Even in a season of The Crown that shifts the focus away from the older generation and on to the troubled courtship of Charles and Diana, Tobias Menzies is more than just a royal consort—bringing us a Prince Phillip who is complicated and deeply flawed, but unwavering in his loyalty to his queen and to ‘The Firm’ they have built together. It’s a subtle performance, lived in, and finely crafted— exactly the kind of nuanced portrayal we’ve come to expect from an actor who has made a career out of disappearing into his roles.
As Menzies celebrates his “absolutely delightful” first Emmy nomination, he joins Awards Daily to reflect on his transformation into the late Duke of Edinburgh and the pomp and circumstance of royal life.
Awards Daily: Prince Phillip ages a bit between seasons three and four of The Crown. Did you alter your performance, your physicality, in any way to capture an older Phillip?
Tobias Menzies: Well, the first thing to say is that a lot of it was actually hair and makeup, that definitely did quite a bit of the work— different wigs, the gray starting to come in, the hairline receding. Our brilliant makeup team put in a few liver spots. It’s all very subtle but really helps.
In terms of physicality, there was just an overall slowness. Again, you have to be pretty subtle with it because a little goes a long way. One of the oddities of this job is obviously by season four, I was playing someone quite a bit older than myself. I guess it was about finding a slower rhythm.
AD: Did you make any alterations to your voice work?
TM: We didn’t do a huge amount with my voice; we didn’t mess around too much with it because I felt like that needed to be kept consistent.
AD: I ask because I find your voice work so fascinating; the rhythm and the cadence are so precise. There’s almost a mumbled quality to the way Prince Phillip speaks, and you captured that brilliantly.
Tell me about that preparation. Were there particular phrases or moments you focused on?
TM: No, there wasn’t a particular phrase I used. There was one bit of footage on YouTube, an interview from 1984, which I did use a lot. We’d go back to that regularly. And one other bit of audio that one of the voice coaches gave me, those were my regular touchpoints. There wasn’t really much of a replacement for just listening to him a lot. We did have voice coaches who helped us highlight the specific sounds that did a lot of the work. If you can get those sounds, then everything else falls into place.
You know, the problem with accents, or not using your own voice, is that it can seem artificial or not very natural. So the main thing was getting it relaxed enough and familiar enough in your mouth so that when you actually came to do the scenes, you weren’t thinking about it. My ears were bleeding, listening to him over and over. [Laughs].
AD: It’s interesting that you mentioned finding a slower rhythm for Prince Phillip in season four. How did that translate to your performance and the version of Phillip you brought to the screen?
TM: The honest answer is that a lot of those decisions are made really by Peter Morgan and the writing team. Season four was largely about family and Phillip working alongside the queen, trying to defend against external issues while dealing with everything within the family—Charles and Diana were a big theme in season four.
I think we see a very steadfast loyal, right-hand man to the queen in this season, less of the stuff we saw in episode seven of season three, which is where we see him dealing with quite profound mid-life questions. We really don’t go into that territory in season four.
We focused more on Phillip as a father. In episode one, we see him not be a very good father to Charles after the death of Lord Mountbatten. We see how hard Phillip finds it in that moment to be the adult. It’s almost like he’s the child and Charles is the father; it’s a weird role reversal.
He played a part in Charles and Diana getting together. He’s obviously an advocate. He really seems to fall for Diana. And you could argue that’s something that turned out to be a mistake, slightly bullying Charles into that, but he thinks he’s doing the best for the family and for the institution.
AD: I’ve been lucky enough to speak to multiple members of the show’s cast and crew. I’m always curious as to how being so immersed in the world of The Crown shapes, or changes, your view of the real-life institution. What’s your perspective?
TM: To be totally honest, I can’t say it changed my ideas quite a lot because I hadn’t really thought about it. I think for a lot of people in the UK, the Royal Family is just sort of part of the furniture, really. So, I found out a lot more than I knew. But I guess the other thing to say is I think I definitely came away knowing that I would not want that life.
You know, there’s a level of ceremony and pomp and circumstance— meeting people that you don’t know, people who are probably nervous about meeting you, and you’re left making a huge amount of small talk. I have to say, obviously, they have a huge amount of privilege, but I don’t know whether I’d envy that job. I think it’s quite an odd life.
AD: This has been such a transformative role for you. I’m curious when you go home, do you sort of leave the character at the door, or do you try to stay in that mindset for the duration of the shoot?
TM: I mean, I hear actors talk about that. I don’t really know what that means, if I’m honest. [Laughs]. I mean, I don’t know what it would be to go home as Philip; I certainly don’t do anything even close to that. So no, I’m perfectly able to go home and go back to being me.
Sometimes, I don’t entirely believe it when people say [they stay in character]. Sometimes, I want to ask the question, ‘Practically, how exactly does that work?’ [Laughs].
AD: The Duke of Edinburgh passed away in the months after season four was released. In some ways, your performance is the most recent iteration of Prince Philip we’ve seen. How do you feel about being a part of that cultural legacy?
TM: I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. It feels like a lot of responsibility. Yes, obviously, I sit in a sort of unusual cultural moment in that I had just played him at the time when he passed away earlier this year.
I certainly don’t want to take on too much significance for myself because I think he wouldn’t like that very much. I think he would not want, you know, an actor who played him on a TV show to be in any way, a representative or a mouthpiece for his life. I think his life was much more complicated and richer, more diverse, and wide-ranging than what we were able to capture in the show. And so, far be it from me to be a spokesman for him in any way. I definitely felt that at the time [of his passing], and I still feel that. It’s a curiosity, really, to be in that position. You know, plenty of people did ask me to comment on it, and that didn’t really feel right.
The Crown is streaming now on Netflix. Find all of Awards Daily’s coverage of The Crown here.