Among the many controversies that gripped the British Royal Family during the 1990s was one that would only come to light almost two decades later, when Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell (who was convicted of sex trafficking last December) was eventually exposed in the press.
The scandal, which metastasized after Prince Andrew was sued in a civil court for sexual assault by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s victims, destroyed his public standing. His mother, Queen Elizabeth II, stripped him of his many patronages and military titles before she died and, despite denying any wrongdoing and ultimately settling with Giuffre, Andrew is still effectively banished from public life.
But for James Murray, who plays Prince Andrew in Season 5 of “The Crown,” there was no apprehension about stepping into the disgraced royal’s buffed shoes. “My thoughts were, ‘Great, fantastic,’” Murray tells Variety. “This is going to be a lot of fun.”
“The material is brilliant,” continues Murray. “And apprehension with regards to what is going on with Andrew in the press? Not really, because the first thing to do was to divorce myself from all that and just treat it as white noise and crack on with the material that was put in front of me. I’m very honored and privileged to have been offered the role. And it was great fun playing it.”
Murray, who has appeared on shows including “Coronation Street” and “Suspects,” was in Scotland shooting a series about fly fishing with fellow actor Robson Green (“Grantchester”) when he received an email from his agent asking him to audition for the part. “I think you’ve sent it to the wrong person,” he replied. After being persuaded he was indeed the correct recipient, Murray asked Green to help him tape his audition. Murray, of course, read Andrew while Green — who shot to fame in TV series “Soldier” before briefly enjoying a music career under the watchful eye of a then-unknown Simon Cowell — read Queen Elizabeth’s lines.
“The tape still exists,” Murray laughs. “It’s very funny actually. We did it and I showed it to Robson and the first thing he said was, ‘You’ve rung the bell there, mate. You’ll be asked to go to London by the end of the week.’ And he was right.”
It’s unclear whether Murray is joking when he adds “from now on [Green] reads in all my auditions,” but if not, Green has certainly turned out to be a good luck charm. Next on the agenda for Murray is shooting “The Crown” Season 6, which is currently in production, and he also recently completed Steven Spielberg’s Apple TV+ drama “Masters of the Air,” which is tentatively scheduled to air next year.
As it happens, Season 5 of “The Crown” stays away entirely from Andrew’s misadventures; even his controversial stint as a special trade envoy to the U.K. is untouched. The most risqué it gets is when Andrew sits down with Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) to discuss his failing marriage to Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, warning his mother the press have photographs of Sarah getting her toes sucked by her “financial advisor.”
How would Murray have coped if showrunner Peter Morgan had decided to dramatize Andrew’s own rumored indiscretions? “I mean, don’t judge me on this, but I quite enjoy playing challenging or polarizing roles, or certainly scenes that could divide an audience, because I think that’s fun,” he says. “And I think, from an actor’s point of view, in my career when I’ve been given scenes that have been shocking or divisive or will court controversy or reaction, they’re the fun scenes. But I know that’s not for every actor.”
“So if I’d have been given those scenes, or indeed if those scenes come up in Season 6, I’ll enjoy them. I’ll relish them,” he adds. “Because we’re doing TV drama and it’s not a documentary. So, from an actor’s point of view, it’s a joy to play.”
Pictured above: Back row, left to right: Senan West as Prince William, Will Powell as Prince Harry, Dominic West as Prince Charles, Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, Theo Fraser Steele as Timothy Laurence, Claudia Harrison as Princess Anne, Sam Woolf as Prince Edward, James Murray as Prince Andrew. Front row, left to right: Marcia Warren as the Queen Mother, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth; Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip; Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret.
From Variety US