'The Royals': Elizabeth Hurley on Her TV Debut, Working With Joan Collins

"I've had to work very, very hard," Hurley tells THR of her first full-time television series. "It's a big job, actually, which I love. But it's a big job. It's not, 'Oh, we have a big laugh on the set!' We're working bloody hard."
Paul Blundell

E! is expanding into the original scripted world with its new series, The Royals.

The series follows royal family in the immediate aftermath of a tragic loss: the death of the eldest son. But it's not all serious — the soapy drama follows the royals' lives through love, betrayal, drugs, heartbreak and more, with the biggest spotlight in the country on them.

The Royals also marks another first: it drew Elizabeth Hurley to her series regular debut role on a television, where she plays the family's matriarch, Queen Helena. Hurley spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about taking on her first full-time TV role, getting to work with Dynasty legend Joan Collins on the E! series, and more.

TV Review E!'s 'The Royals'

Looking at the television landscape, what was it about The Royals that made you want to be a part of the series?

I've never accepted being in a show before, for a couple of reasons. On the shallow side, I couldn't commit to living in America, and 99 out of 100 shows are shot here, but my son's in school in England. I didn't have that option. But also, I never saw any material that made me want to say, "If I should be so lucky that this should run, I would love to stay involved with this material." I never got sent that material — until this. It hit [all] boxes: it was the best part I had heard of, in a fabulous sounding show, shooting in London. 

Since this is E!'s first original scripted series, how did that aspect play into your mindset of accepting this role?

The fact that they never had done one [was beneficial] — it wasn't just their 786th show they were launching; this was their show. So for me to be involved with that, I thought there was a fair chance that if we were good, they would be there to support that. I don't know if we're good — it's not for me to say — but they've certainly been very supportive.

This Queen of England is very different than the real Queen of England. When you first read the script, who did Queen Helena most remind you of?

Truly, I thought of Alexis (Joan Collins) in Dynasty. It wasn't until I got the part and I was thinking [about it], because obviously, my point of reference couldn't possibly be the [real] Queen of England — she's in her 80s, that makes no sense. There are a couple of foreign queens in their 40s, but the obvious one was for me to think, it would be as if Princess Diana had stayed married to Prince Charles, and had in fact become the queen. Then it would be someone more in my age group, dressing as we dress, hair how we wear it, problems like we have it. And even though my character is nothing like her, I took that age group and that image of her as someone to see making modern. Because certainly when I say to someone I'm playing a fictitious Queen of England, they think I've got a gray wig on, and it's like, no, no, no, it's as if she's my age! My kids are 21 in it. It's as it would be.

Now Joan is playing your mother. How much of an influence did you have in that casting decision?

[Showrunner Mark Schwahn] said, "Do you have any ideas for [who should play] your mother?" And I said, "Joan Collins!" (Laughs.) He was incredibly open to the idea and excited. It was the best choice we could have ever made; she's perfect for it. When you come to know our characters a bit better, I'm married to the king, I wasn't born royal … and you can very much see that my character could have been spawned by Joan's character. It worked beautifully. If a little old lady with gray hair had shuffled in, it wouldn't have worked; she needed to walk in as a force of nature, and she's the only person in the first 10 hours that makes me bite my lip.

Read more E! Gives Early Renewal to 'The Royals'

Since this was your third attempt to play mother and daughter on-screen (but only the first time it came to fruition), what was that first day on set like?

It just felt exactly as it should. It really did. I'm so glad it happened at last for us. Joan is definitely going to come back in season two, and fingers crossed we get some great storylines. That's what's attractive about these shows — when you span generations. We have the [episodic] still girl take a picture of me, Joan, and [on-screen daughter] Alex [Park] (Princess Eleanor), and the three of us, age-wise, it could have all worked out [for us to be related]…and actually, that makes a great show. I've always loved it when I go to a party and there are 17-year-olds, and there's 90-year-olds. It's a wonderful mix. I think that's nice in a show, too. All teens, all middle aged, all old, not as interesting.

Since Queen Helena has just lost her son, how is that grief playing out?

Queen Helena, for her, she's obsessed with the image of her family. She wants to decide how the public will see her family, and she doesn't go off script. She will never do a public beating of her chest, a public crying, she won't show it. She always wants to show a stiff upper lip, strength, integrity, a pure example for me that this is how we are as British people. It was a very big thing in England when Princess Diana died and there was an outpouring of grief that hadn't been seen before in England. We're not really a nation of hearts on our sleeve. She's definitely not a queen who wears her heart on her sleeve. You see a couple of private moments with her in the first 10 hours — she could be grief-stricken, there could be other emotions she passes through. What's for sure is that as soon as a footman walks in, she's going to switch it off. She's not going to howl and sob in front of the staff.

What can you say about the dynamic she shares with her husband, King Simon (Vincent Regan)?

They had three grownup children; young, grownup children. They've been married a long time. It's pretty obvious from the pilot they're not particularly happy — like many couples we come across in TV and movies, they have some problems. They argue over their children, they argue between themselves; I think they love each other. But you can see they're not skipping off into the sunset.

What is her take on her remaining children, and their occasionally reckless behavior?

I have a conversation with my husband [on the show], and I say, "Eleanor will be all right because she's strong. I worry more about Liam (William Moseley)." They worry about him more, because he will be King of England. And he's not prepared; he's obviously not prepared. I think they worry more about him.

As you were playing this season, was there ever anything that was difficult for you to shoot?

I was so vile to Alex. I hate it. I had to be really mean to her. I'm very unkind to [Liam's love interest] Ophelia (Merritt Patterson) in a few scenes, and I said, "Girls, I feel like such a big bully!" Because I can scare them actually. (Laughs.) I say, "You know I love you." And then I really give it to them in the scene. I feel really mean. I'm pretty mean to William, as well.

Were you familiar with Schwahn's work on One Tree Hill before you took this role?

I hadn't seen One Tree Hill. Of course, I've caught up with it now. But I watched it quickly!

Since you're now familiar with his previous work, are you picking up on any similarities between the two projects?

It's hard to see a correlation. I think what you can see is his skill as he weaves stories in and out of each other. He's a very good storyteller … people always say, "Where the attraction, where's the friction, where's the danger?" And you don't always want that. Sometimes you want a little peace. And he gets that, and he builds it into each episode … because people get bored of jeopardy all the time.

Now that you've completed your first full season of television, what's been your takeaway from the experience?

It is, on a day-to-day level, a much tougher job than movies. It's faster, the structure of it is more corporate. Not on a set, but the rest of it is more corporate. The days are long, we shoot a lot of dialogue in a day, and these are very wordy scripts. In a movie, you can spend a whole day getting out of a car. Here, it could be six pages of intense dialogue. We could do six important scenes in a day. So I've had to work very hard. It's a big job. It's not, "Oh, we have a big laugh on the set!" We're working bloody hard.

The Royals premieres Sunday, March 15 at 10 p.m. on E!

Twitter: @marisaroffman