A Royally Candid Interview with The Crown’s Emma Corrin, Josh O’Connor, and Emerald Fennell
The new season of The Crown exposes the drama, betrayal, and lies that drive the monarchy. Oh, and then there’s that affair…
It’s a legendary story, this one,” says Josh O’Connor, flashing a sly, dimpled smile. The British actor, who plays Prince Charles in The Crown, then launches into the serendipitous details—not of the real life love triangle involving Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Lady Diana Spencer, which drives so much of the drama in the series’s fourth season, but rather of the day of auditions that led to the casting of an unknown actress to play one of the most iconic women of the 20th century.
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The story begins in 2018, as the third season of The Crown was getting underway. The casting team was on the hunt for their Camilla and brought in O’Connor to read with a few front-runners. They hadn’t started their search for Diana yet, as her character wouldn’t make an entrance until the following season. But they needed a warm body to run her lines.
Emma Corrin, then just 22 years old, got the call through her agent, who stressed that it was not an audition. “But, obviously, I was like, ‘I’m going to prepare as if it were,’ ” Corrin says. Without the benefit of a hair, makeup, or wardrobe department, Corrin focused on what she had: her voice. She analyzed Diana’s speech patterns with the help of her mother, a speech therapist. “No matter what Diana is saying, it kind of goes down at the end,” Corrin says, slipping into the hauntingly similar imitation that makes her so believable. “It’s like a sadness.”
Corrin was a toddler when Diana died and has no memory of her. Stepping into the casting room that day, she also had no experience acting on television. And yet she captivated the crowd. “I was in awe of her,” O’Connor tells me. “This young actress who hadn’t done an awful lot, and here she was inhabiting Diana, seemingly quite easily.” The Crown’s creator and writer Peter Morgan was entranced too. For Diana’s debut into his award-winning Netflix series, Morgan wasn’t looking for someone to play the global superstar she eventually became; he needed the fidgety 19-year-old girl to whom the Prince of Wales proposed. “We spent our whole time just staring at this woman reading the lines going, ‘Wow, she’s kind of perfect,’ ” Morgan says.
Zooming with Corrin from some 5,000 miles away, I feel that too. Perched in front of a tree-filled window in her London home, she often leans so close to the screen that her forehead is cut off. Her white tank top and cutoff jean shorts are paired rebelliously well with blue gemstone statement earrings, a nod to the princess’s sapphire engagement ring. “I hate being asked what it’s like to play someone iconic,” Corrin says (though, for the record, I hadn’t). “It makes her untouchable—the whole point was that she was touchable.”
Although Corrin impressed the Crown team on that first day, she wasn’t given the part straight away; an extended courtship was required. It took eight months for director Ben Caron to make her an offer. “It was the most exciting proposal I’ll probably ever receive in my life,” Corrin says. To celebrate, she got a blue merle cockapoo and named him Spencer.
Corrin had another six months to prepare, and a team ready to help. The show’s movement coach, Polly Bennett, worked with her on abstract Diana concepts, like how the princess might stand in a doorframe (centered, leaning on one side) and what kind of animal she might be (not a deer in the headlights, as Corrin first thought, but a cat: curious, composed, a bit calculating). Still, it was Corrin’s newcomer status that proved the most useful on set. “If we had gotten an experienced actress, it would have been an actress acting being nervous,” Morgan says. “Trust me, Emma was nervous on every day that we were filming,” calling it “enormously helpful.”
The Crown’s fourth installment spans the 1980s, a transformative decade for the British royal family largely because of Diana. But the People’s Princess is not the framework for these 10 episodes. Once again Morgan centers the season on the prime minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher. As divisive a figure as Thatcher was, the approach poses some new challenges. “When you’ve got Charles and Diana as a narrative, everything else feels a bit like eating vegetables, right?” he says. “The other narratives are necessarily going to be slightly more tired.”