The Family’s Holiday House and Why Damian Isn’t Asked How He Juggles It All
by Julia Llewellyn Smith | The Times | August 12, 2019
Gosh, but having lunch with Helen McCrory is a daunting experience — a bit like sitting down with a more intelligent version of Princess Margaret or the seventh, undiscovered Mitford sister. Even though she’s a dainty thing, McCrory has extraordinary presence, crackling with the energy that has suffused her stage performances at the National, the Donmar and the Almeida and that underscored film roles such as Harry Potter’s Narcissa Malfoy. It has also made her the star of TV dramas such as Penny Dreadful and Peaky Blinders, the long-running BBC period crime drama that we’re here to discuss.
Her commanding aura is boosted by her Pathé-newsreel husky tones and by her marriage to another superstar, Damian Lewis, of Homeland and Billions fame. The couple are self-described “party animals”, frequently photographed looking Burton-and-Taylor glamorous on red carpets, and I imagine she would make the most brilliant hostess — fun, engaged and full of droll bons mots and anecdotes.
The regal effect is further enhanced by the fact that, in the pleasant but unglamorous surroundings of the British Film Institute restaurant on a baking-hot day (“I’m starving,” she barks before ordering asparagus, followed by a cobb salad with truffle fries), McCrory is in a long, flowery dress and full make-up for that evening’s London premiere of Peaky’s fifth season. “It’ll look good when it gets dark. For now it’s like, ‘My God, she’s like Liz Taylor the wheelchair years,’ ” she drawls.
McCrory doesn’t do traditional interviews, where she talks and I listen. Instead, she expects a conversation with topics ranging from how all young women today look identical (“Our generation had so many more styles to choose from. I really wanted to look like Debbie Harry — obviously quite a leap — then Siouxsie Sioux . . .”); to the recent resignation of the British ambassador to the US (McCrory’s father was a diplomat in countries such as Tanzania and Cameroon); to Peaky-related philosophical questions such as: “Is an act of goodness still good if you do it out of badness?” (She decides no.) It leaves me quite anxious that I haven’t been stimulating enough company.