Interview: Chloe Pirrie

From the interview archives.

Scottish actress Chloe Pirrie is known for roles in The Game, War & Peace and Stutterer, amongst others. More recently, you can catch Chloe as Eileen Parker in The Crown. VULKAN caught up with Chloe to talk about the series and its current season.
Season 2 of The Crown is available now on Netflix. 

You play Eileen Parker in The Crown. What is one thing you were surprised to learn about her while preparing for the role?

Eileen was a gift of a character. One of the most surprising things about her was that she actually wrote a book documenting her experiences with the royal family called ‘Step Aside for Royalty.’ The particular period that The Crown covers was clearly very painful, but she didn’t allow herself to be diminished by it and she obviously felt it was important that her account of events exist outside of herself somehow. I think I’d be the same if I felt the truth of something so very personal had been manipulated in service of an institution/people that had used me or let me down. It was an amazing thing to be able to read about her life growing up, her interactions with the royal family before things went pear shaped, and the period of time during the divorce in her words.

In what way do you think you are similar to Eileen?
We don’t share much in terms of background aside from the fact that she was originally Scottish. I’m quite a determined and principled person. When I decide to do something, I tend to do it. Injustice upsets me whether it be personal or on someone else’s behalf. I think maybe we share that quality. So much was against her, even more so in this period in time when the idea of divorce was still shameful especially for women.

Many women find themselves stuck in loveless marriages, do you have any thoughts as to why they stay or what keeps them in these situations?
That’s a very complicated question to answer succinctly! Being emotionally worn down by a situation, whether that is a relationship or something else, erodes your belief that it can change. In a marriage that might be because of a partner’s behaviour but feeling trapped and devalued is catastrophic for mental wellbeing. If we feel worthless, we often feel paralysed and powerless to change our circumstances, and perhaps like we don’t deserve better. The second key thing is if there are children involved. The guilt of ‘abandoning’ your family and the label of being a ‘bad parent/mother’ is still a very powerful influence in our culture.

What might you say to a friend or family member that you’re sure is unhappy in their union?
Try to treat yourself like a very close friend you love very much. What would you want for that person in their life?

Season 2 of The Crown will be introducing some new faces. What is one thing you do to make a new cast member feel welcome on set?
It can be quite intimidating to walk onto an existing set as a guest artist. It’s like starting at a new school all over again and everyone has already formed relationships and rhythms of working that you have to effortlessly slot into. I always try to just make sure you have a chat with a new actor – whether about a scene/their character or just some casual chat. If you’ve been on a project since the beginning and running low on energy form relentless 4am starts, it can be tempting to close down a bit, but I think it is important if possible to be kind and make cast and crew feel comfortable and valued so they can work. 

Do you have any thoughts about Time’s Person of the Year cover that you can share with us?
I think it was ingenious and extremely necessary. I hope this is a sign of a major change in how society treats women and all victims of sexual assault. I hope all of this sends a message loud and clear that abuses like this will no longer be tolerated or normalised and that people who have been affected by harassment and abuses of power are enabled to feel less alone with their experiences. 

What has been one role you would have liked to explore a little further?
I could play Emily Bronte for the rest of my life quite happily.

Of course, we’re looking forward to the entire series, but is there an episode of The Crown that you’re particularly eager for fans to watch this season?
I don’t think there’s a specific episode, no. The whole thing plays to me like individual films like so much television these days. As with season 1, it covers some fascinating parts of our recent history.

How important is it to you that the series you work on are true to the historical facts, or are you someone that embraced creative liberties?
I think it depends. I think it’s important to not mess with certain historical contexts and basic facts. But sometimes drama has to manipulate things slightly to best reveal what it’s driving at. With Eileen’s story for example, the character of Lily the waitress is fictional, but the lunch club was real. Peter Morgan and the team took some liberties on the specifics in order to create a sense that Eileen’s personal struggle with Mike is like a missile careering towards the royal family.

Do you have any big plans to ring in the New Year? Who will you be spending it with?
I will be in Scotland with my family and boyfriend.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your acting career, whether it’s a particular type of role, an award, or otherwise?
I just want to be able to keep playing complex parts that have things to say. I don’t really care what medium that’s in. I like portraying people as they really are, not idealised versions of how we want them to be. I think with social media, that is more valuable than ever!

What is one thing you hope to improve upon in 2018?
I want to be less self critical give myself more treats!

What is one cool fact about Scotland our readers might not know?
Our national animal is a unicorn. Also the tallest hedge in the world is in Scotland. Yeah.

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