Matt Smith on playing Prince Philip in The Crown

The actor talks about the research he did and the responsibility of playing the Duke of Edinburgh in the Netflix hit.

January 8, 2017

Best known for BBC drama Doctor Who, the British actor co- stars as the Duke Of Edinburgh alongside Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in the most talked-about TV show today, The Crown, now showing on Netflix.

What’s your assessment of your character, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh?
He’s a really loyal person, and he has a wonderful irreverence and thirst for progression, knowledge and modernity. He’s got a great sense of humour, I really like him, I think he’s a cool dude. I love his courage and his belligerence. What’s interesting for the story is that he comes into the family very much the outsider. He’s the person that speaks up and says ‘no, that shouldn’t be done like this and just because we’ve done it like this in the past doesn’t mean that we should continue to do this.’ 

Is there an added responsibility for you when playing a real person?
You always feel a responsibility playing real people because you want to get the essence of them. I don’t think they are caricatures; it’s not like I’ve perfected Philip’s voice, but hopefully we’ve captured the energy of them.

How does the death of Elizabeth’s father, King George VI impact Philip? Remember, Prince Philip is a man with great talent and ambition in his career as a naval officer, and because the King died and he had to support his wife, all that was taken away from him. That’s a really interesting starting point for me, because everything he’d known, everything he wanted to do, everything he wanted to strive for was suddenly gone. He was just told to get on with it.

What do you make of Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship?
I always started from the point of view that they’re soulmates. I think that’s really important because they’re dragged apart from each other for all these exterior reasons, for family, for the pressures of her job. And he has been ostracised by members of the family and often emasculated by her, which I think is a very difficult thing. But beneath all of that angst in him, there’s a real deep profound love and respect for her. He’s then got to be a father and I believe, out of the two of them, he’s probably the more engaged parent. He takes that really seriously and he’s really good at it. 

What sort of research did you do for the role?
I read all the books and watched all the video footage that I could find, and I began to notice interesting things about him. With Philip, there’s a largeness to him, which when you place him in the middle of that family, is very interesting because everyone is straight and prim and proper, while Philip tends to be a bit looser.

What strikes you about Claire Foy’s work in the show?
I can’t speak highly enough of Claire. I know it’s really boring when actors have been doing a series with someone and they go, ‘Oh my god, she’s so good!’ But she really is so good. She’s got such precision and a wonderful sense of humour. I’m really confident that she has delivered a totally sensational performance.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the series?
I hope they’ll engage with the emotional drama of these characters. It’s Elizabeth’s struggle to be a mother, wife and Queen. It’s Philip’s struggle to support Elizabeth, to have his own life, to not feel emasculated being a part of this family. Then there’s [Winston] Churchill holding onto power. These people wear masks all the time but our series strips that away and we get to see them be more human, exposed, weak and strange. When it works, we get to glimpse behind the masks.

The Crown is now showing on Netflix.