She may be starring as the most depraved possible version of the Queen of England on TV, but Elizabeth Hurley is, deep down, a royalist.
The actress is returning to prominence after a long break from acting with her leading role in E!’s first original scripted series, The Royals. As Queen Helena, Hurley reigns over both a nation and a family of schemers, dolts, and misguided, photogenic twentysomethings. Likewise, over the course of her career, Hurley has reigned over a class of British import actresses and fashionistas; with her new series, she takes back her throne.
Hurley spoke to TIME about why Prince Charles won’t be angry about her series, the inspiration she took from Princess Diana, and kissing 22-year-olds.
TIME: What are your feelings on the real monarchy?
Elizabeth Hurley: I love the monarchy. I’ve always been a big fan. I’m an ambassador for a couple of the Prince of Wales’ charities, including the Prince of Wales Countryside Trust, because we both have organic farms and believe in organic farming and environmental issues. I’ve met him a few times, and he’s just the best. I’ve always thought he was the best-dressed man in the United Kingdom, possibly the world. His tailoring is amazing. I’m a huge fan, not only because of the tailoring.
Were you nervous that this show’s more depraved monarchs would fray your ties to Prince Charles?
I wasn’t at all nervous to play our royal family. Within ten seconds of watching our show, you can tell it’s fiction. There are no parallels. What they show outside the palace gates, it’s similar up to a point. The occasions, the charity events, the shaking hands with the public. But the minute you go backstage it’s pretty obvious it’s pure fiction. Because I don’t see any parallels at all, I think everyone will watch it as fabulous fiction.
It is markedly different from reality.
There have been so many movies where people are impersonating the royal family, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish, as we say. This isn’t that, we aren’t interpreting anyone. We aren’t doing any research at all. We’re just pulling on anything we want to pull on as our inspiration. So I pulled on a little bit of how I thought Princess Diana might look if she became a Queen of England. It’s a little difficult because our reigning monarch is a generation and a half older than me, so it’s hard to pull anything from that, in terms of looks, or mannerisms, or behavior. So in my head, I wondered, what would Princess Diana look like if she were the Queen of England today? And I thought she’d be wearing dresses like I’m wearing. But I pull on some Disney villains too.
Americans are transfixed by the royal family because we don’t have one.
Isn’t it sad? I bet you’d love one!
Who’s the closest to royalty, among American celebrities?
George Clooney, don’t you think? President Clinton at one stage was as near as you got to a king. I think it’s hard, though, because what’s so wonderful about our real monarchy is that you don’t get to see behind closed doors — ever. We might see a beautiful [magazine] shoot, but they’re showing it to us. Apart from that Princess Diana interview, which was unprecedented and never repeated, we’ve never seen anything, ever. We see the odd blurry paparazzi shot, which we shouldn’t see, because that’s invading their privacy. We see nothing. And with all of your movie stars, we see too much. We’re obliged to let people in. They don’t publicize anything! It’d be difficult to draw any parallels here, because no one has privacy.
The premise of the show is the notion that the monarchy might be abolished. Would we miss it?
Big time. Think of all those countries that have exiled or deposed monarchs. It’s pretty sad, isn’t it? They’re still the King of Greece, or whatever, but they’re not. To our country, it’s extremely important for tourism and the economy. Also, America loves it too! How much does America love the royal family? They adore it! It’s something for everyone to fantasize about and enjoy in a very innocent way.
You became famous for a Versace safety-pin dress. How has your style evolved over time?
Not at all! I wasn’t a teenager when I started getting big jobs—I was in my late twenties. I didn’t have those formative years in front of the press, like some kids do. It’s a little harder when you’re still experimenting and you don’t know what suits you yet. I was a little older, a little more mature, and worked with really good people straight away to tell me what suited me. I look at pictures of me in my early 20s and I’m not remotely stylish in any way, I’m just like any other kid. There’s a lot of pressure on kids in the public eye who are so young, and they’re still unformed. They’re, quite rightly, experimenting. Of course they should experiment—they’re kids! I think I wear quite similar things now! You know, you have to be a little age-appropriate; I can’t go on the red carpet in a skirt up to here anymore. That’s a normal part of maturing. Otherwise, I think I wear the same stuff.
What’s the secret to getting cast in interesting projects as you near 50?
It’s a miracle! Because I took eight years off to raise my son. It’s a complete miracle. In that time, I still worked for Estee Lauder as their spokeswoman and I did very small things, but I said, “That’s it. I can’t do it. Because I want to stay home and raise my son.” When he was 8 or 9, I said, “I’d like to work now, if I can,” thinking, I may never get a job. I was very lucky, because I immediately got offered a season of Gossip Girl, which was fantastic, to get my toes back in the water. And then this came up. I’m unbelievably grateful I’ve had a chance to have a second go at it.
It must have been pretty nerve-wracking.
I didn’t know what to expect. It was quite interesting—I’ve come back in at a different age group. Some actresses stop working and gradually go through it. I left at a leading lady age and come back in as a mom! This show is a pretty glamorous mummy, but nevertheless! I have kids. I never had a kid in anything and now I have two twenty-one-year-olds! My son is only 12 so I haven’t done that in real life either. I like it! But it’s different.
What was it like to work on Gossip Girl and The Royals with fairly green young actors?
On Gossip Girl it was very odd, because my first scene was serious making out with Chace Crawford, and of course, I could be his mother! It was baptism by unbelievable fire. I’ve been on the set for eight minutes and I’m making out with someone who’s 22 years old! But I kind of like it.