Thatcher’s Match: Harry Lloyd on The Iron Lady

Published December 27, 2011

ABOVE: HARRY LLOYD (RIGHT) WITH ALEXANDRA ROACH IN THE IRON LADY.

While Meryl Streep is the face out front in The Iron Lady, the center around which everything spins, the film wouldn’t work without its stellar supporting cast. Harry Lloyd, who plays the young version of Denis Thatcher, eventual husband of future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, brings charm and wit to the role of a ghost, a fading memory in the mind of a woman at the end of her life. Lloyd’s performance, even as Jim Broadbent takes over the character in the later years, lingers on.

Interview spoke with Lloyd about staying away from the politics of the film, the public persona and private life of the character, and his death scene in the widely popular Game of Thrones.

CRAIG HUBERT: Before we begin talking about The Iron Lady, I wanted to let you know you know your death scene from Game of Thrones was amazing.

HARRY LLOYD: Yeah! [laughs] That was a huge amount of fun.

HUBERT: The show has a huge following.

LLOYD: It’s going really well, which is great, because the show is complicated and it’s a genre that puts a lot of people off, and the fact that it’s found so many keen viewers is just a testament to the people that made it. I’m thrilled it’s gone down so well.

HUBERT: So, The Iron Lady: what interested you in the role of Denis Thatcher?

LLOYD: I think he’s a fascinating guy. He’s the only guy who has been male consort to a female Prime Minister. I think they have a fascinating relationship—how they stayed so strong, and in a way, so private, through everything. Also, because of the nature of the film, I only played him up to the part where she becomes a member of Parliament. The Denis I got to know is not the Denis that the public is not aware of—so I found out all about his early life and his first marriage. There was something incredibly traditional about him that reminded me of my grandfather in terms of his sense of humor and politics. But I think what is most fascinating about both of them is this wonderful relationship and how they were both extremely successful in their own fields and how they supported each other. The open door between them—it was an extremely functional relationship.

HUBERT: Denis Thatcher lived a full and interesting life before he even met Margaret—what kind of research did you do into his early life?

LLOYD: The most useful thing was a book his daughter Carol wrote called Below the Parapet, which is this wonderful life biography. To find stuff about his early life was tricky, but this book was brilliant, to see who he was before he even met Margaret, about the years that may part specializes in—meeting her, their courtship, how and why they fell in love. And even though it’s not dealt with in the film, for me, understanding that first marriage [was important], and what that meant coming back from the war and his marriage falling apart. The different attitude you have going in to a second marriage, I thought that was very interesting, and it helped me understand—not his standoffishness—his eagerness for them to live their own lives.

HUBERT: This who other side to him is interesting considering his public persona was a goofball – a guy obsessed with golf.

LLOYD: Yeah, I think it’s important you do see that. Even in the Jim [Broadbent] years, you see him with this irrepressible sense of fun and humor, but he is a rock. He does get it; he’s there for her when he needs to be. He’s extraordinarily loyal.  And obviously the film is a story of her, so you don’t see him without her, especially because in the later part it’s about how she remembers him, it’s a very subjective portrayal of her life and their relationship. I suppose the things you remember about someone who has died are the funny moments. Those are the ones that stand out.

HUBERT: The first scene between the two of them in the film—your first scene in the film—is interesting because it seems like he instantly gets her—there’s a class difference, but he understands where she is coming from, unlike the others in the scene.

LLOYD: I think also that he’s not scared of strong women, in the way some people are of an older generation. Also, at least the way it comes across in the film, she appeals to his sense of mischief. He appreciates people standing up for what they can believe in, and he sees the ridiculousness of the situation—this young girl surrounded by these old fogies. It appeals to his sense of humor. It’s a breath of fresh air.

HUBERT: It’s a progressive way of thinking, especially for the time. He never seems anything but content with taking a back seat, staying out of her way.

LLOYD: Very much so. That’s a huge part of it. He didn’t try to turn her into anything for his own ends. He had his own successful business. He’s interested in politics, and they share a lot of the same views, but he’s not interested in becoming a politician. He was always—the film shows later on how aggravating it can be—aware of, “You do what you want to do, M.T. I’ll be there.” There was this real mutual respect, which was a great foundation.HUBERT: Was there ever any trepidation playing characters with long and fully formed reputations in the public?

LLOYD: Yeah. [laughs] Massive terror, in fact; not only to play someone who actually existed but who also existed in living memory of people who are watching. Also, to try to channel that through another actor’s interoperation—I spent a lot of time working out, “Am I playing this character on the page or am I doing it the way Jim Broadbent is playing the character later in the film?” You can go mad.

HUBERT: The blend, or shift, between the two performances seems pretty natural. I wanted to ask about how that transition was created.

LLOYD: I’m so glad. That was always a big worry. There were rehearsals early on, but what I found most useful was just watching him. There is a great documentary called Married to Maggie, which Carol produced, which has got lots of footage of Denis. But the vast majority of footage is all of him as an older man—so again, playing him as a young man there isn’t necessarily much publicly accessible footage. So I had to take all that, but also be aware that that is Jim [Broadbent]’s world, and stay away from that and not try to copy that. I had to at least be aware of that. And I started filming a few weeks after Jim did, so I got some rushes and saw at least what Jim looked like on camera and made sure I wasn’t doing something completely different. But ultimately, we have different shaped faces and things. When you’re on camera, you can’t think of all the technical things.

HUBERT: The film doesn’t necessarily take sides politically, but it is a political film by nature. Were you interested in the politics surrounding the subject, or the possible future debates that could spring from the film?

LLOYD: I’ve got no real interest in the political debates, primarily because I’m of an age that she never affected me personally. I was seven when she left office—it’s always been secondhand information and other people’s opinions. I’m fascinated through all the research I’ve done, now. I’m interested in what the film is interested in, which I think is: What is the cost of that? When you live that kind of life what do you do afterwards? The human story of it, which for an actor, I think, is always the most interesting part of it.

HUBERT: The film covers a large chunk of history, quite a number of world historical events—was there anything about these people, or these events, that changed from making the film?

LLOYD: Yeah, many things. After looking around at the big events of her time in power, I realized quite quickly they weren’t helpful to me to play this part. I’m playing a man who doesn’t know he’s going to be married to a prime minister. I need to keep this much simpler and not get bogged down in a sticky subject, quite frankly. I ended up doing much more research about the socialist politics of the 1950s, his business, and his relationship with rugby, and these films they watched. I stopped reading halfway through the biography—I didn’t want to know the rest of it. The great bit about our part of the film is that there aren’t such weighted expectations because they weren’t responsible for other people, yet, and they weren’t important in the public eye. I think that allowed me and Alex to shrug off all these expectations that comes with this film. I would be terrified to play the well-known version.

THE IRON LADY IS OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30.