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“They’re both aliens,” the actor Matt Smith says of Dr. Who and Prince Philip, his biggest parts to date.
The Doctor, the hero of England’s longest-running science-fiction series
is literally an extraterrestrial— specifically, a rogue Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. In 2009, Smith was cast as the Eleventh Doctor. (The character magically takes a new form whenever the previous incarnation tires of the role.) He was an unexpected choice, first because he was then a relative unknown, and second because Smith was a decade younger than the outgoing Doctor, David Tennant. But Whovians—think of them as the Trekkies of the U.K..—quickly warmed to him. In 2011, Smith was nominated for a BAFTA.
“He gave up everything, literally everything, that made him a man,” the actor says about Prince Philip, whom he plays on
. “But he has a lion’s pride about him, so there were a lot of interesting conflicts to play.”
Smith was then tapped to play Prince Philip on the lavish period drama
), the series follows the British royal family from the postwar period to the present. With a reported budget for the first season of $100 million, it’s also Netflix’s most ambitious production to date. Do not assume, as I did, that this show is made for “royal watchers” clicking through slide shows of Kate Middleton’s most stylish maternity outfits on the
a movie about Queen Elizabeth dealing with the death of Princess Diana, and
a play composed entirely of Elizabeth’s weekly political briefings, Morgan claims to have “no interest in the royal family whatsoever.” And it’s okay if you don’t, either.
is simply great television—an epic, visually stunning, masterfully written family saga.
Philip, Elizabeth’s husband and “consort,” was born on the Greek island of Corfu. Technically, he’s an earthling. But Smith sees him as “an alien in the royal house.” Philip isn’t exactly a civilian—he was born to the Greek and Danish monarchies—but because he is unfamiliar with the peculiar customs, the outrageous luxury, the scrutiny, and, believe it or not, the sacrifices that govern his life at Buckingham Palace, Philip is somebody the audience can relate to, even sympathize with. “He gave up everything, literally everything, that made him a man,” Smith says. “He had such a wonderful naval career, and for that to be taken away from him, and then to have to walk two steps behind his wife in public for the whole of his life—but he has a lion’s pride about him, so there were a lot of very interesting conflicts to play.”
Season Two will fill in some of the gaps in Philip’s past (“there’s a whole TV series in that”) while focusing more on his and Elizabeth’s son, the solitary Charles, as he stumbles his way through boarding school, and on Philip’s libertine sister-in-law, Princess Margaret, as she cuts a swath through Swinging London (and, it is rumored, the bedrooms of Mick Jagger, Peter Sellers, and Dusty Springfield).
Next up, Smith, now thirty-five, is starring in an independent film about the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. “Who knew I’d find pictures of penises totally and utterly compelling?” he says. (This might be a good place to mention that he’s currently dating his
costar, Lily James.) Mapplethorpe proved an unexpectedly challenging subject. “It was the height of summer, and I was in black leather for the whole shoot,” Smith says. “And I wasn’t eating that much because he was quite thin, so I was on a diet of fish and vegetables, which was just foul. The day it ended, I ordered pancakes and Nutella for about four days.” Also, Prince Philip never stuck a bullwhip up his arse—not on film, anyway.
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