Victoria Hamilton: ‘Women can now carry shows without faces full of Botox’

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She donned a specially modified swimsuit to play the Queen Mother in The Crown. Now shes a spy-busting gay senator in Deep State and revelling in its love story

Shortly before Im due to interview her in a hotel room, I run into Victoria Hamilton in the loo. I wouldnt have recognised her from The Crown, in which she plays the Queen Mother, even though she swears they did nothing to her appearance except make her wear a swimsuit that had tits built into my stomach. Then theyd take all my makeup off and put a grey wig on my head.

I would have recognised her from Deep State, because Id only just watched an episode: a hot, gory spy drama, paranoid and nail-biting. But really I recognise her because I feel like I already know her from all her great theatre roles and countless period dramas, from Scoop to Mansfield Park.

Fantastically warm and funny, Hamilton brings a huge amount to a conversation with just eyebrows and intonation. When we talk about The Crown, the acclaimed Netflix series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, I mention that it cant have sounded like a very interesting proposition: just a bunch of rich, repressed people doing what theyre told. Honestly, she says, most actors first thought was, Really, really? More royalty. Really? Really? The Queen Mother? Really? Its like a masterclass in how many differentways there are to say really in a sceptical and unenthusiastic voice.

I never thought, at 48, Id be doing a job that had a love story written into it Hamilton in Deep State. Photograph: Joe Alblas/Fox Networks Group

In the Fox series Deep State, she plays a gay Republican senator facing a cover-up as she investigates the deaths of special forces agents in Mali. Its very pertinent, she says. This sense that there are decisions being made and we have no idea whos making them, conflicts being funded for agendas we have no clue about.

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As for her part, she says: I think theres never been a better time to be an actress over 40. They really are starting to write fully rounded protagonist roles for women who arent 35. I never thought, at 48, Id be doing a job that had a love story written into it. If youd told me that 10 years ago, my jaw would have been on the floor. Your fuckability quotient wait, you cant put that in an article.

Cant I? Oh, go on then. It started to happen with The Killing and Borgen, where not only were women carrying shows, they didnt have a face full of Botox and werent pneumatic-looking. And the sexuality of those women was suddenly real. Real bodies and real people and its 100 times sexier than the sex scenes that weve all been watching for decades, faked and airbrushed and boring.

Theatre aside, its only recently that Hamilton has been cast as a character who wasnt incredibly sweet. Because thats the sort of face Ive got in film, the personality of your face gets cast, instead of necessarily whats inside. Thats why I spent the first 10 years of my career in theatre, and still constantly go back. The roles have more depth. Theres a wonderful thing that happens where someone can hit the stage and, within half an hour, you think that is the ugliest or the most beautiful person youve ever seen. Whatever stage energy youve chosen to give to that character is more important than what you look like.

She adds: Also, most theatre isnt shit. And quite a lot of telly is shit. Or was, until a few years ago. This is a hugely highfalutin conversation. Why do you love theatre? Because its not shit.

Epic with Claire Foy in The Crown. Photograph: Alex Bailey/Netflix/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

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The Crown was much more daring at first than it seems, now that its been so successful: not for each individual actor so much as the whole thing, and how awesomely expensive it was. This, it turns out, was down to executive producer Stephen Daldry. Basically, Stephen was trying to create a hybrid between TV and film, holding out for those extraordinary budgets. So in a strange way, much as doing the second series was wonderful, once it had this big stamp of approval, it felt less exciting, because it wasnt going to fail on that epic scale.

She seems entranced by the spectacle of disaster, the randomness and absurdity of what works and what doesnt. Oh, its only romantic when youve got a job. Doing that backslapping thing, Were so brave, this is so romantic.

Watch a trailer for Deep State

I dont really look the way I am, Hamilton says, though shes just said she looks like an elf with tits, and its difficult to know how that would be. Shes never been cast in a successful comedy, which is odd because, conversationally, she is funny witty, caustic and surreal. Youre allowed to be funny if you look a certain way. If you then play a part that has a lot of gravitas and darkness, youre something else and its hard to get back. If anyone finds you sexy, you cant be sexy and funny. Because of course you cant laugh and have a hard-on at the same time. Theres a pause while we both consider this. Actually, that is true, you cant.

Shed love another series of Deep State. She wants to do a one-woman show. She has a TV series she cant talk about that takes her to October, an unprecedented run, she says, of gainful employment. While acclaim came pretty fast for Hamiltons work on stage, it was always precarious.

Almost every time in my career, when Ive done something and people have gone well, thats it, whether its winning a prize or whatever, I genuinely then have not worked for a really long time afterwards. Descriptions of her career are shot through with insecurity, long bouts of unemployment. Her husband, Mark Bazeley, is also an actor. When neither of us is working, we just cry, drink a lot of wine, and really, really worry. She pauses and adds: It pisses me off so much. People get up to accept awards, and talk about acting, and say, Were all so spoilt. No were not: 98% of actors are struggling to pay the rent or the mortgage, and wondering where the next part is coming from.

She may be being a little too modest, when in fact there has been considerable deliberation in her career, a lot of careful choices. She talks about taking A Day in the Death of Joe Egg to Broadway with Eddie Izzard in 2003. It went really well and got nominated for Tonys. I had all of New York saying, Youve to go to LA. I didnt and Im glad and the reason is that I would have been completely destroyed. If you didnt look like Cameron Diaz, you would get slaughtered and end up doing work you didnt want to do.

And as a result, she is not especially famous: Real fame is if you cant get on the tube. All I get is people squinting at me, which on a vulnerable day is very odd. Youve walked around London and people have just frowned at you, as if they slightly disapprove of you. But then, on the other hand, theres a body of work that has range, thats been memorable and never trivial.

Deep State is on Fox in the UK at 9pm on Thursdays.

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