Director Stephen Daldry brings our fascination with the Royal Family front and center in the award-winning Netflix drama, The Crown.
Director Stephen Daldry received 3 Oscar nominations for directing such films as The Hours and Billy Elliot. His award-winning direction also extended to the stage where he received a Tony for directing the musical adaption of Billy Elliot. Last year, his career moved to television for the first time with Netflix’s royal drama The Crown. Starring Claire Foy as the titular figure, the series illustrates the early life of Queen Elizabeth II as she ascends to the English throne. It also focuses on the impact of her reign on those closest to her.
Daldry received acclaim for his direction of the pilot episode “Wolferton Splash” and its follow-up episode “Hyde Park Corner.” Here, Awards Daily TV’s Jazz Tangcay talks to Stephen Daldry about his involvement with the period series as it enters Emmy® season a major contender.
How did this start for you?
Peter and I did a play called The Audience in London, and we took it to Broadway and the subject matter consistently interested us so we thought we’d keep going. We didn’t have a lot at the time. We had a basic story, and we talked to different people such as the BBC, HBO, and Netflix. They were the most interested and could afford it, so we went with them.
You must be experts by now?
We are quite good. We had a brilliant team of researchers who helped myself, Peter, and the actors which was a huge resource. Most of the things in the show are documented in one way or another. People think they know the story and question whether it’s true or not, or it’s part of our national mythology because you’ve grown up with them and you think you know them and everything about them. But, it’s quite surprising how little people do know. She’s actually the most visible invisible woman in the world. You think you’ve been brought up with her. She’s your mother or your grandmother and actually, you know remarkably very little about her.
What’s your first memory of the Royal Family?
I have a vague memory, but I think I vaguely remember Churchill’s funeral in the 1960’s. I have a memory of that national event, and I think that’s my memory. As you grow up, you remember Prince Charles becoming the Prince of Wales, and through your life, you meet them. You meet most of them, and again, I had never immersed myself until we started doing the play and that became the point of interest. It seems so great that you can have the opportunity of exploring not just them but this family under incredible pressure that never expected to become the Royal Family, and a Queen who never expected to become Queen, thrust into this position through the abdication and early death of her father. It’s just an endlessly fascinating subject.
How did you decide that was going to be the point to start the show?
You either start it at the abdication because it hovers over the family like a great neurotic sword. Starting with the wedding seemed like a natural place to start. We spent some time wondering if we should explore the early marriage in Malta, but it felt more interesting of keeping the early death of her father as an early core really of Episodes 1 and 2.
You went straight from Season 1 to 2. How has that been?
I directed two episodes and produced it all. It’s endless, you shoot for over nine months, and it’s a long movie. You just keep going.
What fascinated you the most about Queen Elizabeth?
It’s her relationship with Downing Street and the relationship with her family. A very complicated marriage to a man that was never an obvious choice as a husband, a difficult sister. She’s uneducated, but yet by the grace of God, she believes she’s there as a divine entity. She is head of the Anglican church. It’s always funny to explain to my kids when they go to church and I tell them that she is the head of the church. She is still officially the head.
Your casting is perfect.
We’d seen Claire in Wolf Hall. I didn’t know her at all, and she came in to audition. I knew straight away. She has this ability to say one thing and think another, play two things at the same time. She’s a very sophisticated actress at the height of her power so we lucked out. We did that with all our actors.
John Lithgow as Churchill is worth a mention.
I’d seen him a lot on stage in New York. The usual suspects who could you cast in terms of British acting came up, but it seemed more interesting to go with John.
I really loved the Churchill and that whole relationship.
Again it’s the heart of that season about this old man who can’t really do the job. He’s thrown out of office and comes back to power, and it’s really beyond him. He’s hung on and hanging on and had this very inexperienced young woman there. He felt he was heralding this woman into power. She was very affectionate towards him in the end. It’s truly an extraordinary tale of those two. He lived on, but we don’t see him in Season 2. Once he leaves office, he leaves. In the middle of all that, you have the Empire collapsing, and this thing called the Commonwealth.
What is that?
Exactly. What is that? You have this woman trying to come to terms with what her job is. The British constitution is very complicated and it’s not written down. There’s this woman trying to come to terms with what it means for her. We spent ten hours on it and really could have spent forty hours on it.
It’s fascinating to think she’s still reigning today.
She’s still doing that job today.
What was it like doing a period show in 2017?
That’s the advantage of Netflix. You could have made a cheaper version of it and that would be that. I wanted a scale for scale sense because unless you see her as the most famous woman in the world and unless you see her in the context of the world, it’s not easy to understand the country or the world at that time without giving it some scale. We had a great time filming it.
What did you talk about with Michele and the production designs?
Buckingham Palace is a huge place and you can’t copy them. It’s very hard to find rooms that scale Buckingham Palace because you can’t shoot. We built some as we didn’t want to engage with the Royal Family for obvious reasons, nor would they want to. We had to create our own landscape of a production palette that is plausible of these huge houses.
Michele is a genius and that’s what she’s a genius at. She is a genius at rooting the costumes in character and found everything from the fabric to the cut that fit the character and the period. We were blessed with her and everyone. It was terrific to do the show with everyone.
What is our obsession with the Royal Family?
Historically it’s changed. They go through different periods of popularity. The problem with them as a family is that they are meant to be the perfect family, but of course, they are not. They’re like any other family filled with ghosts and skeletons, but the projection is that if they’re not perfect. Historically, it’s been a problem for them.
How much do we know about them? The Queen always argued and fought against the idea that they should be known. The point of the Royal Family is that they are not known. The point is that they are not like everyone else and stop trying to make us like everybody else. Even though they are and all those contradictions are great fun to play with.
She’s not elected. She’s not chosen, and she’s not the people’s choice. It’s irrelevant what the people think. She’s there by the grace of God, and she believes that. In her coronation, she’s anointed.
How did you feel those private moment gaps in?
People have different versions of her. I think this is our version of her. It’s not particularly accurate. This is our take. I like our take. She’s nice to people and a little left to center. I like portraying her as somebody who is sensible and someone whose moral compass I can understand as opposed to a moral compass I couldn’t understand.
She’s very weary of the country going to war.
I like your Prince Phillip.
We were blessed with Matt Smith. He becomes a reformer. He’s an outsider, a refugee, and is a kid with no parents. She pushes that marriage through. It’s an oddity that this man makes stupid jokes but is an incredible supporter.
Oh, I can’t let you go without talking about Wicked.
I’m doing that. We’re a little way off. We don’t have a script yet. There’s going to be some new music but we don’t know a lot yet.
Well, that’s quite soon.
The Crown Season 1 currently streams on Netflix. Season 2 drops this fall.