men since being cast in the sixth instalment of the Mission: Impossible films, out this month and starring Tom Cruise. I ask what he was lượt thích. “Such a pro. Absolutely disciplined; super enthusiastic. Always wants everything executed at a super-high cấp độ, so you have sầu khổng lồ train really hard.”

With him?

“Oh God no, without hyên ổn.” She laughs, groaning. “I think that would be… I did say lớn hyên ổn at one point: ‘I am never getting on a running machine with you.’ But I learned a lot about work ethic from hyên ổn. I never thought that stunts & action would be my genre, but I’m understanding now that you can transcover genre, as long as you try và find the real woman behind the part.”


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‘Working with Tom Cruise on Mission: Impossible I had to lớn train really hard. He is such a pro và always wants everything executed at a high level’: Vanessa Kirby wears jacket by Joseph. Photograph: Dean Chalkley/The ObserverIt struông xã me, watching Julie – which is Polly Stenham’s rewrite of the Strindberg play Miss Julie, & mix at 3am at a druggy buổi tiệc nhỏ in a wealthy house in Hampstead – that Kirby could have played the heroine in a much sexier fashion. Instead, she chooses lớn drag her body toàn thân around with her as if it brings her discomfort. The Đánh Giá have sầu been kind to lớn her, but not khổng lồ the script or production, which tover khổng lồ say it all lacks chemistry. Kirby diplomatically says the problem is: “It’s such a huge space, it’s not an intimate theatre & sometimes the space dictates the parameters.” I’m not convinced she’s enjoying it all that much.

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Still, the current feminist awakening of Hollywood has had a real impact on Kirby, who has risen to lớn fame at the perfect moment lớn seize it. She is working on her own ideas, too. The week after we meet she will fly off lớn work on an unnamed film project she’s developed with Adam Leon. “He’s the best Thủ đô New York film director, I think.” It’s inspired by an article about a woman who entered a fugue state & went missing in the big đô thị. They have sầu cast a group of renegade, gender-fluid young Brooklynites to play her new friends, and Kirby scrolls through her phone lớn show me photos of these genderless kids she finds so mesmerisingly beautiful. She is also developing a film of her own with Ben Caron, who directed her in episodes of The Crown, and making “something about babies who are born addicted lớn drugs and how society treats those mothers”.

Partly this seems like an attempt to get away from the wealthy-woman-in-gilded-prison roles. “I feel like now, more than ever, it’s all of our responsibility khổng lồ have sầu other things represented on screen. There have been so many male stories on screen, or stories of women written by men, so she’s the wife of someone, the girlfriend of someone… It’s only now I realise that looking baông xã, all the scripts I’ve sầu read over time, unless they’re really small indie films, the women have sầu always been fantasy figures, always viewed through the male lens, almost cartoony.”

Her boyfrikết thúc, Callum Turner, is also an actor, and recently they were on a plane together, both with a pile of about 10 scripts to lớn read through. “In every single one he was the central protagonist & the women were helping the leads. Out of mine, about two of my parts were the leads – and then you knew that someone lượt thích Jennifer Lawrence would be doing it. So we women have got to lớn be the generators of the material and, in order khổng lồ do that, we have lớn understvà the system we’re in, which I’m really trying to lớn bởi.”

Kirby has a friend called Sarah, “who says it just pisses her off, all these Hollywood actresses getting on the red carpet & sounding off about #MeToo, etc. She says, what are they actually doing? I say I know, but these are the women who will be on the front pages of newspapers, for better or worse, and then it leads to real change in other industries, too. Media is the controller of everything.”

Another cthua kém friover is the writer Dolly Alderton. They even mô tả the same therapist, which made Kirby very amused to lớn read all about said therapist in Alderton’s recent bestselling memoir, Everything I Know About Love. Yet another friend is Anmãng cầu, with whom Kirby and her sister cốt truyện a flat in Tooting. “So we’re like three sisters. No idea why we live in Tooting, though. I think it was cheapest.” Their home page has calmed down a lot since Kirby became so busy. “It used khổng lồ be mad parties non-stop and the vibrations going through to lớn the little old lady who lives next door – her house was constantly shaking at 4am.” I can’t imagine Kirby upsetting old ladies – she seems too sweet. Did the woman complain? “Sometimes, yes,” Kirby admits, with a shamefaced twinkle in her eye.

Still, she seems entirely unafraid to lớn gọi the shots on the big guys now. “My only little area of change is to lớn be in a big movie & say no, I’m not wearing a short skirt, I’m not showing any skin, I don’t want slapped-on make-up,” she says.

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And if the action film wanted to give you robo-tits? “I would say absolutely not. I don’t care any more. I feel more able to say that now. I’m in a slightly luckier position, but also the times now support it. I don’t want an arse shot – well, not that they’d want one of my arse. But I don’t want khổng lồ be shot through a lens of sexualisation. That’s not me. That’s the distorted feminine và the distorted masculine that is creating so much of the toxic energy in our society.”

It is unusual lớn hear an actor ask quite so many questions in an interview. As she says, she is fortunate khổng lồ have risen to fame in a time that allows it, with other women having begun khổng lồ push the boundaries. But Kirby is questioning everything. Still, you can only fight off so much of the culture. We say goodbye & she picks up her bag of M&S shopping & heads trang chính lớn watch Love sầu Island, during which, she says happily, she will “feel my brain turning inkhổng lồ disgusting nothing”.

Mission: Impossible Fallout is in cinemas from 25 July. Julie runs at the National Theatre until 8 September. Make-up by Kay Montano at The Wall Group using Apothesis, Le May de Chanel and Chanel Le Lift. Hair by Johnnie Biles at Frank Agency using Moroccanoil One. Fashion assistant Penny Chan


Chuyên mục: Giáo Dục