Claire Foy has won two SAG Awards, a Golden Globe and, most recently, an Emmy Award for her work on Netflix’s “The Crown.” Despite that acclaim, when we spoke last week she honestly sounded shocked that she got to star in Damien Chazelle‘s latest epic, “First Man.”
“At no point did I ever consider that I would be kind of given the chance to do it. I was so honored,” Foy says recalling the moment Chazelle reached out to her about the part. And why did she think she wouldn’t land the role? “Just because it’s a Damien Chazelle film with Ryan Gosling. I mean those sort of things don’t happen very often.”
The Universal Pictures release follows Neil Armstrong (Gosling) from his early days in NASA’s Astronaut program until the moment he made history as the first man to step on the moon. Foy plays Janet Shearon, Armstrong’s wife who, like her husband, is haunted by a family tragedy they simply can’t forget. As you’d expect, however, she supports Neil’s exploits even as it seems to create a distance in their relationship. Foy was a big fan of the script because of how Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer framed her characters. She admits, “There were things in her that I saw that I’d like to be a bit more like that myself. I just really admired her.”
Unlike her signature role of Queen Elizabeth II on “The Crown,” most of Foy’s research in portraying Janet came from the memories of her grown children and friends. Pearson passed away in 2008.
“It’s a very pure way of getting to know somebody, I suppose, because I didn’t get a chance to speak to her myself,” Foy says. “Everything I learned was kind of surprising and kind of amazing. Her take on life and her experiences. She’d had a lot of loss in her life and she was still living and breathing and getting on with her day. Whenever that happens I find that extraordinary that people could do that.”
Unlike Chazelle’s previous films, “First Man” involved two weeks of improvised filmed rehearsal with no script.
“We just had our costumes, we had the sets, we were with the kids and we just played really and figured these characters out,” Foy recalls. “Obviously, we used the script the whole time. But they gave us room to use the script as a skeleton and know where we needed to get to and then kind of work around it.”
Foy then purposely clarifies, “It’s definitely not an improvised movie by any stretch of the imagination. But the improvisations that we were allowed to do, whether they without dialogue or with moments of dialogue, meant that they gave it color and a depth because we had to invent this family and these relationships these people were having.”
Chazelle shot a tremendous amount of footage for the film (Foy recalls it as being around 1.7 million or more feet) and that means there was a significant number of scenes or storyline that didn’t make the final cut. Needless to say, Foy is completely at peace with it.
“You never know what’s going to make it into a film. That’s the thing of being an actor, once you start shooting, it’s not yours. It never was,” Foy says. “But definitely huge chunks of the movie weren’t there, but I completely see how Damien has crafted that into the film that it now is. It wouldn’t be if he’d included everything. It wouldn’t be the film that it is.
Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know what happened to the Armstrongs after the film you should avoid the following.
History tells us the lives of the Armstrong family took different paths. Knowing that outcome wasn’t something Foy thought of during the couple’s tough moments in the picture.
“I think we tried to stay very, very true to what they were experiencing at that time, and just because obviously they stayed together for kind of another 15 years after that or longer, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t difficult at other parts of their marriage,” Foy says.
That being said, the film ends with a reunion following Armstrong’s return from the moon that could be interpreted in different ways.
“I think the tendency a lot of the time with these kinds of things is to want to simply finish the film off and make it of all come together and everyone’s happy or everyone’s sad or there’s some kind of conclusion,” Foy says. “The point was there wasn’t a conclusion, they have to get on with their lives again. They’d been through something so traumatic together as a family that they had to then move on in whatever way they can. It wasn’t going to be easy to do that.”
Foy will also be seen this fall as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” but her fans, at least, are still basking in the glow of her semi-surprise Emmy win following the end of her two-year run on the crown. Olivia Coleman, who appears in “The Favourite” this fall, takes over the role of the Queen as the series takes another jump in time. As for that golden statue itself, well, Foy doesn’t actually have it at her home in London yet.
“My agent still has it in L.A. It’s much too heavy for me to take back on the airplane,” Foy says. “I’m sure he’s taking very good care of it, mind you.”
He better be.
“First Man” opens nationwide on Friday.