First Lady: Will First Man see actress Claire Foy get her first Oscar?

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” was the unexpected response from soon-to-become Hollywood’s leading lady as she accepted the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 70th Emmy Awards back in 2017. It’s hardly the faux modesty / humblebrag that characterises the pre-polished, unconvincingly surprised award speeches because Claire Foy, the winner in question, is hardly your typical Tinseltown thespian…

Claire Foy is not your typical Tinseltown thespian

Born, back in April 1984, in Manchester, her father, David, was a photocopier salesman and her mother, Caroline, a lynchpin of the local pharmaceutical logistics sector. It was an unthespian beginning for an actress not only destined to be Hollywood royalty but also to be feted for her bravura small-screen performance as the matriarch of Britain’s own royal family – Queen Elizabeth II.

Perhaps driven by the pain of her parents’ divorce when she was eight-years-old, Claire Foy was ambitious from the start. At just 13, she set her sights on becoming a ballerina, although a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis soon ended her dream of a dance career. Four years later, she was dealt another blow when a tumour developed on her optical nerve. Thankfully, it was benign, but it still added to the many woes that punctuated her childhood. Asked about her abiding memory of that time, she says: “Illness. It was a horrible and debilitating period for me, but it made me realise that if I was ever going have the kind of life I truly wanted, I would have to grab it.”

Claire Foy in the part of Lady Persie in BBC's Upstairs Downstairs

And grab it she did. With her tumour treatment complete, she enrolled at Liverpool’s John Moores University with the vague idea of eventually becoming a cinematographer before finally moving to Oxford School of Drama to become an actress. After completing her course, she worked her way up through regional theatre, before graduating to bit parts for the BBC, then eventually, undertaking bigger roles, most notably Lady Persephone Towyn in Upstairs Downstairs (2010), a period drama detailing the lives of the British aristocracy in the run-up to World War II.

Then, in 2016, her big break came when she was cast as Queen Elizabeth II – the part for which she was eventually honoured at the Emmy Awards the following year – in The Crown, a big-budget production by Netflix, which ambitiously set out to chronicle the lives and loves of the British royal family through the latter half of the 20th century. Foy clearly shone in the role. Indeed, even the Queen – the woman she has so beguilingly brought to life on TV screens across the world – has confessed she is a fan.

Claire Foy got her bit break as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown

While many feared the warts-and-all approach of The Crown would prove controversial, it transpired, however, that it was ultimately the studio politics behind the series that made headlines across the world. When, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and a worldwide initiative aimed at closing the gender pay gap, it came to light that her male co-star, Matt Smith, was receiving a far higher salary than her, Claire Foy suddenly found herself the poster girl for the misogynistic remuneration issues that had long plagued the film and TV industry. Ultimately, the series producers apologised and awarded her a massive retrospective pay rise.

Sadly, despite such a victory, she soon bowed out of the series. This, however, was not down to any actorly fit of pique, but was instead occasioned by a 30-year leap in the narrative, which required the more age-appropriate Olivia Colman (44) to take on the role of Her Majesty in her later years.

Claire Foy swept up numerous awards as Janet Armstrong in First Man

Since her forced abdication, however, Foy has been offered lead roles in three big-ticket Hollywood productions. In the first of these, Unsane, she played a woman mistakenly committed to a mental institution after being pursued by a stalker. Not only did she garner great notices for her memorable performance, the film was also remarkable for one particular innovation – it was wholly-filmed on an iPhone 7. More conventional in cinematographic terms was First Man, which saw Foy again scoop up several award nominations for her performance as Janet Armstrong, the wife of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.

For Claire Foy fans – and their number is legion – there is some bad news, though. Following 2018’s three-movie-spree and the end of her commitment to The Crown, she is planning to take a little time out this year, saying: “Last year was really rewarding and amazing, but quite exhausting. As a result, I’ve done nothing since last summer and I plan to carry on doing nothing for quite a while longer.”

Claire Foy is taking a sabbatical this year

Despite her protestations, she does have at least one film-related event in her diary – the 25th of this month, the date of the 91st Academy Awards. The word is she’s pretty much a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in First Man. No doubt, her many fans will indeed be over the moon should this particular prediction be borne out.

Text: Bailey Atkinson
Photos: AFP