Indeed, it was those qualities, her “vulnerability and strength,” that drew Peter Morgan to casting Staunton for The Crown. Today, even with all the sartorial trappings removed—the pearls, prim twinset, and low, sturdy heels swapped for sculptural silver earrings, oversized cream shirt, slim black trousers, and combat boots—the resemblance between Staunton and the late monarch is striking enough to elicit a double take. The series topped British streaming charts when it was released, but she’s adamant the role hasn’t changed anything for her.

I wonder, though, if she feels a greater empathy with the royals. After all, they have figured in her life more than most: she’s played the Queen Mother in Peter Moffat’s 2003 limited series Cambridge Spies; sung for the queen at her 90th birthday pageant in the grounds of Windsor Castle in 2016; and has been to the Palace on at least two occasions to receive her OBE and CBE. She was still filming when the queen died in September 2022 and was “inconsolable” at the news.

“What I admire,” says Staunton, “[is how she] was the last bastion of, ‘I’ve said I would do this.’ That’s over now, that’s gone. Someone who would turn up, come rain or come shine—people don’t do that in any walk of life now. I do believe that being anointed queen was [for her] like becoming a nun, the degree of responsibility she felt was enormous.”

She can certainly relate to that sense of responsibility. “Not in any way comparing,” she says, “but if you agree to do eight shows a week, you do eight shows a week. I don’t care if you’re tired. If you don’t want to do eight shows a week, then don’t do a show.”

When it comes to giving advice, Staunton is not one “to sugarcoat it.” “I go and talk to drama students. I say, ‘Listen, I’m telling you this now. You have to deal with rejection all the time. Now, remember: the day you don’t get that job, someone else gets it. It’s their turn that day.’ You have to look at it like that because it’ll eat you up otherwise.”

Although Staunton has, undeniably, had a glittering career, it was only post-Oscars nod, when she was almost 50, with nearly 30 years of work behind her, that leading roles in film became available to her. She recalls meeting the Harry Potter team “very early on,” pre-Vera Drake. “I went in to see them and they said, ‘Would you play this part?’ What, for a page? No. And I wasn’t being grand, I just thought, No, I don’t want to do that.” Once she’d bagged an Oscar nom and won a film BAFTA, she was far enough “up the ladder” to be offered Dolores Umbridge.

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