Claire Foy is wide-eyed, bright and refreshingly down- to-earth – particularly for a young actress who has enjoyed such a hyperspeed career. Since playing the lead in the BBC’s primetime adaptation of Little Dorrit in 2008, she hasn’t stopped putting in quality performances. After playing Lady Persephone (again with the BBC) in the remake of Upstairs Downstairs, Claire starred in Peter Kosminsky’s staggering Israel- Palestine drama, The Promise, in which she played 18-year-old Erin. She also appeared in Hollywood thriller Season of the Witch with Nicolas Cage (who she admired for his undiminished sense of excitement on set), and played Helen in Paula Milne’s beautiful adaptation of Sarah Waters’ tale of forbidden love, The Night Watch.
Claire’s next project will be the six-part drama, White Heat. Another Milne production, it follows a group of Tufnell Park flatmates, from 1965 to the present day. Candid, witty and itching with energy, Claire met The Hunger in fine form, and disclosed that the secret of her success is partly down to a carefully placed piece of Victorian headgear.
The Hunger: Did you always want to be an actress?
Claire Foy: Actually, I went to university wanting to be a cinematographer – I wanted to make films in some capacity, and I had never considered acting – but I realised very quickly that I wasn’t very good at it. A drama teacher there told me I should go to drama school, so I went to Oxford School of Drama. I got a job, got an agent, and have been lucky ever since.
What was your first job?
It was the pilot of Being Human, before it became this big thing. I played George, the werewolf’s ex-fiancée. The casting director had come to my showcase at the end of drama school and asked me to audition. It was a bit scary. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I learned quite fast.
Tell us what you love about acting?
I love different things about it, now that I do it for a living. It’s a bit weird doing your hobby as a job. You stop having other interests because you’re doing your main interest every day. I really like the preparation. You get to go to nice countries, and sometimes people pick you up in a car and take you to work!
“People tend to like you when they have seen you with a bonnet on.”
How do you get into a part?
Music really helps me, especially for the job that I’ve just done [White Heat], as it was set over so many periods of time. Music can be really useful if you’re doing a scene at the beginning of the day from 1965 and you’re falling in love with someone, and then later you’re doing something set in 1990 when you’ve had his child, or he is beating you up. It gives you a different frame of reference.
How do you feel when you read criticism of yourself?
I’m not thick-skinned and I am quite a worrier. But if someone says, “That was rubbish,” then I just try to do it better the next time. You can’t take it personally, because people project things on to you. I know I do; if I watch something or I read a magazine, I’m like, “Oh she looks horrible,” or, “She looks really nice.” It’s got nothing to do with how good an actor they are. You’ve just got to hope that people want to keep employing you, and that audiences want to carry on watching you.
What’s your attitude to celebrity?
When I was younger I thought it would be amazing to be famous, but I don’t think I really understood what it meant. It must be horrible to be really big; I can’t imagine why you’d want to get to that point. When people are really famous, it’s a perpetual thing; they have to keep on being that famous. I don’t think I could do it. The famous ones end up not being able to go out and see their friends, so the newspapers paint people as hermits and odd. I’m quite lucky because if I ever get recognised, which is very rarely, it’s because someone has watched me in a period drama. People tend to like you when they have seen you with a bonnet on.
What’s been your favourite part so far?
All of them really, in different ways. I did a drama called The Promise, which I loved so much. I was so proud of appearing in it and could have done it forever; I was really able to immerse myself in it.
It’s interesting photographing you. You don’t seem vain.
No, I don’t think I am really. As an actor you can’t worry about not wearing any makeup, or putting on a costume that makes you look a bit porky; you have to do what’s right for the part. At the same time, I’m not so completely in my own world that I don’t realise that what I do is actually about the way I look.
How do you feel about having your photo taken?
I don’t really like it; I find pulling a face a bit cringey. I admire people who do music videos, miming and being all sexy. They must have massive balls, and not give a shit about what people think about them. I’m not very comfortable doing that. If you go to the Baftas or something, it’s terrifying. It feels so ridiculous standing there and having someone take your picture outdoors, on a carpet, because you’re wearing this dress and those shoes. It just seems a bit ludicrous to me.
But it’s part of the business isn’t it? Don’t you have to have your photograph taken for posters? Yes, but you’re in character then, which makes it a lot easier. You think about the scene you’ve just done and what your character is thinking.
Are you a positive person?
I think so, but maybe not so much in my own head. I’m probably really negative all the time, but I just don’t say it out loud. I think that if you do, it makes it true and then you will be scared about it. If you just say everything is going to be fine, it will be.
White Heat will be shown on BBC Two in 2012.