Actress Claire Foy in the show Wolf Hall searches for the real Anne Boleyn. She shares more in a tete-a-tete.
Q: How did you approach the role of Anne Boleyn?
I did a lot of research but it is difficult with Anne because there is no hard evidence or first-hand account. Obviously at her trial and her execution, there are lots of people talking about her, but mostly, the information is that she wasn’t particularly attractive, no one understood why the king wanted anything to do with her — all those kinds of clichés, people saying she had six fingers and warts. Hilary (Mantel), in the books and Peter (Straughan) in the scripts write Anne seen from Cromwell’s perspective. So it was my job to figure out the other side of Anne that you don’t see; like when she is in a scene having a hissy fit. I fell in love with the way Hilary writes and how you genuinely feel you are in the room with these people. So when my agent told me I had the audition I was worried I would let them all down, let Anne Boleyn down as I had such a clear idea of what she was like...to then have the words come out of my mouth, I struggled to get my head around that.
Q: Did your research change your perception of Anne?
When I was reading the books, before I even knew about the script, I was so much more on Cromwell’s side; I thought he was genius, everything he said was hilarious and he was the real hero. When it comes to the time of Anne’s demise and he is fabricating the whole thing, it is so clever because Cromwell is convincing himself he is in the right — as you would have to be if you’re about to chop someone’s head off. I think weirdly that gives the reader, and the viewer, a lot of sympathy with Anne.
What are your childhood influences on this period?
As a kid growing up when you learn about the Tudors at school, you hear the clichéd Anne Boleyn version, and she is a bit of cliché; she is this amazingly strong woman living in this man’s world and she has got to be seen as hormonal and a bit mad, she can’t possibly have got where she is by being interesting and intelligent, she must have used witchcraft! But when you look at it in a modern world and the way that history paints women, you see it’s all just fabrication. It would be amazing to read her letters, or her diaries, and there’s only one letter she wrote to Henry to read.
Q: What did you find most challenging about the role?
Every scene is incredibly intense and full of information. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character where you don’t at least see them in a quiet moment, reflecting.
Q: Do costumes add to the performance?
It’s the most amazing thing as an actor to have clothes made for you, because you’re so used to wearing something someone has already worn! Anne was incredibly interested in fashion and how she looked and she paid attention to changing a particular detail about her outfit to make her stand out. In the first few weeks it was magical and amazing — but then it gets to July and you’re in a stately home not able the drink water, sit down, not really able to breathe and you’re regretting asking the corset to be so tight in the fitting! Then, of course, there was the baby bump, so I was grumpy on a couple of days...
Q: A particular scene that stood out for you?
Being in the room with Mark (Rylance). The Coronation was spectacular.
— Watch Wolf Hall on the recently launched BBC First weeknights at 10 pm on Zee Café.