Career

The cute ways in which The Crown's Vanessa Kirby prepared for her role as Princess Margaret

She almost drove her sister, who lives with her, crazy in the process!

By: Julia Braybrook

Opulent, detailed and fascinating, The Crown is the Netflix series that's on everyone's binge-watch list – and if it isn't on yours, it really should be. But for a series that's all about the Queen, it's Princess Margaret who had everyone talking – thanks to her portrayal by rising star Vanessa Kirby.

"You could actually do 10 hours [of the series] on Margaret because she's so fascinating," says Vanessa.

"There's so much to her, and she's such an interesting character. I know that parts like this hardly ever come along."

To prepare for her royal debut on The Crown, the London-based actress read countless biographies and stuck photos of the princess all around her flat.

"I've still got her picture on my wall and one in my loo!" she says. "I'd just look at it and think, 'Come on Marg, tell me how to be you!'"

She also created playlists of Princess Margaret's favourite music.

"My poor sister, who lives with me, had to put up with so many bagpipes. I wanted to immerse myself in her world and what she loved, more than anything."

All her hard work culminated in Vanessa being awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role at this year's Bafta TV awards, marking the first major Bafta win for The Crown.

Vanessa and Matthew Goode as Princess Margaret and Tony Armstrong-Jones

The downside of a period drama that's working its way through the decades is that The Crown's upcoming third season had to be entirely recast with older actors.

Vanessa has now passed the baton to Helena Bonham Carter, who will play Princess Margaret for the next two seasons, reportedly set in the late 60s and 70s. Vanessa announced her replacement on Instagram, with a photo of her and Helena, simply captioned 'Honoured'.

And while it's bittersweet to have to move on, Vanessa describes her time on the series as "a dream come true from start to finish", and says the role set a foundation for future projects.

"I never realised how empowering it was to play someone on screen that the men are seen in relation to. Peter Townsend is the fiancé, Tony Armstrong-Jones is the boyfriend of Margaret – as opposed to the other way round," she marvels.

"I feel such a responsibility to find those roles and also to make them."

Naturally, Vanessa isn't taking any time out. She's the newest face in the Mission: Impossible franchise, joining Tom Cruise in the soon-to-be released Mission: Impossible – Fallout as the White Widow, a con artist and street fighter.

"I had to try really hard not to stab Tom Cruise in the eye, because I'm incredibly uncoordinated," she confesses. "Will I be a massive action girl? I doubt it."

She has little to worry about career-wise. Vanessa recently wrapped filming for Gareth Jones, in which she'll play an investigative journalist alongside Happy Valley's James Norton as they work to uncover the truth of the Holodomor, the genocide through famine engineered by Stalin in the 1930s.

She's also returned to the stage at London's National Theatre, as the eponymous character in Julie, a reworking of Strindberg's play Miss Julie. Claire Webb, writing in the Radio Times, called it "a virtuoso performance".

Vanessa, who had a "very free and liberal" upbringing in Wimbledon, London, knew she wanted to act from an early age.

"I remember seeing Vanessa Redgrave in The Cherry Orchard and thinking, I want to do that, get in someone else's shoes and explore the world in that way."

But she took a rather unconventional route. After being turned down by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, she took a gap year before studying English, then turned down her place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) when she was signed to a talent agency.

"I had to gamble. I could've done three plays in six months and never worked again."

Luckily, several roles on stage followed, to rave reviews.

Paul Taylor of The Independent wrote that she was "a star if I ever saw one" in her role in The Acid Test.

Matt Trueman, from Variety, said her performance in Uncle Vanya "confirms her as the outstanding stage actress of her generation".

Having taken the stage by storm, roles in TV and film followed, including parts in Richard Curtis' rom-com About Time and Thea Sharrock's adaption of Me Before You.

She also appeared in the 2014 drama, Queen and Country, where she met her boyfriend and fellow actor Callum Turner. Then in 2016 she landed the plum part of Princess Margaret.

Vanessa – who signed an open letter for the Time's Up Campaign along with 190 women in the UK film industry – says it's an exciting time for women on screen.

"I definitely feel galvanised, as I'm sure women across our industry do, to speak up and stand up for equal rights and equal representation on the screen.

A representation of women we can identify with as being women we would know, who are idiosyncratic and real and flawed and messy and brilliant. We have to really fight for that representation on screen now.

"'Every day I wake up more passionate... We have a responsibility to portray women on screen that we identify with. There are so many women's stories that haven't been told yet, and we have an opportunity to go and find them."