EXCLUSIVE: Tobias Menzies’ performance as Prince Philip in The Crown was one of the highlights of Season 3. He captured the royal in all his belligerence and twinkling mischievousness, earning him a Golden Globe nomination earlier this year and putting him in contention for the Emmys.
The British actor, who has also appeared in Outlander and Game Of Thrones, sat down with Deadline during lockdown to reflect on his time playing the Duke of Edinburgh, with Season 4 representing the last time he will don the blonde wig before the role changes hands. The Netflix show wrapped just before the coronavirus pandemic swept through UK production, but it robbed Menzies and his fellow castmates of a proper farewell.
He says the new series will see Prince Charles and Diana become much bigger parts of the Peter Morgan-penned show, and the arrival of Gillian Anderson as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher will bring a different dynamic. “She is the most divisive political figure that the show has had to represent thus far,” Menzies explains.
Away from The Crown, the actor discusses his performance in Channel 4/Hulu comedy This Way Up, his desire to return to the stage, and his ambition to do more film work after signing with WME in the U.S. Keep scrolling to read the full interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
DEADLINE: You snuck under the wire with filming on The Crown Season 4?
TOBIAS MENZIES: Yes, I had just finished and the show was about two or three weeks shy of finishing, though I have a feeling that the vast majority had been shot. It’s quite possible that they will manage with what they have got and not have to go back into the shoot.
DEADLINE: Could you see it coming or was it a bit of a surprise?
MENZIES: I felt very behind the curve. I’ve found this whole thing quite hard to imagine and see into what the implications are, beat by beat. It does feel like a genuine before and after moment. There are so many things that we took for granted that feel almost alien. Being in the intimacy of what a set feels a long way away.
DEADLINE: Drama means lots of people in close proximity — it’s kind of the antithesis to what should be going on during a pandemic.
MENZIES: There’s a danger that the whole health and safety aspect will get in the way of creativity. It might be so sanitized and controlled that one’s ability to work and throw things around a bit could be quite constrained.
DEADLINE: Is that something you’re thinking about as an actor?
MENZIES: At the moment I’m just trying to remind myself that I am an actor. It feels like so long ago. I’m just letting it play out a bit and see what plans they could cook up. Insurance will be a major stumbling block, and then you’re in the nuts and bolts of what it looks like. Things like makeup, doing checks, how many people on a set. Lots to think about.
DEADLINE: Were you deprived of a wrap party on The Crown?
MENZIES: Definitely, we never had a big send-off and I don’t think we will now.
DEADLINE: Because this is your final season isn’t it?
MENZIES: Yes, this whole cast — me, Olivia [Colman] and Helena [Bonham Carter] — this is us finishing. We were planning a fairly drunken farewell.
DEADLINE: How did you say goodbye in the end?
MENZIES: Olivia and I finished on the same day, so they gave us a round of applause and a general whoop whoop. But in a way, they also had a bunch to shoot, so it was temporary and we also knew that we had a wrap to say goodbye. Maybe that was dumb on our parts because this was February, when it was looming. But still, no part of me imagined where we were headed.
DEADLINE: It must have been a big part of your life over the past couple of years. Is it going to be odd not to have it around?
MENZIES: Yes, it’s been a real joy working with this team and Peter Morgan’s writing. It’s been a really interesting character to explore. I will definitely miss the job. It’s also exciting to move on and see what’s next. One of the good things about this enforced slowdown is a bit more time to watch the films and catch-up on stuff I had not seen, and have a think about what one wants to do next.
DEADLINE: Has The Crown changed your life? You’ve got an impressive list of credits but do people now recognize you as Prince Philip?
MENZIES: Not quite actually. It’s partly because I look quite different with the hair, there’s the whole blonde wig thing going on, and my eyebrows are bleached when I’m filming. There are people you can see who clock it, but I’m still able to go to the shop and get my stuff fairly unmolested.
DEADLINE: Is there anything you will miss about the character?
MENZIES: I really enjoyed playing someone who is alive and real. To have so much footage to watch and audio to listen to, I’d not experienced that before. You end up saying lines and doing stuff that you wouldn’t come up with otherwise. There’s also the technicalities of how someone talks, and the intonation they use. I found that kind of liberating in a strange way.
He’s enjoyably a debunker. He pokes at unnecessary pomp and circumstance, he’s funny. What Olivia and I built with the texture and atmosphere of that marriage I also came to really like.
DEADLINE: Ever had any feedback from the palace on your performance?
MENZIES: No. The official line is the crown does not comment. I’d be very surprised if Philip watched it. I think he’d have very little time for it.
DEADLINE: Something else I really enjoyed you in last year was This Way Up. Are you going to do more?
MENZIES: I think I’m allowed to say this, but yes, Aisling [Bea] is writing. Everyone is very keen to make some more of it. Hopefully, that’s one of the things we can do when we work out how to film again.
DEADLINE: Is the aim later this year or next year?
MENZIES: The desire is to do it later this year and I’d love to go and do some more. I think it’s really great.
DEADLINE: Are we going to see that relationship develop between your character Richard and Aisling Bea’s Aine?
MENZIES: In ways we can’t even imagine. Aisling is a force, she’s really talented.
DEADLINE: What else is next?
MENZIES: The things I have in the offing are more This Way Is Up and possibly remounting a play I did at the Almeida Theatre called The Hunt. There’s a few theatres that want that, including St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn and we’ve been invited to the Adelaide Festival next year.
In terms of film and TV stuff, I’m interested to see what comes along. I’m doing lots of general Zoom meetings, which are sometimes fine and sometimes quite hard work. Having been pretty back-to-back in the last few years, it’s quite nice to have space.
I’m interested in doing more film, I guess. That’s the one I have done the least of, and would like to work with some writer-directors — people who are a bit more authorial. I have been trying to watch the work of some exciting filmmakers.
DEADLINE: Anyone you would love to collaborate with?
MENZIES: The most exciting one I have watched recently was a Guatemalan filmmaker called Jayro Bustamante and it was film that did really well at Sundance called La Llorona. Just an amazing film. I’ve had a couple of chats with him, he seems a really lovely man. He tends to work long form with his actors to build up the characters.
DEADLINE: Putting coronavirus to one side, is it a good time to be an actor? Do you have more choice than ever?
MENZIES: It certainly feels like that to me — both with the explosion of stuff that is being made, and more specifically that a lot of it is being made here [in the UK]. It feels like a good time to be an actor and a good time to be an actor in London. It also feels like longterm, that acting will be one of the jobs that is harder to replace with AI.
DEADLINE: Do you think you will get into writing or working behind the camera?
MENZIES: I’m not sure writing is in my wheelhouse, I’m relatively good once something is on the page — I like to stick my oar in then. In terms of writing from scratch, that seems incredibly daunting. I would be interested in directing, but there’s a long queue of actors who would like to direct, so it would have to be the right circumstances.
DEADLINE: You have recently signed with WME in the U.S., what was behind that?
MENZIES: That’s part of looking for some more film work, so I’m looking forward to working with Jessica Kovacevic.
DEADLINE: You’re keeping your fingers crossed for an Emmy nomination for The Crown?
MENZIES: I’ve never been nominated and it would be lovely to get some more recognition for the show. I’m very proud of some of the episodes we made for series three.
DEADLINE: How does Season 3 and Season 4 compare?
MENZIES: In a way, the kids start to come into the foreground. Charles comes into the foreground, Diana is a big part of Season 4. Thatcher obviously, which is quite interesting given she is the most divisive political figure that the show has had to represent thus far.
DEADLINE: Did you have many scenes with Gillian Anderson?
MENZIES: Yes I did do some scenes. She was looking remarkable, looking incredibly like Thatcher. I was a youngster in the ’80s, and Thatcher was kind of the bogeywoman in our household. It’s funny now that I’m doing a drama where I’m in a scene with this woman. It will be interesting to see how that is received. All the other political figures are far enough in the past that there is less heat around them.
DEADLINE: It’s obviously chronologically getting closer to home and in some ways can be more resonant?
MENZIES: The relationship between what you remember and the show is interesting. Different generations are touched by different seasons. Season 4 is more in my wheelhouse.