I have seen her twice before. Once on stage in The Last of The Haussmans, where she glittered, pulsated and stole the play; and again in a sluggish Q&A about the play, where she was nervous and prickly, out of her comfort zone. She seemed to fold into her chair, intent on playing a cushion, as the elderly female audience cooed over her co-star Rory Kinnear and semi-ignored her. She said things like: “It doesn’t matter to me how other people view my career.” When a woman asked her if she had received a gift she left at the stage door, she replied “Yes”, very coldly, and turned back into a cushion.
She is not like this today. She is excitable and joshing, playing my best friend. I am here to discuss her role in Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, although we don’t get far with that. She teases my tape recorder, booming like a refugee from Malory Towers — “Nice and loud and clearly, shall we?” It quickly becomes obvious that McCrory, who prepares obsessively for every role, chose acting, at least initially, as an act of control. I decide it is this Helen, the pilot Helen, who is in charge of all the other Helens — the cross Helen, the principled Helen, the funny Helen and so on. As a child, she moved around: her father was a diplomat. Storytelling, she says, helps “to make sense of your childhood — Africa compared to Norway compared to Paris. Everything is logical in that world of the play”. She has the otherworldliness of the British child brought up abroad, a kind of tidy cleverness that sometimes collapses into swearing, or shrieks.
She knows how good she is, which pleases me. I’m sick of actors saying how grateful they are, and how fame fell on them like a surprise boulder. “I often read articles where actors say, ‘I know I’m a fake, I’m just waiting to be found out,’” she says slowly. “I’ve never thought that.” Her voice changes, slurring from estuary when she is excited to RP when she is making a serious point. She swears constantly. Sometimes she sounds like Celia Johnson, sometimes like Ray Winstone. A waiter asks us to move, because there is a private party. “Okay,” she says. “We’ll move in a minute.” Exactly one minute later, she does. I wonder if she timed it.
Continue reading Helen McCrory: ‘Now it’s 43, I call my body art’