Claire Foy didn’t grow up idolizing action stars and couldn’t give two figs about her fellow countryman James Bond. Isn’t allegiance to 007 required for British citizenship?
“No,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it’s not in the constitution.”
It’s hard to tell in a phone interview whether the Emmy-winning star of “The Crown” is teasing or dismissing a commoner’s stupid line of questioning.
The inability to know exactly what Foy is thinking made her an ideal candidate to take over the role of Lisbeth Salander, the introverted avenger who only seems at ease inhaling cigarettes while hacking into evildoers’ web accounts.
In “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” the fifth film inspired by Stieg Larsson’s novels, Salander must stop an evil gang from taking over the world’s nuclear weapons, dodge squad cars on her motorcycle and endure sadistic torture sessions.
But for the 34-year-old actress, the most daunting challenge might be bracing herself for comparisons to Noomi Rapace, the heroine in three critically acclaimed Swedish adaptations, and Rooney Mara, who earned an Oscar nomination for her take in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
“There’s no way to copy or emulate them. You just have to be yourself,” said Foy, who saw their versions before she was cast in the part. “In my career, I’ve played plenty of characters who are familiar to audiences. People are going to have their opinions, but that’s all they are is opinions. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. I just have to do it for me.”
Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit” had been filmed numerous times before Foy took on the title role in a 2008 TV production. It went on to win seven Emmys, including best miniseries.
For 2015’s “Wolf Hall,” she played Anne Boleyn, following in the footsteps of Vanessa Redgrave, Charlotte Rampling and Genevieve Bujold. That miniseries took home a Golden Globe.
But Foy herself didn’t get any major nods — until “The Crown.”
For two years on Netflix, she gave rapt audiences a Queen Elizabeth not afraid to draw blood while biting her stiff upper lip. Before abdicating the throne to Olivia Colman, who will play an older version of Elizabeth next season, she took home the Emmy, beating out past winners Elisabeth Moss and Tatiana Maslany.
“That was lovely,” she said.
In the recent film “First Man,” her character took one giant leap for astronauts’ wives, putting husband Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in his place when he tries to weasel out of telling their kids he may not survive his trip to the moon.
“You’re doing that. Not me,” Jane Armstrong says as he sheepishly packs his bags, wishing he was on another planet. “I’m done.”
The Oscar buzz has already begun.
At first glance, “Spider’s Web” seems like a radical departure for Foy.
Salander prefers drinking whiskey out of the bottle to pouring herself a spot of tea. She’s decked out in so many tattoos and piercings that she could front a goth band, just as soon as she gets done terrorizing a rapist.
“All three women are so different and so complex. The only thing they have in common is that I played them all,” Foy said. “I’ve never made the choice to do something just because it’s a departure from what I’ve done in the past. But I don’t want to repeat myself. I’d be hard-pressed to find another character like the queen anyways.”
Despite entering the world of action thrillers, Foy still relies on her most effective weapons — a fiery, unblinking stare and inner grit. The physical training was largely for aesthetics.
“I did a bit of boxing, lifted some weights. It wasn’t like crazy,” she said. “It didn’t really help me as an actor, but exercise is good for you. It gives you energy and endurance.”
Much more of a workout were her scenes with the film’s primary villain, a sadist who also happens to be the sister Salander abandoned while they both were being sexually abused by their father.
In the film’s most dramatic moment, Foy confronts her sibling on a cliff, shaking with fear, resentment and guilt.
“Those emotional scenes are far more challenging than anything physical,” said Foy, who insists she didn’t take the character — or the tattoos — home with her. “That’s always when you’re most uncomfortable.”
Foy doesn’t have immediate plans to play Salander again, although producers are certainly keen to keep the franchise going; the remake of “Tattoo” made $230 million worldwide.
“I have absolutely no idea what’s next for me until it’s written,” said Foy, who has her hands full at home, raising a 3-year-old daughter. “At the moment, I’m free.”