Michelle Fairley compares new character to Game Of Thrones' Catelyn Stark

Michelle Fairley plays Lady Margaret Beaufort in The White Princess.

Michelle Fairley plays Lady Margaret Beaufort in The White Princess.

If you wanted a compelling actress to play a steely mother who would sacrifice everything to propel her son to power, who would you call?

Michelle Fairley, of course.

After playing one of modern TV's most iconic, ferociously protective mothers, Catelyn Stark in Game Of Thrones, Fairley re-enters similar territory for her latest drama.

Jacob Collins-Levy as King Henry VII and Michelle Fairley as his protective mother.
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Jacob Collins-Levy as King Henry VII and Michelle Fairley as his protective mother.

In The White Princess, the Northern Irish actress plays Lady Margaret Beaufort, a real-life figure from British history.

A fiendishly driven mother, she will stop at nothing to install her son as the new king in the wake of the War of the Roses.

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Michelle Fairley says there are parallels between Lady Margaret Beaufort and Catelyn Stark.
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Michelle Fairley says there are parallels between Lady Margaret Beaufort and Catelyn Stark.

Fifty-one-year-old Fairley, who also starred as a tenacious mother in 24: Live Another Day and Best: A Mother's Son, admits that there are similarities between Margaret and Catelyn.

The actress asserts that, "If you had a box with lots of different strengths written down and cross-referenced them then, yes, you would find many parallels between the two characters.

"They are both mothers who are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure their sons achieve and hold on to power."

However, as you might have anticipated, the course of true ambition does not run smoothly for Margaret.

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Once this scion of the Tudor household has masterminded her son's rise to power and they arrive in court together, Margaret sees that she and her son, who has just been crowned King Henry VII (Jacob Collins-Levy), scarcely know one another. Yearning to get closer to him, she appoints herself as his chief political adviser.

But the appearance in court of Henry's new wife, Lizzie (Jodie Comer), a princess from the rival House of York, jeopardises Margaret's hold on her son.

Margaret realises that she must ensure that the Tudor line continues to rule.

So as York rivals scheme to bring Henry VII down, she tries to strengthen her son's grip on power. But as her advice is put to the test, Margaret is more and more sucked into a power struggle with Lizzie for the heart and mind of the King.

Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory and picking up three days after the conclusion of her previous book, The White Queen, The White Princess is an epic tale of power, ambition, love, lust and betrayal. In a break with historical tradition, the tale is recounted from the point of view of the women who are fiercely battling for the throne of England.

Fairley reflects on what drew her to Margaret.

"This character appealed to me because she's such an incredibly strong woman and yet she is still unknown. The strength and power and tenacity and belief of this woman fascinated me. But she wasn't Queen herself and that's why she's been relegated in history.

"She's like a spin doctor for her son. If your aim is to achieve what you set out to do, then Margaret is your role model. She has that unbreakable conviction about what she's doing."

The actress analyses what makes Gregory such a popular writer.

"Her work connects easily with the reader. You're in there with the characters and can immediately understand them.

"We can't possibly imagine what life was like in the 15th century, but she makes us able to see their world. They're not remote 15th-century characters.

"The White Princess humanises them. They're not just flat portraits hanging on some museum wall.

"In Philippa Gregory's work, they become three-dimensional human beings and that's why viewers can relate to them."

Looking back over the past few years, Fairley is quick to pay tribute to the enormous impact that Game Of Thrones has had on her.

Even though Catelyn was famously assassinated in the landmark Red Wedding sequence at the end of the third series, she still has an ongoing impact on George RR Martin's work.

"Game Of Thrones absolutely changed my career," says Fairley. "It has given me so many opportunities, simply because of the reach it has.

"It is also wonderful that people are still emotionally involved in the drama.

"I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the career I have. Other women inspire me. If I am able to do that for other women, then wow."

The White Princess, Prime, starts Tuesday September 12.

 - TV Guide

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