'The Crown' Creator Disputes "Most Expensive Show Ever Made" Rumors, Teases Second Season

Castmembers John Lithgow, Matt Smith and Claire Foy reveal how they prepared to play the real historical figures featured in Netflix's royal drama.
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Matt Smith, Claire Foy and John Lithgow at 'The Crown' special screening

Netflix's The Crown has been widely called the most expensive show ever made, with a rumored $156 million budget for two seasons of the drama about the British royal family.

But speaking to The Hollywood Reporter after a special screening of The Crown at New York's Museum of Modern Art last month, creator Peter Morgan quickly shot down that "most expensive show ever made" distinction.

"Not at all," Morgan said when confronted with the budget gossip. "It's not. There's sums of money that people talk about. I don't know. It was $100 million for two seasons."

The $100 million figure is also reportedly the same as the budget for House of Cards' first two seasons. And, indeed, The Crown, is moving forward with a second season. In fact, director and executive producer Stephen Daldry said before the MoMA screening that the cast and crew were currently filming the second installment but took a break to screen the series' first two episodes.

The Crown's first season, which premiered on Netflix on Friday, Nov. 4, follows the newly married 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) as she's suddenly called upon to lead the British monarchy while forging a relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow).

Elizabeth becomes queen after the death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris), with Doctor Who alum Matt Smith playing her husband, Prince Philip.

Foy, Lithgow, Harris and Smith all said they did extensive research into their real-life counterparts.

"I read as much as I could and watched as many videos and footage and stuff," Foy said. "And then we had a massive team of researchers who came up with absolute nuggets of gold, stuff that I would have never been able to have gotten ahold of myself and footage like home movie footage that I never would have been able to get, which was really extraordinary actually."

While she and the other castmembers portray real people in actual situations, there was a bit of artistic liberty taken.

"Essentially it's Peter Morgan's script. It's Peter Morgan's queen. It's Peter Morgan's story," Foy added. "We just all trusted the scripts and listened to Peter and Stephen [Daldry]."

Smith echoed his onscreen wife: "These are things that are based on true events but ultimately it's my interpretation of this character. We are not doing caricatures. We're trying to capture the essence of these people and that's what I hope to have done and if you look at Philip's history and who he was and where he's come from, hopefully that's what I've tried to discover and find."

For Lithgow, who said he spent the entire spring "researching and reading" about Churchill, including how his youth informed him in his older years, his preparation also included makeup, a fat suit and a dialect coach to transform the American actor into the British leader. He also said he had to get over the "terrifying" prospect of playing Churchill "in England with a bunch of English actors."

"The main thing I needed to do was just gain enough confidence to do it. I was very excited but very challenged," Lithgow told THR.

For Smith and others, their preparations did not include consultations with the royal family.

"I spoke to their kind of equerries and private secretaries and stuff but never any direct access with the royals," Smith said.

Morgan, who said at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour that the royal family was "very aware" of the series and "both very nervous and very excited," told THR last month that the real Queen Elizabeth II and her family hadn't seen any of the episodes and that he hopes to never get any royal feedback.

"I hope never to hear what they think of it, because they're entitled to their privacy and to me it's great to have distance and objectivity as well. To me, both sides being mutally respectful and leaving each other alone would be great," Morgan said.

Additionally, even though Helen Mirren is known for her iconic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in Morgan's movie The Queen and play The Audience, she wasn't at all involved in helping Foy prepare to play the younger royal.

"I mean she knows we're doing it. And she sends us emails wishing us well," Morgan said of Mirren. "But this is a different age of her life and a different actress and a different interpretation."

The series will move forward historically in season two, Morgan said, continuing the young queen's story through 1964, with one or two different characters.

"It's the post-Churchill era. But it's still a very particular era of Britain," Morgan said. "It's not yet what I would call modern Britain. That would start in the mid-'60s."

The next batch of episodes will also feature more about Philip's background as he embarks on a world tour.

"We learn a lot more about Prince Philip," Smith explained. "A lot about his past. He had a very interesting past, Philip. Quite a mad past. And we go into that in a lot of detail."

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