Matt Smith discusses getting certain emotions right for emotionally charged scenes in Season 2 of Netflix’s The Crown.
Prince Philip is lost at the beginning of the second season of The Crown. The first time we see him, he is in a fight with Queen Elizabeth about personal direction. She tells him that she thinks he’s lost his way. For the past two seasons, Prince Philip has been embodied by Matt Smith in a quiet but well spoken performance. He received his first Emmy nomination this season for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, and he’s bloody effective as a man at odds with a position he can’t escape.
This season, Philip’s restlessness takes him in many directions. He escapes the confines of Buckingham Palace for a royal tour, and his wild spirit seems momentarily satisfied as he ventures around the world. When he returns, the marital problems persist between him and Elizabeth up until the very end of this second season. Smith and Foy engage in a fight that is like a verbal chess match. They both have everything to lose.
There is a determination in Smith’s eyes that make the viewer question what he’s thinking. Philip feels unnoticed and useless, but that can be seen whenever Smith isn’t speaking. He brings a volatile sadness to a role that a lesser actor would play in a completely different way. Smith admits that Philip can be an impatient man, but you understand his frustrations because this actor knows how to make them relatable.
You’ve been associated with television for a long time. How does it feel to be nominated for an Emmy?
Well, it’s one of those things, isn’t it? It’s a nice thing to happen and I am very privileged to be invited along. It’s going to be a nice evening.
Your submitted episode, “Mystery Man,” is the season finale. It confronts that notion whether Philip did or did not cheat on Elizabeth. What was your initial impression of that particular script?
That’s a very interesting question. It was a good script—very well rendered and written. Peter Morgan reminded us that these are facts. We are not inventing rumors with this. It’s important to tell these stories as uncomfortable as they may be.
I love that scene between you and Claire Foy in the Season 2 finale. What was it like performing that scene with her?
I adore her. You guys have never had such a dramatic scene like that in the two seasons you had together.
We wanted to get that scene right. It took a lot of time to be honest with you. As difficult as relationships are, they have a universal language to them. Every relationship has those little beats battling. It’s like two ducks on a pond. Everything looks fine on the top, but you can see them kicking just beneath the surface.
Marriage being tested is a theme explored throughout the second season, and I couldn’t help but think that Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage is being compared to Harold and Dorothy Macmillan’s marriage. Did you talk about that at all?
Yes, we did. You can’t help not. Just because someone is in the public eye doesn’t mean their life in simple. Everyone bleeds and hurts. We needed to keep everything as honest as possible.
You have that scene with Elizabeth on the train where you tease her about her hair.
And I love those little hints of humor The Crown has. It reminds you that these are actual people.
Yes, the humor really kept them together. They make each other laugh. Even through the things they have to endure—things that are difficult. Philip openly makes mistakes, but they get through them together.
Another great episode you have is when we see the parallels between Philip and Charles’ experiences at Gordonstoun. Did you talk to Finn Elliot who plays the younger version of you?
Actually I didn’t and not because we didn’t want to interact. He’s a very accomplished and natural young actor. I think he’s fabulous. With his performance you really get to see where Philip came from. At times he could be a belligerent or impatient man.
You have this very small moment with Matthew Goode’s Antony Armstrong-Jones where he essentially says, “Don’t be careless with your cheating. I will always cover for you.” What was going through Philip’s mind in that moment?
He was thinking, “Shit, I don’t want to be like you.”
You are passing off the torch to Tobias Menzies for Seasons 3 and 4. What are you looking forward to now that another actor will be continuing a role you created?
Since I played Doctor Who, I am well versed in passing it on. We knew how it was going to be structured with different actors playing every two years. I think it’s going to be thrilling when we go back and see all the actors playing the same parts. That’s fascinating. It’s going to be brilliant. I’m excited.
All episodes of The Crown are streaming on Netflix.