Netflix’s all-conquering royal spectacle The Crown returns, with the People’s Princess taking centre stage like never before. Jonathan Dean speaks to the young actor about her ‘sympathetic’ take on Diana
Emma Corrin plays Princess Diana in the new series of The Crown and, as such, there is one thing people want to know. What does the actor think Princes William and Harry will make of the show? “I can’t imagine,” says Corrin, treading cautiously. “I’m not going to say it doesn’t matter, because that would be ignorant. If someone made a programme about my grandma, who died last year, that would be difficult for me to watch.” But would she want Diana’s sons to see her portrayal? “I’d be interested to know what they think,” she admits. Not that she would relish the awkwardness of asking them herself. “If I ever saw them at a party, I’d probably leave!”
Corrin plays the princess between the ages of 16 and 28, the years in which “England’s Rose” met Prince Charles, gave birth to the boys and found her private life becoming increasingly complicated. I meet the 24-year-old in Claridge’s, a place Diana visited often for official engagements. The actor – brunette, baggy jumper, large specs – had just done her GQ shoot. “A lot of latex,” she says, smiling – as the styling was as far away from Diana as possible.
The new series of The Crown, however, aims to get up close and personal with the People’s Princess. We know the icon: the writers attempt to unpick how that iconography came to be. Corrin will play Diana for one series only, with Elizabeth Debicki replacing her for series five and six, the ones in which she will do the landmine walk and meet Dodi Fayed. “It’s a shame,” says Corrin about her fleeting appearance in Netflix’s key show. “I’m sad about it. But I’ve moved on…”
We meet Diana before she was famous, when she is yet to enter the palace and is living in a flat share in Earl’s Court. “She has no idea what she’s getting involved with,” says Corrin. “And it was more exciting to play that, because you are showing sides of somebody people don’t know.” Towards the end of the series, especially on a 1989 visit to New York, Corrin played famous moments, but she liked the early scenes, “when her fashion sense was awful”.
‘I’D BE INTERESTED TO KNOW WHAT THE PRINCES THINK. BUT IF I EVER SAW THEM AT A PARTY, I’D PROBABLY LEAVE!’
Is it very sympathetic? “I think it is,” says Corrin. Episode three is called “Fairytale” and is based on Cinderella. “She had this idea of what she wanted it to be,” says Corrin, “because she was so young. I drew on my own experience for that. I think of myself as young, but I was 23 when we were filming. Diana was 19; 16 at the start.” Sixteen is, of course, when you do very foolish things in the pursuit of love and, in The Crown, Diana tries to dance, dress and delight her way into Charles’ affection. “When I was 16, I had a massive crush on our tennis coach and every time he came round to teach my brothers I used to sit outside and pretend to be reading something really intellectual. You do that. You do those things. You think you’re doing the coolest thing in the world when you’re a teenager and you like someone.”
The hardest scenes for Corrin were the ones that dealt with Diana’s bulimia. They were not as prominent in the scripts to start with, but the actor wanted to show it properly, so they amped it up. “It is a big part of someone’s experience,” she says. “And [Diana] spoke candidly about it, which was incredibly ahead of its time. I wanted to do her and the condition justice.” If they just alluded to it vaguely, it could appear glib, but Corrin is seen bingeing on cakes and vomiting down the toilet. That seems pretty confident – a young star waltzing into an award-winning behemoth and telling them to change the script? “Oh, it wasn’t that bold! We just realised that bulimia was a symptom and cause of a lot of her anguish.”
It really is a sad series of The Crown, then. “Pretty much,” agrees Corrin, laughing. “Apart from the 20 minutes when Charles and Diana are happy in episode six.” On screen, the heir to the throne really is awful to her. In the first episode, Earl Mountbatten writes to his nephew, Charles, about the sort of wife his role requires, how he should be “Building [his] destiny with a sweet, innocent, well-tempered girl, with no past, who knows the rules and will follow the rules. One that people will love as a princess and, in due course, as Queen.”
Well, that didn’t work out, did it? Diana is shown at discos and rollerskating around the palace listening to Duran Duran – a bringer of modernity that would one day lead to Harry and Meghan. Charles is presented as old-fashioned, meanwhile, yelling at his pregnant and miserable wife, and spending most of his time having sex with Camilla Parker Bowles. “The real mistake,” says Corrin, “was that the marriage happened in the first place.” Corrin got the job after a chemistry reading with Josh O’Connor, who plays Charles. What chemistry were they looking for? “Kind of no chemistry.”
Charles and Di. The Falklands. Prince Andrew. Series four of The Crown is a rush of blockbuster headlines and spectacular gossip and Corrin is the standout. She barely looks like Diana in real life, but with the outfits and hair she wears in the show, not to mention some sad eye acting, a transformation happens.
Corrin was three when Diana died in 1997. Was she sitting in front of the TV for the funeral? “I probably was,” she nods. “My mum was very fond of her. She’ll speak about Diana as if she’s been a long, close friend, but not in a pretentious way. Rather, caring, about this person she feels was wronged.”
These days, though, royal fans – especially young ones – are hooked on Kate and/or Meghan. Does Diana still matter to Corrin’s generation? “They have an awareness of her and certainly an appreciation of her style,” she says. “That is what she’s known for these days. She’s all over Instagram. ‘Diana’s ten top relaxed leisure looks’ or ‘Here are her amazing blazers!’”
They are about to learn a whole lot more.
Source: GQ UK