The Crown actor Jared Harris: 'The Queen is probably the most informed person on the planet'

The actor discusses Netflix series The Crown and how he approached the mantle of this role

The Crown - Official Trailer

While British actor Jared Harris is best known for his role as Lance Pryce in the hit TV series Mad Men, he will now be recognised by many as King George VI in award-winning Netflix series The Crown.

Under the guidance of producers Peter Morgan and Stephen Daldry, The Crown follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with the first season covering her marriage to Philip (Matt Smith). Jared Harris stars as her father, King George VI, portraying a version of the figure far removed from the one played by Colin Firth in 2010 Oscar-winner The King's Speech.

We sat down with Harris to talk about his role in the show and how he connected with this different side of King George VI.

What first drew you to join The Crown?

Well, it all starts with the script because if that's not working then you're in trouble. I read the script, I liked it - I liked his take on the character. It was different from the one that we’ve recently become familiar with from The King's Speech, and [it offered] another chance to work with Stephen Daldry. It was pretty much an instant yes.

Jared Harris in 'The Crown'

How did you prepare to play the character? Did you take any inspiration from Colin Firth’s performance in The King's Speech?

I get asked this quite a lot. No, because he was dealing with a different story, a different aspect – that story was about someone overcoming a personal obstacle and that’s not what [this] story is about. Obviously, it was there and one of the questions that Stephen and I talked about was how do you want to deal with that impediment? It has to be there. That first scene where you see him, I leaned on it really heavily in that scene and then I didn't hit it as hard for the rest because once you’ve established it in people's minds, the storyline's going somewhere else. It was really about him as a father - a family man.

Outside my dressing room, there was a giant poster of The King’s Speech with Colin Firth, about 40ft high, looking down at me every single time I went to work. I had to walk past him every day. It was obviously a little bit irritating in the beginning but then after a while, I realised Colin Firth looked nothing like King George VI either and that hadn't stopped people from appreciating what he did.

Is there anything you found particularly challenging about the role?

Weirdly, the thing that I found most difficult about it was trying to define what the job is. How do you know if you’ve done a good job as a monarch at the end of the night? I mean, it’s because nobody has tried to chop your head off and take the crown from you. It was very hard to figure out what the role of the job is and after a while, I realised the problem you face as a monarch is trying to figure out ‘what are you supposed to do?’ You can read all this material to understand it but at the same time, there’s got to be more to it - that it isn’t just purely ceremonial. On some level, the Queen is probably the most informed person on the planet.

Jared Harris and Claire Foy in 'The Crown'

Do you think you could walk us through a day in the life of a king?

A day in the life… Not every day is the same. Interestingly, I would say that it depends on whether the person sitting on the other side of the chair opposite you sees you as being a resource or not and if they don’t then that's no good - and if they see you as a resource and someone they can turn to for advice then you can really do quite a lot.

Did you feel that you were able to add your own personality to the role?

I read a book about raising Margaret and Elizabeth - [the author] had this insight that every day when the children were with their parents under the same roof, the first hour of their day is always spent in their parent's bedroom. They spent the first hour with them as a family before duty took them in different directions - that was the determination on his and his wife's part; that they were going to be a family first and foremost and they're going to protect each other and themselves and the pressures that this job was going to exert upon them. I found that tremendously insightful in terms of what his concerns were and it fits very nicely into the narrative of the first two episodes.

What was the best thing for you working on the series?

Stephen Daldry - it was such a joy to work with him. What a joy. What a pleasure.

Was it fun to experiment with how these historical figures interacted with each other?

Yeah, it was - there were good scenes. It was fun to sit across the table from Claire and watch her do what she does - she’s incredible. You [get to] appreciate the skill of the other performer.

Claire Foy in 'The Crown'

Did you feel connected to the character of King George?

I had a great deal of respect and admiration and I felt great empathy for the man. I really admired his determination to be a father and a husband above all else and I thought that took such great strength of character. I grew very very fond of the guy. You’ve just got to do all the research and listen to him talking [about the] struggles that he had with public speaking. If you’re going to do a historical character, you need to make that sort of connection - and in some way you need to find yourself feeling for them so other people can experience it.

The Crown debuts on Blu-ray™, DVD and Platinum Edition Blu-ray™ and DVD on October 16th, 2017

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