Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears 'The Crown?' Talking With Netflix's New Prince Philip

Download Audio
British actor Tobias Menzies poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the World premiere of the television series "The Crown - Series 3" in London on Nov. 13, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images)
British actor Tobias Menzies poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the World premiere of the television series "The Crown - Series 3" in London on Nov. 13, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images)

Since creator Peter Morgan debuted “The Crown” in 2016, the show has won fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, the Netflix original returns for a third season on Sunday with a brand new cast.

The new season takes viewers to 1964, just a few months before former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s death. England’s economy is tanking, and Labour Party leader Harold Wilson is running to take power from the Conservative Party in the general election.

In the return of the series, actors Olivia Coleman and Tobias Menzies assume the roles of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, from Claire Foy and Matt Smith.

“It's such an unusual thing to have such a successful, critically acclaimed show that then completely changes every single character,” Menzies says. “What could possibly go wrong?”

Prince Philip is one of those figures in public life who remains a mystery. Menzies says playing him was difficult because he’s “quite hard to get to the bottom of.”

“I think he's a contradiction. He has contradictions within him,” Menzies says. “I think he's funny. I think he's emotional and yet kind of guarded and armored. He is an alpha male who has spent his life second fiddle to his wife.”

The first two seasons of “The Crown” explored Philip and Elizabeth’s strained marriage and the internal struggles Philip faced living in his wife’s shadow. Menzies says season three shows those struggles subsiding.

“I think [creator Peter Morgan] has taken the writing away from the sort of internal kind of challenges of their marriage and what it was for [Philip] to, I suppose, set aside his own career in order to be [Elizabeth’s] consort, etc.,” Menzies says. “And we see in season three, I think they've reached calmer waters in terms of their marriage and both their challenges come from outside.”

Interview Highlights 

On stepping into the role of Prince Philip after Matt Smith

“I had seen the show and admired it hugely prior to any suggestion that I might be involved in it. And I love what Matt did in the first two seasons. I mean, I didn't talk to him about the character and doing it. I know him. We've worked together before. But yes, for some reason, I didn't feel like ... I wanted to do that. And actually, the first two seasons are kind of an amazing resource anyway.

“So, yes, I mean, I definitely called on what Matt had done in those first two seasons through watching it. But yeah, then I felt like in a way I had to then take it on myself and take it somewhere else.”

On how he views Prince Philip as a father

“I think that's one of the things that Peter starts to draw out in this third season as the children start to come into the story. And I think it seems to be quite well acknowledged that [his daughter, Anne, Princess Royal] is who Philip is closest to. [His son, Charles, Prince of Wales] is on record as saying that he found Philip a very difficult father to have. If you take Charles' words, it seems like he could be quite a bullying and domineering father and yet ... speaks very well and warmly about it. So contradiction seems to be at the heart of it.”

On how “The Crown” compares to his work on “Game Of Thrones,” “The Night Manager” and “Rome”

“Unlike those dramas, I'm playing someone who is a real person and is still alive so that has its certain challenges both technical, and I guess there's an element of responsibility towards that. In terms of the making of it, there are definitely similarities in terms of size of budget and the kind of prestige nature of the drama that we're making.

“[‘The Crown’ is] such a different show. And I'm also much more involved in this. ‘Game of Thrones’ I adored shooting that, but I was sort of much more in and out of that. And, you know, that's an imagined fantasy world in which I usually shot in the mud in Belfast. There's much less mud when I'm shooting 'The Crown.' … I don't get that dirty. And yeah, the clothes are a little sharper tailored.”

On his view of the royal family over the course of his life 

“The truth is, I was brought up pretty Republican. … The royal family were not very present … in our lives. They weren't people I thought about very much. I mean, I hope my mum doesn't mind me saying, but she would actively like not watch the Queen's speech on Christmas Day. So, yeah, I definitely am quite ill qualified for this. So it was a steep learning curve in terms of thinking about them, reading about them, sort of putting my focus on who they are, I suppose. And I think for me, they were just part of the infrastructure here. And I think that's not an uncommon experience for a lot of British people. But having worked on the show, and now found out quite a lot about them and thought about them a lot more, I've been impressed with them. And whatever you think of them politically, you can't question the level of duty and commitment to their positions.”

On why so many people are fascinated by the royal family 

“I guess because they are figureheads of our modern society and so therefore, a certain sort of mythologies and ideas of who we are as people sort of coalesce around these figures. And so I think as soon as a drama invites you to sort of go behind closed doors with those people, there's obviously a sort of, 'Oh, I wonder if it's like that,' kind of frisson. I also think a lot of the success of the show is that Peter [Morgan] pitches that in a really brilliant way so it doesn't fall into soap. It remains, I feel, quite, I think at times important and sort of cogent investigation of those institutions and what they mean and how they filter down into our civic society. And for that reason, it delivers on more than one level. It both has the, 'Oh yeah. I wonder if it is like that?' And also is sort of contributing to a bigger sort of conversation about those institutions.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on November 14, 2019.

Headshot of Jeremy Hobson

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live