After learning she had gotten the part of Princess Diana on The Crown, Emma Corrin spent the next few days on preparations. She bought binders and notebooks and pens. She cued up a list of documentaries and lined up stacks of biographies. She made folders of archival photos. She listened to recordings of Diana’s voice over and over again. None of it felt all that useful. Here, she and her collaborators explain the details that made Diana click into place.
The first thing that helped Corrin understand Diana was to read the scripts, which included references to the princess’s bulimia. This swiftly became the center of how Corrin conceived of her. She wanted to make sure the disorder wasn’t a tangential part of her life but something that shaped nearly every moment of her day. “If you’re trying to understand the psychology of a character and they’re going through that, it’s hugely essential to their experience.” It’s the kind of interior understanding that radiates outward into a physical portrayal. “I did something with my hands in a lot of scenes,” Corrin says. “You use your hand to make yourself sick, and her fingers on her right hand have become a source of anxiety for her. She will rub them together when she’s anxious, when she’s cross, when she’s emotional.”
A Voluminous Fringe
Corrin studied the connection between Diana’s bangs (or, in the U.K., her “fringe”) and her posture in trying to nail down how she used her hair as both a shield and a veil. “It’s something that gave her some distance from the world,” Corrin says. “It’s a protective thing.” The way Diana looks out from under her hair is also playful, though. It’s both a barrier and an invitation. “It’s, Look at me; don’t look at me,” Corrin says. “It’s almost doll-like, kind of puppy dog,” says Cate Hall, The Crown’s hair and makeup designer. “It gets a bit naughty after a while.”
The Diana cut itself is defined by sectioned layers graded sharply backward from the face, creating a shape that can seem sharply angled or voluminously round, depending on how it’s styled. Diana’s hairstyle required six bespoke wigs of various lengths in order to transition from the rounder, softer iteration of Diana’s teen years into the sharper, more glamorous version from after her marriage. “Poor Emma was in the chair for hours and hours,” says Hall, while the stylists tried to get the fringe just right. “Placing and replacing tiny bits of hair because there is a break in that fringe, deciding if it should go this way or that. That detail kind of seems insane, but once you get there, it’s like, Aha!”
Her Catlike Spirit
Corrin needed to master a number of skills for the part. She learned to roller-skate, “which is so hard, by the way,” she says. (Photos of Diana on Rollerblades ran in News of the World with the headline “Princess of Wheels.”) Throughout the movement coaching for her role, Corrin came to think of Diana as a cat. “Polly [Bennett, her coach] said, ‘What animal are you?’ I said, ‘Well, obviously like a deer caught in headlights?’ And Polly was like, ‘I don’t think so.’ So I went away and thought about it. Where I was living, there was a backyard, and we had a lot of neighbors with cats. These cats used to just sit on the wall, and one day I just turned around and there was a cat sitting there. Cats do this thing with their faces where they’re so still, but they have this almost magnetic connection to anything they’re observing. They have this amazing way of drawing you in but never giving too much away. Diana had that complete effect on people.”
A Moss-Green Leotard
The Diana who first appears onscreen is purposely unfamiliar: She’s in a moss-green leotard covered in leaves and bark, a costume for an upcoming performance that she is wearing when she bumps into Charles for the first time. Costume designer Amy Roberts cites Nijinsky’s ballet Le Spectre de la Rose as the inspiration for the look, which was among those imagined for the show. She wanted the green to be just the right shade, so that “if she curled up on the forest floor, she’d disappear.” “It’s very Diana. She loved silliness. She had a wicked sense of humor,” says Corrin. Still, “I can’t believe that’s the first thing anyone’s going to see me in. The most hyped series, and they see me as a tree.”
*A version of this article appears in the November 9, 2020, issue of New York Magazine.