Every actor has their own method for how they approach a part. Some do hours of research. Others won’t break character until the director says the words, “That’s a wrap.” The odd time an acting or dialect coach might be hired. And then there’s Helena Bonham Carter, who learned she landed the role of Princess Margaret in the third and fourth seasons of Netflix’s The Crown, and apparently thought, “Blimey, better get me arse to a psychic and make sure this is a-ok with Margaret herself.”
HBC will portray Queen Elizabeth’s cigarette-sucking , booze-gulping, sometimes mess of a younger sister, Princess Margaret for two seasons on The Crown, the first of which drops on Netflix next month. HBC had doubts about playing the role. The Guardian says that HBC was asked about playing Princess Margaret at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. HBC prepared for the role by reading biographies, and talking to Princess Margaret’s friends, ladies-in-waiting, and relatives. But it also went a little unconventional when she decided to consult an astrologer, a graphologist, and a psychic. HBC explains she went to the psychic, because:
“My main thing when you play someone who is real, you kind of want their blessing because you have a responsibility.”
That must really matter to HBC, because she has played many real-life royals, like Lady Jane Grey, and Princess Margaret’s own mum Elizabeth I in The King’s Speech. So she had Princess Margaret’s spirit summoned from beyond the grave, and tested the waters to see how Margaret felt about the casting. Luckily, HBC doesn’t have to worry about being haunted by a poltergeist that leaves the room smelling like whiskey and Chesterfields.
“So I asked her: ‘Are you OK with me playing you?’ and she said: ‘You’re better than the other actress’ that they were thinking of. They will not admit who it was. It was me and somebody else. That made me think maybe she is here, because that is a classic Margaret thing to say. She was really good at complimenting you and putting you down at the same time.”
Speaking of backhanded compliments, Princess Margaret also had some personal character instructions for HBC, like: clean up a little. Ah, so Princess Margaret is familiar with HBC.
“Then she said: ‘But you’re going to have to brush up and be more groomed and neater.’ Then she said: ‘Get the smoking right. I smoked in a very particular way. Remember that – this is a big note – the cigarette holder was as much a weapon for expression as it was for smoking.'”
But that doesn’t mean HBC will be playing her as a rude bitch with no filter. HBC says that after talking to the friends and relatives and ladies-in-waiting, she came away feeling that Princess Margaret wasn’t tough, but “highly vulnerable.” Does that mean Olivia Colman is going to be the sassy one? I’ll take it.
HBC was right to consult Princess Margaret, because we got some beyond-the-grave shade out of her. We don’t know who else was up for the role of Princess Margaret, but there’s an actress out there that does know, and she just got dragged by a ghost. Not to mention that subtle crack about HBC looking like a mess. The head of development at Netflix is probably off to a psychic right now to get more material for a comedy special called Princess Margaret: Her Royal Haters.