Emma Corrin on ‘The Crown’ Season 4 and the Unusual Way She Was Cast as Princess Diana
Plus, how she depicted Diana’s battle with bulimia and had to unlearn how to sing.
With The Crown now streaming it’s fourth season on Netflix, I recently spoke with Emma Corrin about playing Princess Diana in the fantastic series. During the wide-ranging conversation, Corrin revealed the surprising way she was cast, what it was like working with The Crown creator Peter Morgan, what she learned from researching Diana’s life, the way they went about preparing to depict Diana’s battle with bulimia, filming the fight scenes between Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Diana, what surprised her about making the series, and more. In addition, she talked about her school days at St. John’s College (which throws some great year-end parties), the TV series she’d like to guest star on, and the popularity of The Crown in the United Kingdom. Check out what she had to say below.
Collider: So I got a bunch of questions for you, but I want to start with a fun one, which is, I believe you went to St. John’s college.
EMMA CORRIN: I did.
So two of my very close friends went to St. John’s college, and I’m probably the only person you’re talking to that actually went to a May Ball.
CORRIN: Oh, my God. How did you know? You went to John’s May Ball, as well?
Yeah. I went to St. John’s May Ball.
CORRIN: Oh, the best one.
That’s what they would say.
CORRIN: Seventh best party in the world, according to Time Magazine.
Right? That’s what I wanted to actually get into, for people that don’t understand. There is a competition in Cambridge about who puts on the best ball.
CORRIN: Yeah. It’s 100% John’s.
My friends who went to St. Johns wanted to know if they still do the pennies and no hands dessert at formal hall?
CORRIN: Yeah. That is a thing. Yeah. That is a thing. Also, they do the thing where if you are in formal hall and you are sitting next to someone, if you put a penny in their drink, they have to down it. They also do that. There are so many ridiculous things.
I don’t want to spend too much more time on St. John’s, but I will say that for people that don’t know what the May Ball is, it’s a pretty epic night.
CORRIN: It’s insane. Yeah. It’s the best party you’ll ever go to. It’s great. It’s crazy. Yeah.
I know you just got to do, The Crown, but what TV show would you love to guest star on?
CORRIN: That’s an amazing question. What have I watched recently that…everyone’s talking about Succession, aren’t they? I feel like I’m just saying that because it’s really good. Maybe Selling Sunset.
If it makes you feel any better, a lot of people I’ve been talking to, I asked these same few questions of everyone, and Succession is usually the popular answer.
CORRIN: Yeah. I’m going to change it to Selling Sunset though. I think I’d have a lot more fun on Selling Sunset.
I think there’s a good possibility on that one. And my other thing is, what movie have you seen the most?
CORRIN: Oh, that’s such a good question. Oh, probably my favorite film, which is, You’ve Got Mail.
The Crown in America is a very popular show, but how is it in England for people that don’t live there?
CORRIN: It is very popular here as well. I think they do a different kinds of popularity. I think in America, people have this, I think you guys have an obsession over the Royal family in a way that we don’t. Because I guess we just live with it. But it’s very popular here. Everyone loves it, I think. Though, saying that, a lot of my friends are like, oh, I’ve never watched it.
That’s going to change.
CORRIN: Yeah. Well, I’ll make them watch it.
I am curious about the casting process for you. Can you talk about the auditions and how badly did you want this role?
CORRIN: Well, my casting process was very unusual, I think actually. I’ll explain it, but I feel like any young actor listening should not think that this is how it normally works, which is that, so I went in August 2018. Got a call from my agent. She said, The Crown are doing a chemistry read between the girls they had found to play Camilla potentially, and Joshua O’Connor. But obviously they’re reading scripts that are from season three and also season four, which was obviously in the pipeline. And they need someone to read for Diana. And so I went in and I was paid and obviously, it wasn’t an audition for me. I was just helping out, but it weirdly turned into an audition, because they started putting me on camera and they were obviously enjoying what I was doing. And it was quite strange.
And I remember calling my agent afterwards and being like, Maya, I really think something shifted in the room. I think they really liked me for Diana. She was like, Emma, don’t be ridiculous, they haven’t even started filming season three yet. Don’t be an idiot. And then about five, six months went by, and we heard murmurings of things. They kept checking to make sure that I was still available or what I was up to. I started doing another job, but I remember I sat down at the cast welcome dinner, and everyone was a bit drunk and the director goes, oh, congratulations on that Crown job. And I was like, what? And he was like, shit. No, don’t worry about it. It was very strange and it was a lot of that thing where I was like, am I being not told something? But obviously there’s nothing I could do.
So I very much from the get-go tried to not get my hopes up. And then actually the part was announced and people started auditioning and I went in for a few additions, which was so much fun. I loved it. It was just me, Peter, and one of the directors, Ben, just spending a lot of time talking about Diana and what we loved about her, and the nuances of their relationship. Then I got invited to set to chemistry read with Josh, and I had to go to where they were filming. They were doing some pickups in season three and we ran the scenes a couple of times. And then they offered me the part in the room, which was very special. I have no memory of it, because I think I blacked out from shock. But Josh says it was the closest to X-Factor he’ll ever get. He said it was very fun. So very strange process. In retrospect, obviously worked out very well. At the time, it was very, very stressful.
So for actors that are reading this, if you ever get the opportunity to just be in the room take it.
CORRIN: Oh, yeah. Take the opportunity 100%. Yeah.
I am a huge fan of Peter Morgan, and I’m curious if you can sort of talk about what it’s like collaborating with him, working with him, maybe what surprised you also.
CORRIN: He’s a genius. I fully think he’s a genius. The way he writes has a weight to it that is fully Shakespearian, and an intelligence to it that’s funny Shakespearian. I think he’s masterful the way he can communicate all the different sides of a person, so you see them. I mean, for instance, I watched some of season four with my friend recently, and we’re all very liberal and obviously not at all fans of Margaret Thatcher, quite the opposite. But we sat down to watch it, and my friends were having a crisis because they were like, why am I being made to understand her?
Why am I being made to feel sympathetic towards her? And Peter does this incredible thing where he can show a very balanced and very dynamic presentation of a character. He really takes you to the limits of their experience. And I think with all the women in the series, he explores the nuances of how they grapple with being in power, and what that means for them. It’s incredible. He’s a phenomenal guy. I would love to spend a day in his brain.
I think he’s a phenomenal writer.
You’re relatively young and obviously you grew up with Diana, but she wasn’t in your life.
CORRIN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
I’m curious, what things really surprised you as you researched her that perhaps you were not expecting?
CORRIN: I loved learning about what she was like before she entered the Royal family. I loved learning about her childhood and how that perhaps had a knock-on effect to how she was when she was older. I was surprised at how strong she was or maybe I wasn’t, but I was surprised at the fine line between her vulnerability and her strength. I find that really fascinating the way that she was going through so much, but yet could come across so strong and so generous and with other people. I was surprised at the lack of support she received in the Royal family all the way through. I didn’t know whether that was something that was a more gradual thing. I was surprised that she landed in the palace and from day one, they weren’t really there for her.
No. I haven’t said it yet, but season four is fantastic.
CORRIN: Thank you.
Just wanted to throw that out there. What was tougher for you? The dancing, the singing, or not stealing all the clothing from set?
CORRIN: Definitely not stealing all the clothing from set. Actually, the dancing was the toughest bit. It was. Yeah, it was very tough. I’m not a dancer at all. So that was difficult. I had to do the opposite thing. I’m not a dancer at all. I had to spend four or five months training as a dancer. I am a trained singer, but I had to unlearn how to sing with a coach, because Diana wasn’t trained. So I had to do the opposite things for each of those, which was an interesting experience.
If you could talk a little bit about taking us through the mental, physical, and emotional journey of depicting Diana’s battle with bulimia.
CORRIN: Well, this is something that I started working on very early on when I got… I started working with Polly Bennett. She’s a fantastic movement and character coach. We started working on Diana and with the research that we had. She spoke very candidly about her struggles with bulimia, which I think is very, we don’t talk about enough. I think, these days when someone talks about their struggles of mental health, we are almost surprised by it. It comes as a revelation and we all really acknowledge it. I think that she was doing that in the nineties, which is phenomenal. And especially with something as private and as harrowing as bulimia. I really didn’t want to just allude to this kind of thing. I saw in the script that they were going to acknowledge it and they were going to show it, which I loved.
And then me and Polly did a lot of research about it. We reached out to a lot of charities, and we went on a lot of forums and did a lot of research. Read a lot of things. Spoke to a lot of people and to assemble this world document and sent it to the script team and said, look, we would love for these scenes to be fleshed out, and to really show, this is the research we’ve done. This is what we’re bringing to Diana’s experience of bulimia. Can we flesh it out and add this to it? They were amazing. So we worked with the script team to develop those scenes. Because I just think there is no excuse these days, not to show something like mental health or self-harm in its full form. I think that it’s important to be seen.
Completely. Can you talk a little bit about working with Josh in blocking the fights and the arguments between Charles and Diana, because obviously that all went on behind closed doors. I’m just curious how you guys worked that stuff out.
CORRIN: It’s really interesting actually, because for instance, that huge argument in episode 10 where Josh really explodes, I think the most insane thing is that because they’re royalty, I guess, because they’ve been brought up in the way they have been. And because they’re in a palace or they’re in wherever they are in, they can’t physically, there has to be a stillness. I think that’s why Vanessa Kirby’s scene in series two was so effective when she destroys her room, because it’s the first time you see a Royal really let go. The challenge was for me and Josh to do so much and communicate so much anger by doing so little. It was interesting, but very tough and weird because Josh and I got on so well. So it was obviously very strange to go from being great mates to then tearing each other apart.
This was obviously your first season, the first and only season working on The Crown. What was it like stepping on set because the show is so incredible and so well done. What really surprised you when you were on set about the making of the series?
CORRIN: The detail. I think absolutely the detail that goes into every single shot, the lighting Adriano Goldman is the DP. I’m convinced he sees the world in a completely different way to anyone else, but he would stop a shot to adjust a lamp. And I’d be like, is he okay? This seems insane. For some reason it would affect the whole shot, and it was amazing. I just think, it’s that kind of detail. And you’ll just notice when you watch The Crown, the number of lamps that light a room. It’s phenomenal.
But they create this atmosphere, and the attention to detail is second to none. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The placement of jewelry on a table or the placement of a paperweight or a file or the attention is just something else. I think that’s because The Crown is so cinematic. I think it says a lot about the production value and the effort that goes into making a show of this caliber when you could screenshot any scene throughout it, and you could put it as your screensaver.
100% agree. On that note, I need to go.
CORRIN: Thank you very much.