Meet Queen Katerina

We sat down with Sally Phillips, the star behind Queen Katerina in our new show, Henry IX

Sally Phillips as Queen Katerina

Sally Phillips as Queen Katerina

What attracted you to Henry IX?

It's not common in these times of sliced budgets to find something so well written with such a brilliant director and a fantastic cast. Because it's Dick and Ian, everyone said yes immediately and is very excited to be working on this. It's unusual to get such a high-quality line-up. Charles leads the cast so well and is brilliant as Henry. Everyone is at the top of their game.

Have you enjoyed working on Dick and Ian's script?

Absolutely. The writing is very musical. There is a music to their scenes. It is written with a real rhythm. The lines just say themselves. The characters are so good that lines which aren't necessarily funny on the page are hilarious as soon as they come out of someone's mouth.

Could you please outline your character for us?

Queen Katerina has changed. Henry is the second son, so he wasn't going to be King. He and Katerina probably met on a Viking farm doing bushcraft. They did genuinely like each other back then. She was much more grounded, and he didn't think he would have to be King. His dream was running an organic farm in Wiltshire.

What happened next?

As can happen to girls, the whole "Princess" thing rather took hold of her. She has had so much leisure time and is mainly concerned with her status, so she has become devious and shallow. Her job is to turn up, look regal and get column inches about what she's wearing and not go really, really rough.

What else does Katerina do?

She's not allowed to do anything apart from smile. She has tons of time to do her make-up and to try out outlandish new exercise regimes, none of which she can ever do. One by one, she destroys her ladies in waiting, out of sheer boredom.

Where is she from originally?

She's Scandinavian and hasn't lost her accent as much as I was planning! A foreign accent is a very low-hanging fruit for jokes, and it's really hard for me to leave those pears on the tree because she has such joyous vowels! It's true that I did play a Scandinavian character in Veep, but their shared background is the only similarity with Katerina.

Do you know women like Katerina?

Yes. My dad worked for BA, so I grew up in expat communities full of those European women. I feel like I'm getting to play jazz with all those women - the Dutch ambassador's wife and the Swedish second wife of the man from Shell! That whole thing.

Have you looked into the area of royal etiquette at all?

No, but I'm hoping that it is more important for other characters than it is for us because we can do whatever we like and they have to deal with it! In real life, I've started saying, "Dismissed!" It's really funny!

What do think the real Royal Family would make of Henry IX?

I think they'd find it funny. They'd definitely find my etiquette funny - "I can't believe she's got her hands on the table. Everybody knows one must always keep one's hands under the table!"

Will viewers try to connect the characters in Henry IX with the real life Royal Family?

People will definitely try, but Dick and Ian have been quite clever in making that impossible. It's a universal tale about someone having a midlife crisis - and deciding whether to stick or twist. The thing people regret most on their deathbed is not doing more of what they wanted. They say, "I wish I hadn't done what my wife said the whole time" or "I wish I'd told my husband to get lost" or "I wish I'd gone to Paris anyway." It's that thing of "Do I dare?" Everything is established by the time you reach middle age - do I dare do something different? It's that universal question, set against a deliciously camp backdrop!