News & Opinion

The gender pay gap

Hey, Netflix, pay ‘The Crown’s’ Claire Foy the money she is owed for playing the Queen

The Daily Beast

March 13, 2018

The argument, insultingly flimsy as it is, is that Matt Smith is more famous than Claire Foy, and that’s why he got paid more than her when they appeared together in the first two seasons of Netflix’s classy royal soap opera The Crown, he as Prince Philip and she as the Queen.

As first reported by Variety, the show’s producers were asked if Foy was paid the same as Smith at a panel about the series at the INTV Conference in Jerusalem.

The producers, reported Variety, acknowledged that Smith did make more because of his Doctor Who fame, but, said creative director Suzanne Mackie, “Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen.”

Let’s be clear: No one should have been getting paid more than the Queen from the start. Foy’s ownership and confident inhabitation of the role was immediate, and she fully deserved to be paid accordingly. As it was she received a rumored $40,000 per episode of The Crown (Smith’s fee is unknown).

It’s doubly ridiculous that – in a time when equality in Hollywood is being hotly debated and commitments to change flowing forth – that the lead actress of a show, whose central character is one of the most famous people on planet Earth, should be being paid less than the guy who plays her consort.

It’s a huge insult to Foy to say that now Olivia Colman (who is a wonderful actor herself) is replacing her, that she Colman-as-Queen be paid accordingly as the head of the show. Foy should have had pay equity, or actually received the bigger fee, right from the outset.

Foy has already done all the hard lifting. She originated the role, and helped make audiences in Britain and internationally fall in passionate love with the show.

Frankly, Netflix should send out a backdated check in Foy’s name immediately, and with it an apology note.

The Queen does not speak, she does not reveal her true feelings. Imagine making someone so legendarily inscrutable not just intelligible, but an empathetic and involvingly complex figure to a wide audience.

Foy was both anchor and heart of The Crown. It is watching her voyage from young woman, struggling with all the enormity of the role of queen entails, to endowing herself and being endowed with the steel and shrewdness to run ‘the Firm,’ that is the show’s eddying pulse.

Philip is a significant part of The Crown too, absolutely, but the Queen is the quite literal chief in their relationship. One of the first major stories they share, after falling in love as young, carefree, at least seeming equals, is the challenge of adapting to life as Queen and consort; he must learn to bow and defer to her. The effect of this enforced inequality quickly undermines their marriage.

In season two, the relationship doesn’t devolve into full-on transactionality—there is still love there, and care, and affection–but Philip is its minor player, the one walking two steps behind, the independent, arrogant man who must play the meek, supportive husband at least in public.

The battle between wife and husband, as well as their friendship and intimacy, as played by both Foy and Smith has been transfixing; Philip trying to assert some kind of independence (whether it be through partying or parenting), and the Queen asserting her ultimate primacy.

It is Foy, the Queen, who holds the cards. It is Foy whose face, without any words being spoken, can register a full spectrum of emotion even when the woman she is playing famously retains a poker face about almost everything. It is down to Foy’s acting that we feel we understand this icon a little bit more.

Our understanding, of course, may be false, and the interpretations of the Queen’s behavior and emotions as made by The Crown’s creative team may allow for dramatic latitude, but they ring psychologically true and—more importantly—respectful.

This revelation over unequal pay comes at an already scratchy time for Crown fans. It’s bad enough we have to lose Foy and Smith, and the fantastic Vanessa Kirby as the booze-swilling, hard-living, grand-right-down-to-her-last-fur-stole Princess Margaret. Sure, Colman and Helena Bonham Carter, the new Margaret, will likely rock it in their new roles (the new ‘Philip’ is yet to be announced). Good luck to them. But this recasting feels entirely unnecessary, and unwanted by the fans.

In Foy and Smith we have an excellent Queen Elizabeth and Philip. The pair have built up a tense and believable emotional chemistry; we’d love to see it progress, we’ve bought into seeing it progress. Why the actors must be changed is a mystery, given the wonders of make-up and lighting.

But if change must come to The Crown—and the Royal Family are old masters at their own kinds of change, so we will have to follow that example—then at least finish the opening chapters properly, and pay the brilliant Claire Foy all the money she is owed. And throw her a party of thanks. She has worked passionately for it. She deserves it. And she’s the f—ing Queen.