To focus on someone's appearance is at best superficial, and in a less generous context, crass or even worse. But when first meeting Elizabeth Hurley, it's almost impossible to do anything but. It's a little startling to see up close one of the most photographed people in the world. Like staring into the sun. Or seeing a Disney character come to life.

Hurley is chatty and quick-witted with a surprisingly grounded British charm.

We're in a Beverly Hills hotel suite to discuss the third season of Hurley's television series The Royals. Although personal matters are strictly off the table, the subject of her looks, which generate a huge amount of online commentary, can't help but arise. Hurley, 51, says the public scrutiny doesn't affect her personally, it's just part of the business she is in.

"I've been incredibly lucky in that I've worked for the Estee Lauder company for 22 years," says Hurley. "I'm still under contract with them. So in fact the beauty industry and how I look has had more of an impact on my life than it probably has on most actors. Ever since I got my contract with Estee Lauder, I've had to do my hair and makeup every day because that's my job, and I represent them as a company and I take that very seriously, which is probably why I've lasted so long.

Advertisement

"I do consider that for me, the cost of doing business is doing my hair and my makeup and making a bit of an effort to dress up every time I leave my house, because nine times out of 10, I could be being photographed and it's not in mine or anybody's interests for me to look like I've just got out of bed in my pyjamas. Which I'd like to do, on the school run, but I don't. So yeah, it is fairly important because that's how I earn my honest crust. It's been part of my life for a long time now, having to watch my weight, my figure, my hair, all that stuff."

Elizabeth Hurley says The Royals is a reminder of the shows she watched as a kid. Photo/Getty
Elizabeth Hurley says The Royals is a reminder of the shows she watched as a kid. Photo/Getty

Although The Royals takes full advantage of Hurley's status as a fashion icon by adorning her Queen Helena in all manner of resplendent costuming, it's arguably even better at exploiting the actor's affection and ability for playing sharp-tongued divas.

"My character, the Queen, when she's had enough of something, she'll say 'Walk away'. How nice would that be in real life? Hideous obviously, but it would be tempting."

Indeed, Hurley's performance as the controlling matriarch of a fictional contemporary British monarchy drives The Royals, a campy, soapy delight which sees its suspiciously attractive royal family beset from all sides by scandals, murder plots and intra-castle scheming.

"I had a great line last season where I'm speaking to the deputy prime minister, who's a woman, and I'm being rather mean. Actually I'm being incredibly mean. Because she wants to step into territory I've warned her not to go into, and I say 'Be careful, these are shark-invested waters and those fake tits won't keep you afloat for long.' That's a line I'm dying to use in real life. Sadly, I don't think I'm gonna, but I've got it there just in case."

Hurley recently returned to watching television following a 25-year period during which she read books instead. She adores Breaking Bad, but her youthful favourites are more revealing in relation to The Royals.

"Way back, many centuries ago, when I watched TV as a young girl and a teenager, I loved Dynasty and Dallas. I used to love those big glossy American shows."

Set in England, The Royals is as close to a modern day version of Dynasty as we've got, complete with a glamorous villain. It's only Hurley's second proper TV gig, but she loves the immediacy of the medium.

Advertisement

"I [also] like the young element of it. Having just done a season of Gossip Girl, I'd got used to playing for sort of a younger audience in a way. For the first time in a long time I was getting a lot of feedback from teenagers -- quite interesting. And that's also the case on this show. A lot of women my own age like it, but also there's an awful lot of much younger people, younger kids, who love it too. And I find that actually quite appealing doing stuff for an audience a generation younger than myself. It's a different sort of challenge and I've learnt quite a lot from doing it."

The cast of The Royals in the first season. Photo/Supplied.
The cast of The Royals in the first season. Photo/Supplied.

As a favourite of the British tabloids, Hurley probably has to contend with only marginally less press attention than the actual royals. Which gives her some personal insight into the lure of The Royals.

"Well I think the appeal of this show is that we have no idea what the real royal family are like behind closed doors, because we never see it, and I think that's quite right.

"For all we know, they all could be raving lunatics too, because all we see is when they step out the palace door. I like to think that they're like us, but who knows? We have no idea. So it's liberating to be behind closed doors.

"But you have to remember, that even with people in the public eye, apart from when we're spied on or stalked by people, nobody else sees us behind closed doors, so you've know idea what we get up to either."