Fateful moments bring Charles and Diana together on ‘The Crown’
Although “The Crown” undertook an extensive global search for the right actress to portray Princess Diana in its fourth season, Emma Corrin unofficially earned the role in the middle of Season 3. Corrin, a recent college graduate who was packing lingerie part-time to pay her bills, took a job to read as Diana during a casting session for Camilla Parker Bowles, a role that went to actress, writer and producer Emerald Fennell.
“I wasn’t meant to be on tape or anything like that, but I talked to my agent and we made the decision to learn the lines and treat it like an audition,” Corrin remembers. “It was ideal, because it was kind of a no-pressure audition situation.”
Josh O’Connor, who at the time had spent only two weeks playing Prince Charles during the filming of Season 3, hadn’t considered who might play his character’s future wife, but knew immediately that Corrin would be the right choice when they first met that day.
“I’d never met Emma, but one of my best friends is friends with Emma,” says the actor. “There she was, and I swear to God, when I walked into the room, I was like, ‘It’s Diana.’ She sat there on her own, doing that classic expression. I was like, ‘Come on.’ So that day, we found our Camilla, but we also kind of unanimously found Emma. They went through the rigmarole of the casting process, but it was always going to be Emma.”
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The pair, who are now great friends, each did their own preparation for Season 4, including working with dialect and movement coaches, but they also spent time discussing and rehearsing the key moments in Charles and Diana’s courtship and marriage, which plays out over the course of almost a decade in the 10 episodes. The scene where the two meet has a mythic quality, with a visual reference to Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” when Charles first encounters Diana as they peer at each other through a plant.
“In ‘Romeo + Juliet,’ there’s this beautiful theme Shakespeare threads through the play of fate,” says O’Connor, who was prepping to play Romeo at the National Theatre while filming “The Crown.” “Romeo, before he meets Juliet, says he senses this fate hanging in the stars and something terrible is going to happen. I always loved this idea that we all know the end. Inevitably, there’s this sense of dread and this sense of gloom. What I wanted and what Emma wanted was this feeling of ‘Don’t!’ If only they didn’t meet, maybe it would all be different and everyone would be happy.”
“Obviously, the moment they meet in the series was going to be such a loaded one and I think that to make it memorable and to make it somewhat prophetic and have it stand for something, [showrunner Peter Morgan] did something really clever, which was make it otherworldly,” Corrin adds during a joint Zoom session. “It leaves you understanding the significance of it, but also wanting more and knowing there’s something more.”
As the marriage unfolds, it’s clear that neither can give the other what they want. Diana’s unhappiness plays out as anxiety and bulimia, which Corrin researched extensively to ensure she did the portrayal justice. The actress found the process of becoming Diana “incredibly overwhelming at first,” but she was able to settle into the role comfortably after playing her daily for nearly eight months.
“What really helped was when I started working on our story,” Corrin notes. “I got the scripts from Peter and started reading them and realized, ‘Oh, this is fictional. I don’t have to worry about where she went for lunch on that day or who she was seen with once.’ I could focus on the story that we were telling and the version of her that I was portraying.”
She adds, “I was, from the start, really determined not to make it an impression or mimicry of any sort. But actually to study footage of her and try and figure out why she did the things she did. To make sure every decision I made, behavior-wise, was justified.”
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The sense that “The Crown” teeters a line between actual history and drama was essential for both actors in understanding how to best portray the tumultuous marriage. O’Connor, who says he’s not interested in the real Prince Charles and has done almost no research on the man himself, wanted to focus on what was in the script rather than what is known publicly about the real marriage. He’s aware that the character is often unlikable, and that’s the point.
“In Season 3, sure, my job was to make him sympathetic, but in Season 4, I was searching for ‘What makes this marriage not work?’” the actor recounts. “I don’t care if people like him or not. When marriages don’t work out, people behave badly. In terms of who behaved more badly? That’s up to the viewer. I just played the role with what I believe was truthful in the moment… We all love Diana. I love Diana. So you’re kind of screwed trying to make Charles likable, because people have already made up their mind about that relationship.”
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