Jace Lacob (Jace): Just like the film King Charles III, which opens on a somber note, we unfortunately have some sad news of our own…King Charles III actor and MASTERPIECE friend Tim Pigott-Smith died just a few weeks after our interview. In this episode, you’ll hear that conversation with Tim, which is a reminder of his accomplished career, talent, and generosity. He will be missed.
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Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II lived to see her Sapphire Jubilee, marking 65 years on the throne.
Despite — or perhaps because of this — and despite the fact that the Queen is now 91 years old, it’s hard for people to imagine her eventual death and everything that will come with it– a royal funeral, a new monarch’s ascension, and as King Charles III imagines it, a Parliamentary revolt.
Charles: Empowered by ancient decree I do, / As King of England, Northern Ireland, Wales / And Scotland, use my royal prerogative / Here to dissolve the parliament at once.
Shouting from the Members.
Jace: Even before the Queen turned 91 or celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee, King Charles III was a play, which opened back in April 2014.
Both the movie and the play take place in a future in which Queen Elizabeth has just died, and King Charles has to take her place.
But as soon as he does, he refuses to sign a bill which curbs the freedom of the press, throwing the country — and his family — into turmoil.
Tim Pigott-Smith: Bam! You know, fantastic! The audience go, “Really? My God, what’s happening here?”
Jace: In the end, it’s William and Kate who step up to restore order.
William: My wife and I / Respect my father’s choices, but, do wish, / This could have been avoided.
Jace: Ultimately, King Charles III is a film that makes you think, and question the very nature of the monarchy and the royal family.
Charlotte Riley: Ooh, do you think that Charles is really like that? Do you think that Kate’s really like that?
Tim Pigott-Smith: Yeah.
Charlotte Riley: Would William really do that? Ooh.
Jace: Today, we’re reuniting two of the film’s unlikely rivals, Tim Piggott-Smith and Charlotte Riley, who play Charles and Kate, to discuss things both big and small — from their characters to the future of Great Britain itself.
Jace: And this week we are joined by Tim Pigott-Smith and Charlotte Riley. Welcome.
Charlotte Riley (Charlotte): Hello. Thank you for having us.
Tim Pigott-Smith (Tim): How are you?
Jace: Tim, you were initially skeptical of King Charles III, saying that you thought it would be, “10 minutes of pastiche, and it’ll be quite funny, and then die on its feet.” What did you make of the script when you then sat down and read it?
Tim: Well, for the first 10 minutes I thought I was right. There was some funny lines in the first scene. I mean, Kate Middleton says to Charles about the Queen’s death, “I never thought I’d see her pass away,” and Charles says, “I felt the same,” you know?
Tim: We know that this is funny. And the first 10 minutes really are quite funny, even though you’re involved in a funeral. And then you get to the scene when the Prime Minister first meets Charles and Charles expresses his concern about the bill to do with the freedom of the press and you go, “Oh, this is interesting.”
And of course, that’s the beginning of an amazing play. And then the second half, it just goes into… I was absolutely staggered by it. But I didn’t think any of us had a clue for a minute that it was going to work as well as it did.
Jace: Charlotte, you’re coming to this project much later than Tim, who played the Prince and later King in several acclaimed productions of the play. What attracted you to the project?
Charlotte: I’d heard so much… Although I didn’t get to see the play myself when it was in the West End, I’d heard so many brilliant reviews from friends who’d been to see it. And I just thought the premise was fantastic. I read the play and just thought, “This is something else. This is really exciting and different from anything else that I’d seen or read.”
And then, obviously, the opportunity to play a character who’s a real person– I’d not done that yet. And it was quite a challenge to play somebody who’s as well known as Kate Middleton. But I auditioned and got the good news that I got the part. And then these guys took me underneath their wing, and made me feel at home, and yeah. It was great.
Jace: On that last note, Charles and Kate are two of the most scrutinized photographed individuals on the planet. How did you approach developing your characters and their very specific mannerisms?
Tim: I asked a friend of mine who is a mimic. He used to work on the program “Spitting Image.” He famously did the voice of Michael Caine on that. I happened to be working with him when I got the script so I said, “What three things would you do if you were impersonating Charles?” Although I knew even then that Rupert didn’t want us to do impersonations; I think the play would die on its feet, wouldn’t it, Charlotte?
Tim: It would just die.
Charles does a thing where he holds his signet ring in his right hand and he moves the ring around. And then he also does that with his cuffs.
Jace: The cuffs, yes.
Tim: He holds his hands outside his jacket pockets but never puts them in (laughs), which I particularly liked because there is an indecisiveness about him.
And the other thing he does is he pulls his mouth down to the side. [Mimicking the way Charles talks] He talks like me. He talks…
But, on the whole, not very much. Occasionally, even in Act 5 when things are falling apart, I’d try and slip in a reminder that it’s the same bloke. And then shoot back again, but…
Charlotte: It was quite a delicate process, wasn’t it, really…?
Charlotte: …Because you have… These guys were brilliant guidance for me because they’ve played these characters for years and for 360 shows or something, wasn’t it?
Charlotte: And so, for me, I met up with Ollie Chris who plays William. He took me through a lot of the processes that these guys have been through whilst doing the play and then it was just… It’s quite a delicate process between giving enough, particularly at the beginning of the piece so that the audience can latch on to characteristics of the particular characters, “Okay, that’s Kate; that’s Charles. Okay, I know where I am now. I feel comfortable.”
And then you can move them through with the changes that the characters are going through because they’re able to suspend their disbelief.
Tim: If you do too much, the audience don’t have any room to use their imaginations.
Charlotte: Yeah, that’s the short way of saying the really long-winded thing that I just said (laughs).
Tim: You’re absolutely spot-on but that was the short of it.
I was saying earlier that I used to come out of the theater and people would say, “My God, you look so like Prince Charles.” Well, I don’t.
Jace: You don’t look anything like him.
Tim: What that meant was that they had begun to see him in the course of the evening.
Tim: So Charlotte’s absolutely right. What you did was enough for them to say, “Oh, that’s Prince Charles. That’s Camilla. We know exactly where we are and with whom we’re dealing.” And occasionally, with Charles, I would remind the audience on. But, generally speaking, what you did was just play the character in the play, which of course is superbly written. You don’t have to really do much else.
Tim: As long as you’ve done that primary work you can just get on with the business of the play.
Charlotte: Did you find that the costumes helped?
Tim: Certainly, in the theater I found that.
I had the most wonderful suit made for me, and it is just fantastic to get into a suit that’s tailor-made. (Laughs) You feel really pucker. I suppose they have to every day because they’re on display every day, you know?
Tim: Did you? Did you find the costumes helpful?
Charlotte: Yeah. I did, actually. With not having gone through the processes of a play, I didn’t really get to wear the costumes…
Tim: No, no, no.
Charlotte: …Until we were actually filming. Whereas with a play, you’re wearing the costumes through the rehearsal process or some version of. So, for me, I was like, “Oh, right.” And the heels. I know it sounds silly but I’m somebody- I never wear heels, really. But wearing these high heels…
Tim: Big heels, yeah.
Charlotte: …All the time and these clothes that are quite fitted, and that layered on with an accent… So, I found the costumes very helpful.
Tim: Of course the ceremonial costumes…
Tim: …It’s a pretty striking sight. Sword and all that gold rubbish that we do so well. The Brits, we’re good at all that tosh.
And gradually, more and more costumes, arriving at the climax of the coronation with these 30-foot robes trailing out behind you. I mean, it must have been quite something walking through the Abbey in those clothes.
Charlotte: Yeah, it was. Yeah. Wearing a crown (laughs).
Jace: Over the course of King Charles III, it’s Charles and Kate who emerge as unlikely enemies. Why do you think these two clash over the fate of the throne? What do their different philosophies represent?
Tim: I think she represents the future and Charles represent a slightly old-fashioned, he would say, honorable past.
Tim: Idealistic, yeah. And she would say great but out-of-date. Yeah?
Charlotte: Yeah. I agree.
Tim: Pretty much. Although, funny if we have very little stage time together.
Tim: Very little camera time together.
Tim: A little bit in the funeral, and then this sudden confrontation when she says, “Sign the papers, will you?”
Kate: Majesty, sign and bring an end to all this.
Tim: Quite interesting, occasionally in the theater, people would call out, “Don’t sign! Don’t sign!”
Tim: Just a couple of times. But people got very involved.
So, I’ve often been asked, “Will Charles abdicate in favor of William?” Charles, I’m not quite sure whether he’s a religious man, but I think he feels that he has waited long enough to do the job to be allowed to have a crack at it.
Charles: Such equal billing was a joy when Prince. / To share the stage did spread attention out. / But now I’ll rise to how things have to be / The queen is dead, long live the King. That’s me.
Tim: One of the things the play suggests is that William and Kate can rebrand the monarchy to last another hundred years, and I think it is going to need to be… It’s going to have to change shape and form. We’re going to have to take on a Scandinavian or a Spanish model in order for them to survive.
I mean, in England at the moment, they’re talking about refurbishing Buckingham Palace (laughs).
Charlotte: Oh, yeah. It’s very contentious.
Tim: And what’s the bill, Charlotte? It’s immense, isn’t it?
Tim: 300 million? And people are going, “Should we really have to pay for these people to have more gold guild in their corridors?” It’s just outrageous.
So, there’s going to be a questioning. That’s why the play, particularly in England, is so relevant because it’s about a moment in our history, about what on Earth’s going to happen when Elizabeth finally…
Charlotte: It’s going to be a massive, massive shift…
Tim: Huge shift.
Charlotte: …In Britain when she finally passes.
Tim: Goes, yeah.
Jace: I mean, she is the longest-reigning British monarch in history.
Tim: I think monarch in history, isn’t she?
Jace: Monarch in history, yeah. I mean, she is “the constant” for the British people.
Tim: Yeah, that’s right.
Jace: And through war, obviously through Brexit now, she has been this constant, and I feel we see that in the play with the five pound note being out of date.
Paul: Out of date now innit?
Restauranter: You know since she died. World’s gone mad. I swear. Every night, people have this look. Bit like you.
Jace: It’s these small, little things that then become larger: The fact that your money is now out of date, that everything has to be minted…
Jace: Re-minted and stamped.
Tim: Everything would have different pictures on.
Jace: It’s such a sweeping change of way of life for people that I would think that this moment that the play captures is seismic in terms of upheaval.
Tim: Well, England went into paralysis at Christmas, didn’t they? When the Queen didn’t go to church and there wasn’t a Christmas message, people went, “What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?” It won’t, in the end, be that different in fact (laughs).
Jace: Probably not.
Tim: Not as big as Brexit but we don’t have to get into that, do we?
Charlotte: Yeah (laughs).
Jace: One of my favorite moments is Kate’s soliloquy in Act 4, where she talks about her role as a plastic doll prettying the prince and producing an heir.
Kate: You think you know me.
But I know nothing, just a plastic doll / Designed I’m told to stand embodying / A male-created bland and standard wife, / Whose only job is prettying the Prince, and then / If possible, get pregnant with the royal / And noble bump, to there produce an heir, / And a spare.
Jace: What do you make of the future queen and her motivations?
Charlotte: Well, a lot of people ask me whether I see parallels with Lady Macbeth and of course I can see them as an audience member, but as an actor I didn’t really play that.
I think that what she’s saying is, for me, she’s stating fact. I mean, she is perceived that way. To a lot of people, she’s arm candy for blooming (laughs) Prince William. But I think…
Tim: And baby creator (laughs).
Charlotte: And baby creator, exactly. I mean, I don’t see her like that but just simply by the fact that if she wears a dress then it’s sold out, people see her as more of a clothes horse than they see her for her charity work or whatnot.
But I think that speech is important because, basically, what she’s saying is, “If I have to live my life like this, if I have to live my life in the public eye and give so much of myself, that I want something back from that.”
Kate: I ask no less / Than power to achieve my will in fair / Exchange for total service to the state.
Charlotte: And she’s not saying that, “I want the power to chop people’s heads off.” She’s just saying, “I want the power to be able to do what I feel I need to do to move this family forward.” She doesn’t say specifically what she wants, but as far as I was concerned, in terms of what I was thinking that what she wants, is the things I’ve just mentioned but also is choice: choice to make changes, to make things work better, to make choices about which charity she supports and how that works, and choices for her children, and (laughs) maybe even more choices about the way she dresses, who knows?
But I think she’s just incredibly strategic and pragmatic, and she’s trying to move the family forward in a way that creates more of a stable monarchy, a more relevant monarchy, and I think she understands how to do that.
Jace: Charlotte, you’re married to Tom Hardy. You’re no stranger to press attention yourself. Did you draw upon your own experiences in terms of being in that fishbowl like Kate?
Charlotte: Not really. You can’t really compare what I’ve experienced in my life to what she experiences. I wouldn’t wish what she goes through on anybody, to be fair.
I mean, I did a lot of research particularly by watching members of the public who had filmed them on their mobile phone. I think that’s what shocked me the most was just the amount of footage that there is that’s just recorded by the average person on the street. And then, you can watch them and they’re in very, very private moments when they have no idea that they’re being filmed, but they’re talking to somebody next to them, and wishing them well, and asking them questions, and then they’re being recorded, and I found that quite shocking and (laughs) totally unnecessary, but I couldn’t really compare it to my own life.
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Jace: The ghost of Diana hovers figuratively and quite literally over this…
Jace: …Appearing to Charles and William at various points.
Diana: Such pain my son, such hurt, but now be glad. / You’ll be the greatest king we ever had.
Jace: What does Diana represent here as an idea and as a specter, one who prophesies that both William and Charles will be “the greatest king that we ever had?”
Tim: Well, I think in life we know that Diana was divisive, so it seems quite fair for Mike to suggest that she might be similarly divisive in death. And it’s just wicked that she turns up (laughs).
That’s the one area of the play I found really sometimes very distressing to do, you know? It’s such a ghastly, painful story and such an awful area to work in.
But, she turns up and says to Charles, “You’ll be the greatest king we ever had,” and then says to William, “You’ll be the greatest king we ever had.” And of course the audience used to laugh…
Charlotte: Why did Mike do that? Why did he have her saying it to both characters? In order to…
Tim: Why did he have it?
Charlotte: Yeah. Why did he do that?
Tim: Well, I think just because she was divisive.
Charlotte: Right, okay.
Jace: Causing trouble from even beyond the grave.
Tim: Just stirring.
Jace: He also said too it’s a psychological device. She played an important role to each of them, and so in appearing to each of them, it’s a fulfillment of their own wish that she would bestow this to them: that each of them could be the greatest king. They each think it.
Charlotte: Oh yeah, because I always saw it that were both but in slightly different ways: him by abdicating and him by taking up the mantle.
Tim: I think when Charles abdicates…
Charlotte: Hang on a minute! I’m not sure I like this portrayal of Diana. Hang on!
Tim: (Laughs) I think he feels he’s…
Charlotte: That makes her an incredibly cruel mother if she returns from the grave to do that to her own child, surely.
Tim: I think it’s what’s intended from the play.
Charlotte: Wow, okay.
Tim: You hadn’t seen that?
Charlotte: Well, no, I had seen it, but now I’m just thinking about it again and oof… Mike Bartlett, where is he? Why is he not here to have this discussion?
Jace: Answer for this.
Tim: I mean, she… There was a picture of her in the paper every day for 10 years after she died. I saw a picture of her in the paper last week. She’s still an immensely influential figure. It’s almost like she hasn’t died sometimes. She has such power still.
I think the device in the play is a big naughty, but it’s just intended there as being witty, not as a reflection of her being a wicked mother because I think one of the things everybody accepts is that she was a pretty bloody marvelous mother, you know?
It just seems a miracle to me that William and Harry have survived with any degree of normality in their lives. Maybe they haven’t. Maybe it’s just a public façade they managed to present but, my goodness, what they came through…
There’s one move I used to do in the first scene: I’d turn up-stage and walk up-stage with my hands behind my back — that famous Prince Philip pose — but every time I ever did it, I remembered Harry walking behind the catafalque of Diana on the morning of her funeral. This 11-year-old boy. What on Earth must’ve been going through his mind?
Charlotte: I know. Awful.
Tim: I mean, just appalling. And I think they’re both staggering.
Jace: They are.
Tim: They’re just amazing.
One of the things that’s changed most over the course of the three years of the play is I think Mike has had to slightly revise his view of Harry because when we started he was depicted in the play as just being the drunken uncle.
“He’ll wait all his life and never be King.” And, of course, he has created a role for himself now, hasn’t he?
Tim: Hats off (laughs). He has done pretty well.
Jace: King Charles III arrives on television in the wake of Victoria and The Crown. Why do you think we’re seeing so many glimpses of the royals? And why do you think American audiences in particular are so obsessed with royalty?
Tim: I think it’s guilt because you got rid of the monarchy so many years ago (laughs). No, I don’t… You answer this question.
Charlotte: I don’t know…
Jace: We fought a revolution just to become obsessed with people we overthrew.
Tim: (Laughs) But it is deeply bizarre, isn’t it? I mean, we as a country are obsessed. The number of programs we’ve made in films, plays, television, stuff…
I suppose, what I’ve always thought is that it represents some kind of stability in a world that changes faster and faster and faster. And it provides, therefore, some sense of comfort. That’s what was so disturbing about the Charles and Diana thing collapsing. That sense of comfort was denied for a while. You want them to be the perfect family and everything will be all right for you.
Charlotte: And it is behind the doors of duty and imposed duty. I think that’s interesting is you don’t campaign to be the monarch. It’s thrust upon you. And I think none of us are ever going to experience that, so it’s, “How do you deal with that being thrust upon you?”
And I think that’s quite interesting to watch people step up to the plate when they don’t have any choice. It’s, “That’s your responsibility. Get on with it.” How do people deal with that?
Tim: Famously the Queen was suddenly made queen when her father died. She made that famous speech when she pledged her life in dedication to her country. And of course, that’s what she has done.
As the play said, she signed all these bills that have come in front of her. She signed the empire away, the laws on homosexuality, the changes in the Unions, everything.
Mr. Evans: When laws arrived from those / Prime Ministers she hated, doing things / Of which I’m sure she never would approve. / She still did sign, respected all the votes / Empowering those elect to make the law / She always signed. She always gave assent.
Charles: Well I cannot.
Tim: If you take sides on an issue then of course you can divide people. That’s what happens in the play. He takes a side over this freedom of the press and people are divided, not about the issue but whether he has a right to do it or not.
Jace: What’s remarkable to me too is that Elizabeth and her father were never intended to be monarchs.
Tim: Neither of them. Yeah.
Jace: It is remarkable to me that she has reigned for as long as she has and that she has achieved the things that she has.
Tim: You tell me why the Americans are so obsessed with English royalty, Jace, because I don’t get it.
Jace: I do think it’s a fetishization of something we don’t have. I mean, I think…
Tim: Yeah, there’s definitely that.
Jace: It’s definitely fetishized. But I do think that there’s a fascination with that and with the pomp and circumstance of it.
Charlotte: So then you get people — going back to what we were talking about before — who argue that this expense on the royal homes, Buckingham Palace, and whatnot, that that’s why that money needs to be spent on those things. It’s not for them. It’s to keep up this…
Charlotte: This display. They don’t spend any time in Buckingham Palace. They don’t sit there and go, “Oh, our gold is wilting. We need more gold.” It’s for…
Jace: But it’s an idea.
Charlotte: Right, it’s the idea of that and it’s…
Jace: It’s the idea of England or Albion or… It represents something.
Charlotte: Yeah. I guess it’s maintaining a statue to everything that has existed before that’s important for tradition and for revenue (laughs). I mean, it’s a huge amount of tourism.
Tim: It brings huge amounts of money into the country, doesn’t it? That and the theater (laughs).
Jace: Do you think that Charles would be a good king?
Tim: Well, I do actually.
Tim: Yes, I do. Because I think he’s a very caring man. He takes his responsibilities very seriously.
Charlotte: He has been talking about climate change for over 30 years.
Charlotte: And doing huge amounts to raise awareness about it. And only now people are starting to listen. The poor guy must be like, “For goodness sake, I’ve been saying this for 30 years.”
And the things that he’s very, very passionate about vary from homeopathy to climate change.
Tim: Figurative drawing.
Jace: Organic farming.
Charlotte: Exactly, yeah. I think he has sown quite a lot of seeds for important change to come, which I don’t think we’ll necessarily see until further down the line.
Jace: Have you had any reaction from Clarence House about the play or about the film?
Tim: We don’t think that any of them have seen it, which is a question we’re always being asked. They’ll be able to watch us on television but we don’t think any of them came to the theater to see it. But when I was playing at the Almeida, the Almeida office received a note from the palace to the effect, “Charles does not wear a wedding ring.”
I think on one particular occasion, I made a mistake and just did not remove my wedding ring to put on Charles’ signet ring, which is what I normally did.
But that’s a very interesting reaction, isn’t it, from the palace? Because what does it mean? It means, “Don’t think we’re not watching.”
Jace: “We see you.” “We see you.”
Tim: We’re prepared to put up with this. I mean, I often think what a miracle it was that we were able to do this play a mile from the palace.
Tim: What an amazing country we live in where it’s actually possible to do something like that.
Charlotte: A lot of people are always asking, “Are you allowed to do this?” And it’s like, “Of course we are.” (Laughs) You’re allowed to make a play about pretty much anything.
Tim: Anything. Although we did have problems getting permission to stage the death of the Queen for the film.
Tim: Because I think it’s sort of agreed that you never… I don’t think the death of a monarch has ever been staged before.
Tim: So, it’s highly sensitive territory, of course.
Jace: What do you hope that viewers take away from the film?
Tim: How important freedom of speech is (laughs). That’ll do for me.
Jace: Very timely. Very timely in 2017.
I just hope they enjoy it. I think that’s really the most important thing, that people are engaged in the play and then have a debate in their own minds. About what they think…
Charlotte: “Oh, do you think that Charles is really like that? Do you think that Kate’s really like that? Would William really do that?”
Charlotte: I hope that it sparks debate beyond the little snippets that we see in the press, which always feels like it’s the same stuff over and over again. I think that Mike has created some really interesting characters that would give people a different footing for a conversation about the monarchy.
Jace: Well said.
Charlotte, you once said of drama school, “I knew you had to perform two Shakespeare pieces but I’d never read Shakespeare. I couldn’t even understand it, let alone learn it to perform it. I just didn’t have the confidence.”
Jace: You’re now in a film that’s written in free verse.
Jace: Have you laid that ghost to rest?
Charlotte: Yes, a little bit. Yeah. (Laughs) It’s not quite as intimidating as it was.
Tim: Have you done some Shakespeare now?
Charlotte: I did some at drama school, yeah. I haven’t done any professionally. It was just more because of my background, where I grew up. I wasn’t from a family that… We didn’t go to the theater so I went… Mike’s work was quite a nice introduction to iambic pentameter and that structure. So, I mean, I’d already done stuff at drama school but it teased it apart for me, and then getting to work with Rupert on it and… Yeah. I think it has eased my fears (laughs).
Jace: (Laughs) Excellent.
Tim, is it true that you have an ongoing game with Dame Judi Dench?
Tim: It is true (laughs). This goes back to 1987 when we were doing Antony and Cleopatra at The National with Anthony Hopkins playing Antony. We just started this silly game in which you have to get a black glove to the other person in any shape or form. It doesn’t matter how it gets there or… It has been going on now- What is it? Oh, this is now 30 years, isn’t it? Yeah.
And one of the last ones she sent me- to give you an example of how silly the game has got because we’ve been playing it so long now you have to be quite inventive (laughs). For my birthday last year, she sent me a box of marshmallows. There were 12 of these marshmallows in the box and on the top of each was a picture of a black glove.
Jace: (Laughs) How are you going to get her back?
Tim: Well, I got her back on the film we’ve just done, Victoria and Abdul. I got her back three times on the film (laughs). People delivered black gloves to her.
I mean, it can be really silly. Like one day I couldn’t get my shoe on. I’m changing into my costume in my trailer… “Oh, this bloody… What’s the matter with this shoe?” And it had turned out that somebody put a black glove in the shoe.
(Laughs) It’s just a silly game. It goes on.
Jace: I love that.
Tim: It’s great fun.
Jace: Charlotte, you’ve said that you often get cast as “posh birds” for some reason.
Charlotte: Posh birds, yeah.
Jace: How different are you to the characters that you tend to play?
Charlotte: Pretty much the exact opposite (laughs), which is really strange.
Tim: She’s really low. Oh, really low (laughs).
Charlotte: It’s kind of true (laughs).
I’m quite the opposite to most characters. I always get cast as quite well put together people… Okay, I’m wearing a nice frock today but, generally, I’m like tracksuit bottoms and no makeup kind of person. And I never, ever get to use my own accent, which is a regional accent. And so, yeah. Just generally the opposite.
Tim: What’s your character in Peaky Blinders?
Charlotte: Again, wealthy aristocratic woman. Yeah, it’s strange.
Tim: It is bizarre.
Charlotte: The only northern character I’ve ever played is Cathy in Wuthering Heights. I think casting directors have forgotten that I’m northern. That’s what it feels like, anyway. I very rarely go out for things that are northern now.
Jace: Tim, you have played two characters that have been “not fan favorites,” we’ll say.
Ronald Merrick in Jewel of the Crown… In the mid-1980s, a woman allegedly accosted you in the street and said, “If you owned a restaurant, I’d come and poison the food.” Did that actually happen and what was your reaction?
Tim: No, not quite. It almost did. This woman met me and she was absolutely apoplectic. She said, “Are you…? Are you…? Fiend!” And I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Ronald Merrick!” And I said, “Yes, yes, yes. I played Ronald Merrick.” She said, “If you had a restaurant, I would not eat at it.”
Tim: That was the line.
Charlotte: (Laughs) How weird.
Jace: That’s even weirder. What a strange thing to say.
Tim: Well, the character aroused very, very strange and difficult feelings in people.
Jace: But she would boycott your restaurant.
Tim: She would boycott my restaurant, yeah.
Jace: If you owned one.
Tim: That’s a real threat, isn’t it?
Jace: And then the second being Sir Philip Tapsell on Downton Abbey...
Jace: …Which led to the death of Sybil Crawley. Did any viewers confront you on the street after that?
Tim: No. I mean, people have hissed at me in a jokey way. Actually in America, not at all, because anybody who has been in Downton Abbey is automatic royalty. One woman said to a friend of mine, “The way shows should have publicized this play in New York is they should have put ‘Tim Pigott-Smith as seen in Downton Abbey.’”
Jace: (Laughs) That’s amazing.
Tim Pigott-Smith, Charlotte Riley, thank you.
Tim: Thank you very much.
Charlotte: Thank you.
Jace: This Thursday, we’re dropping a bonus episode into your podcast feed: Mike Bartlett, the man who envisioned this twisted future in iambic pentameter, will make a special appearance on the show to talk about bringing King Charles III to life.
Mike Bartlett: It all came quite quickly, and then I realized that I would then have to write that, and then I didn’t do anything for two years because it was too scary.
Jace: Then Sunday, May 21st at 9 pm, MASTERPIECE is back with another full-length feature, Dark Angel, except this time, the feature is less about British royalty and more about a working-class woman killing people with arsenic.
Margaret: Married twice, widowed twice, and neither a tear shed for either of them.
Mary Ann: You should watch that sharp tongue of yours before my dad finds someone kinder.
Jace: In Dark Angel, Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt returns to MASTERPIECE as Britain’s first-known female serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton.
Then, Joanne joins us, here on the podcast, to discuss this decidedly darker role.
Joanne Froggatt: People kept asking me what I wanted to do after Downton, as they were asking all of us, “What would be your ideal role?” I was jokingly saying for about a year, “Oh, just something totally different. I don’t know what. Maybe, a murderer or something.”
Jace: Does MASTERPIECE Studio help you get through a particularly awful commute? Or spice up your time in the kitchen while you’re cooking a quiche? Let us know! Leave us a comment on our iTunes or Stitcher page and tell us what you like about the show.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Rachel Aronoff. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas and Susanne Simpson. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking Cruises, Farmers Insurance, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.