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Imelda Staunton on being the queen


This month, Netflix viewers say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II. The streaming service's sweeping historical drama "The Crown" is ending its six-season run with a final batch of episodes, and it does so a little more than a year after the real-world death of Queen Elizabeth. Great Britain's longest-reigning monarch is played in this final season by Imelda Staunton. I spoke to her last week to ask her what it was like to bring Queen Elizabeth's story to an end, and also what it was like to portray the queen during one of the most difficult moments in her 70 years on the throne - the death of Princess Diana in 1997.


IMELDA STAUNTON: (As Queen Elizabeth II) If you don't mind, I'm concerned with being a grandmother to William and Harry. That's my priority. And I'd rather not be lectured on how or when to grieve or show emotion.

DETROW: After Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, the queen came under intense criticism for her initial lack of a public response. And in the series, created by Peter Morgan, the monarch is also clearly frustrated and bewildered by the very un-British outpouring of emotion that followed Diana's death. Staunton told us that was important to show.

STAUNTON: Well, I think it was great that Peter didn't shy away from that and that he did show the monarch not responding as she probably should have to the death. And I think she had no idea, obviously, I mean, that that was going to happen, that response was going to be so intense. And it was wonderful to play a person who was torn. I don't think she'd ever been put in that position ever before. So I think she wrestled with it greatly. And I think her sense of duty at that time was to the immediate family. And it was puzzling, I think, to her, why it should be so public. And yet she knew that her life was public and her response would be seen by the nation and the world, and maybe that was her shock response. Maybe that was her sense of loss, not really knowing what to do and everyone telling her what to do and her having to just sort of stop and think about why she wasn't responding how the public wanted her to respond. So I loved that it was difficult and awkward, and I like that Peter allowed us to show that.

DETROW: There's a scene in that final episode of the first half of the season - it's almost a thesis statement for the whole show - where Charles says to your character, you know, essentially, this family can't have it both ways. We can't be a private family when we feel like it and a public family when we want to be.

STAUNTON: Yes, that's a great line, isn't it? But that's what Peter does. He show - you know, he'll show the good, the bad and the ugly. And then you can make your own minds up. And I love that he doesn't shy away from that or just paint the royal family as, you know, this extraordinary family for good and all that. There are complications, and I love that he makes them complicated.

DETROW: I do have to ask about this. It became controversial after the episodes posted - a decision to have scenes where Diana's ghost interacts with Charles and Elizabeth. Where did you come down on those scenes?

STAUNTON: Well, for me, I mean, I - Diana, for me - for her, for the queen, was just in her head.


STAUNTON: That's how I felt it. It was just in her head. And, you know, you go along - there's a brilliant writer who's just decided to do this particular way of telling this part of the story. And in my scenes, I suggested, I don't think I would literally see her. I think I would hear her and feel her, but not see her. So that's how, you know - and that felt quite good for our scenes.

DETROW: That was Imelda Staunton, who plays Queen Elizabeth II in the sixth and final season of "The Crown," out now on Netflix. You can hear the rest of my conversation with Imelda Staunton tomorrow on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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