From Doctor Who to Prince Philip

Matt Smith in The Crown.
Matt Smith in The Crown.PHOTO: NETFLIX

Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip in The Crown, is drawn to people who are on the fringes of the world they live in

8Q

When British actor Matt Smith signed on to play Prince Philip in Netflix's royal drama The Crown, he received advice from none other than Prince Philip's grandson, Prince William himself.

He met the prince at a charity polo match last year through a mutual acquaintance and was introduced with the line: "This is Matt Smith and he is about to play Prince Philip - do you have any advice for him?"

Recounting the story to The Straits Times at an interview in London's Corinthia Hotel, the 34-year-old actor jokingly says with a groan: "I was just thinking, 'Oh my god, I'm going to die of embarrassment.' But he just shook my hand and said one word - legend."

He laughs and adds: "And I realised he was absolutely right. Prince Philip really is quite a legend."

Over the years, Prince Philip, the consort of Queen Elizabeth II, has gained a reputation for being blunt, even horribly undiplomatic, due to his many verbal blunders.

The 95-year-old reportedly once told a 13-year-old visitor of a space shuttle: "Well, you'll never fly in it, you're too fat to be an astronaut."

Smith comes to his defence, citing Prince Philip's difficult childhood: His mother was committed to a sanatorium, his father went off with a mistress and his pregnant sister died in a plane crash while coming to visit him.

He says: "Then, when his wife became queen, he has to always walk two steps behind her and be constantly emasculated.

"When you look at the history of his life, I think it has made him a certain way. His circumstances have led him to speak his mind and against things, but he also has this profound love for his wife and he wants to respect her. I definitely have a lot of affection for him now."

The Crown, whose first season is out on Internet streaming service Netflix, dramatises the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II during post-World War II Britain.

The lavish US$130-million (S$185.6-million) show is Smith's most high-profile project since he starred in the iconic Doctor Who sci-fi series from 2010 to 2013 in the lead as the quirky Eleventh Doctor.

Although the two roles are vastly different, the actor, who is reportedly dating British actress Lily James, sees a connection. "They are aliens in many ways in their own worlds. They're both outsiders. I find that I'm often drawn to these people who are just slightly on the fringes of the world they're involved in."

1 If you met Prince Philip right now, what would you say to him?

I would say - you're such a rock star. He has always been a bit of a maverick, you know?

He has always been a forward thinker and he has always told the Queen, "Let's think outside the box." He was a moderniser and just a remarkable man.

2 Were you daunted by the idea of playing such a famous figure?

There is a bit of trepidation, but I'm proud of the work.

You do as much research as you can and then a lot of thinking, and thinking, and thinking. Then you stop thinking and you start doing. And that's it.

3 In The Crown, you have to bare your bum in a few scenes because Prince Philip is known to sleep naked. Did you do extra squats before filming?

(Laughs) I couldn't. I had a knee injury at the time, so I couldn't do any squats. Otherwise, I would have wanted to. I hope the scenes looked okay.

4 Winston Churchill in The Crown is played by John Lithgow, who is American. What did you think about that casting decision?

He's one of my favourite actors of all time. He's amazing. He's brilliant and I just love him in so many movies. So I was excited to meet him. And when I met him, I was like, "Wow, amazing." I was a fanboy.

5 The royal family has fame thrust upon it. As an actor, that can happen overnight too. How do you deal with fame in a graceful way?

You just act gracefully in situations where you're required to be graceful. Fame is a very strange and intangible thing and it's not something that is easily defined. So you take each moment as it comes and you try to be as normal as possible and give everyone the right amount of time.

6 There are rumours you are returning to star in Doctor Who. How true are those rumours?

(Laughs) There are rumours that I'm coming back? Well, there are always rumours. I don't know, I haven't been approached. But I would consider any approach and take it very seriously.

7 Do you still watch Doctor Who, whose lead role is now played by Peter Capaldi?

Yes and I will always support it because it gave me such a wonderful break. I am a huge fan. Peter is wonderful.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

Fondly, in good terms, and honestly. I don't know, it's not something I've considered because it's a bit sad. It leads you to the idea that you're going to die, so maybe I'll just leave it to other people to remember me.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter

•All 10 episodes of The Crown Season 1 are on Netflix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'From Doctor Who to Prince Philip'. Print Edition | Subscribe