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Peter Morgan has a thing for the queen. After making an Oscar-nominated film about Her Royal Highness (2006’s The Queen, starring Helen Mirren in the titular role) as well as a play (The Audience, again with Mirren), the British screenwriter turned to TV for The Crown. The big-budget Netflix drama follows Elizabeth II over several decades and has been a prestige coup for the streaming giant. The series landed a Golden Globe — as did breakout star Claire Foy for her portrayal of a young queen — and now it’s up for 10 Emmys. Ahead of the primetime ceremony in September, Morgan spoke with THR about all things royal.
Given that several of your subjects still are living, what’s been the most challenging part of getting it right?
They’re still living, and you have to take that stuff really seriously. In the end, there’s a lot of stuff you can find through research, but there’s also a lot of stuff no one will ever know, and you just have to do your best. Funnily enough, I find from experience that if a show isn’t getting it right, people reject it. Not just people who know but people who don’t mind. When a show gets it wrong, it somehow smells wrong, and you just sort of go, “I don’t buy it.” But we’ve not been getting that response. So far, people have said, “How the hell did you know that?” And we’ve got a lot of people [saying that who are] pretty close to the center of the source.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, has said he hopes the show runs for six seasons. Is that still the plan?
I’d obviously have to see how the show is being received, and I’d have to get some help along the way. I’d very much like to find some collaborators who can come with me on that journey because I wrote the first season entirely by myself, and the second season, too. So I would want to find some help moving forward just so I’m still standing. (Laughs.)
Is it really true The Crown is the most expensive TV show ever?
No. It’s just not true. Netflix gave us money for two seasons, and everybody reported that two-season money as the money for one season when in fact we got half of that. Our money was perfectly generous, but it’s in no way exceptional. Unfortunately, there was a lot of misrepresentation. Netflix has been an incredibly supportive partner, but we were reading that and just kept thinking, “If only.”
The most challenging scene to write this season was …
The painting scene between Graham Sutherland [Stephen Dillane] and Winston Churchill [John Lithgow] in episode nine [“Assassins”]. It was difficult to make it really ring true.
I still can’t believe we got away with …
I can’t believe we got away with any of it, frankly.
The biggest misconception about The Crown is …
That it’s polite.
The person on The Crown who has the most difficult job is …
Everyone. It’s a 24/7/365 round-the-clock thing for all of us.
The line of dialogue I am most proud of this season is …
“Always spells c— with a K.”
The actor I’ve never worked with but would love to is …
Cate Blanchett and Bryan Cranston.
If I could switch gigs with any other nominee for a day, it would be …
The Duffers. Apart from their youth and talent, I’d love a twin brother.
ODDS ARE …
What can you say about The Crown? It’s like Downton Abbey on bath salts, a period piece with ambitions perhaps unlike any other on TV. If, as Peter Morgan says is his plan, the series ultimately continues to follow England’s still-sitting Queen Elizabeth II through every decade of her reign, it will hold a unique place in the annals of television. But The Crown, for all its critical acclaim and industry fans, still is an outsider. The British shoot has looser Hollywood ties than any other series in the running. And while critics might adore it, and some awards analysts might favor it for a win, the fact remains that it could be too tough of a sell for much of the Los Angeles-set voting body. It has been four decades since the Emmy Awards named a British import best drama, when Upstairs, Downstairs took the title in 1977. In another year, it could have been a lock, but 2017 looks to be too cutthroat for a series so civilized. — Michael O’Connell
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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