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And while she feels grateful to have had that time with her and would have loved to continue on and play some of Margaret’s more “outrageous” years, she’s happy to recommend the experience of playing a character for two seasons before someone new comes on board.
“I think there’s something new and exciting about somebody else taking over,” says Kirby, 30. “For the show, it regenerates in a way.”
But, make no mistake, Kirby is thrilled that Helena Bonham Carter is succeeding her, and the two have been collaborating on their shared role.
The English actress took a break from preparing to star in Julie at London’s National Theatre to speak with The Hollywood Reporter about her performance as the unrestrained royal and what she thinks about Bonham Carter taking over her role.
How did knowing you would be playing Princess Margaret for just two seasons affect your preparation? Did you consider her later years?
The more research I did, I realized my responsibility was to find the little girl and the fragility behind the woman who had become really hard.
How did Antony Armstrong-Jones’ (Matthew Goode) dalliances with other women, as portrayed on the show, factor into your portrayal of Margaret?
I had this fantasy that Tony would be [Margaret’s] true love and everything she deserves. And then the more work I did, the more I realized she’s meeting somebody in a very dark place, with a raw wound. We started discovering that he has to have the equal wound. We wanted to look at the hedonism in their worlds colliding and finding pain relief in each other. It’s a story of two people trying to find themselves, and you can never find yourself in somebody else. I always felt like Margaret, fundamentally in our story, knew about him being with other women, but it was an act of denial. I don’t think she wanted to face it yet.
What was your most challenging scene in season two?
It was the one [in which Margaret asks Elizabeth if she can announce her engagement to Tony] because when Claire [Foy] and I did it, we felt like we’d had so many conversations about marriage and whether she’d let me get married that I thought I could go either way with this. I could scream or be elated, and it was really hard. I remember looking at the page and going, “Oh my God, what do I do with this? And where is Margaret at right now?” On that day, I felt complicated about what Margaret felt. She’s saying, “I know who I am,” but underneath, this is somebody who really doesn’t know.
How do you feel about Helena Bonham Carter taking over Princess Margaret?
It’s amazing! I’m so excited. I couldn’t think of anyone better. We text each other all the time, and she sends me photos and wants my scripts and notes and playlists. I think she’s going to take Margaret up a level. She sent me a photo of her and [new queen] Olivia [Colman] making silly faces like, “We’ve got the baton, but I think we’ve dropped it.”
What types of roles are you interested in going forward?
Margaret set a benchmark for me in that the females were the protagonists of the story. So it’s about finding those characters. I’m playing Julie at the moment, which is sort of similar to Princess Margaret in that I love to absorb the depth of people that have incredible ranges of feeling and are living in opposition to things in their lives, like Margaret who happens to be royal but absolutely loathes being royal and at the same time absolutely embodies it in every essence. I like complex. Also [playing] real women is important to me. I don’t want to see fantasy women that I can’t identify with. My dream is to produce and make my own films, which I’m doing in July. There are so many people that I would kill to work with. So much of it is about the director, but it’s also about finding psychological truth in a person, and I think representing women is more important than ever now.
A version of this story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.