It all started to sink in when the first trailer dropped. Emma Corrin, cast as Princess Diana in the highly anticipated new season of The Crown, was on a trip to the countryside with her best friend and a weak Internet connection when she received an email reminder: In about two hours, the first teaser of the season would debut. Though the montage shows only shots of Corrin from the back, never revealing her face, it marked the first official footage of the actress as Diana in the wildly popular Netflix series. Sure enough, when the clip premiered, pandemonium ensued.
“It was mental,” Corrin recalls to BAZAAR.com on a video call from London. “And the world just went crazy. The world exploded. My phone went absolutely haywire. It was mad.”
That much was expected from an award-winning series with 73 million worldwide viewers, now that it has finally brought in one of the most beloved women in all of history. Diana’s arrival to the show comes just 23 years after the tragic death of the real-life princess, whose funeral was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people on television. In 2020, her legacy as a humanitarian, fashion icon, and celebrity still thrives—likely not only because of how widely she was adored, but also how intensely the public obsessed over her life. Ever since she started dating Prince Charles, Diana was at the center of unrelenting media attention, and by portraying her, Corrin is getting a tiny taste of it.
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“I’m getting overlap,” she says of the fandom, “Because I think that the part is such that people have not let go of her yet.” Like Diana, Corrin was thrust into the spotlight. Despite past roles in the British series Grantchester and Epix’s Batman-inspired Pennyworth, she was relatively unknown; but this year, thanks to The Crown, she’s covered almost a dozen magazines and is now undoubtedly considered one of Hollywood’s rising stars. “There’s a parallel there with this stuff, with the trajectory that she experienced in terms of being catapulted into fame. And it’s very strange,” Corrin says.
The actress was cautious about the expectations for her long-awaited season. “I feel there’s so much hype. It was probably just in my head, but I’m always wary of a lot of hype, because I’m worried of not living up to it.” But there was no need to worry: Critics praised the fourth season as the show’s best yet.
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Still, Corrin who was immersed in the theater scene while studying at Cambridge, prepared diligently. She devoured books, biographies, and documentaries about the princess. She even read through letters Diana wrote to her father-in-law, Prince Philip, in whom she found a kindred spirit. In the show, Corrin so accurately nails Diana’s soft-spoken delivery and telling glances that it’s surprising to see how animated and fast a talker she is in real life. On our Zoom call, she jokes and emotes with her hands, occasionally bending her knee to prop a foot on her couch while she’s listening and nodding intently. She’s traded in Diana’s feathery wig and ’80s attire for a slick ponytail and lavender sweater (fitting that she wears a shade of the regal color purple).
Ahead, Corrin discusses how Diana’s journey with the royal family plays out in The Crown, re-creating Diana and Charles’s romance with costar Josh O’Connor, and how being fed desserts prepared her for a big scene with Emerald Fennell‘s Camilla Parker Bowles.
What was the atmosphere like the first day on set? I know you did a bunch of research and preparation to play Diana, but what was it like when you were finally there in front of cameras with your castmates?
It was crazy, but the funny thing is it was so underwhelming, because I was in Scotland and everyone had already been filming in Scotland there for about two weeks or something. I came to join, it was my first day. And it was just one scene where I was waking up in the morning. It’s very short, and it was in the middle of the day of filming. And everyone had to remind themselves that it was my first shot ever, because they were so in the middle of doing everything and, obviously, everything moves very fast. And suddenly, they’re about to call action, and it was like, “Wait, wait, wait. This is Emma’s first shot. Oh, my God.” Which is really funny. It was a very low-key one, because it was just me in bed.
Yeah. What were some things that you and Josh talked about in your scenes with Diana and Charles building up the relationship, and the way it falls apart? What were those conversations like?
We were really keen to not clear the ending. We had to keep reminding ourselves to not completely play the tragedy of it, because obviously, we all know how it ends, so sadly. And we also were always trying to not be one-dimensional with our portrayal of their relationship. I feel if you ask anyone, the average person would probably say, “Oh, it was doomed to fail. It was never going to work. It was a mistake. They didn’t love each other.”
But we were like, “Surely, that can’t be true.” They got married, they had two children together, and those two children have grown up to be such great guys, from what I know. I mean, I don’t know them. But there must have been something there. And it was actually more interesting for us to go along that line of there being a love there, but it was just a love that they couldn’t make work, which is actually, I think, more interesting.
Definitely. And I feel like historically, people have villainized Charles and you see this less-than-favorable side of him in the show, but there are also moments where Diana’s actions are off-putting too. Were there moments like that for you?
Oh, yeah, totally. I think that’s really important. I think that’s what Peter Morgan does so well, is to show very balanced sides of everyone. I think the greatest example of that in this series actually is Thatcher, who’s so intensely unlikable, and her politics are just abhorrent. But I’ve shown a lot of my friends this and they’ve been having crises, because they’re like, “Why am I sympathizing with this person?”
But that’s what Peter does. It’s because you forget the rest and you focus on the emotions that they’re feeling and you see very intimately everything that they’re going through. But it is good, I think. And particularly for Josh, because Charles is so villainized, and that’s something that can so easily happen. And I really feel for him.
I don’t think either side was innocent. I think Diana also had a part to play, but I think they were both going through a lot.
I think people forget that his marriage with Diana might have not been good. I think there were mistakes made on both sides, but Charles loved one woman, basically, his whole life, which is better than most men, to be honest. [Laughs.]
So, yeah, I mean, he was unfaithful, but it was literally with the same woman [Camilla] throughout his entire life. You’ve got to give him something. And I think that they were both put in a very difficult position. And I don’t think either side was innocent. I think Diana also had a part to play, but I think they were both going through a lot.
Speaking of Camilla, I was interested in that scene that you and Emerald Fennell filmed together, where it was two ladies out to lunch together and you’re realizing there’s so much stuff you don’t know about Charles. What was going on in your mind when you were filming that? And what did you and Emerald talk about?
Yeah, that was really interesting. Because that actually happened. They did go to lunch together, which is just mad. The director Ben [Benjamin Caron] talked to me a lot beforehand. We rehearsed that scene quite a lot. And we didn’t actually rehearse that much for most of these scenes, but for that one, we really did.
And we had one rehearsal where … Ben was already fixated on this idea of using food as a weapon. There’s a scene in Inglourious Basterds, where this girl and this Nazi general sit down, and he, I think, had killed her family when she was younger. And she doesn’t know whether he knows who she is. And he keeps ordering her food that he makes her eat, and she’s eating it because she doesn’t want to give him any reason to, I guess, focus on her.
And so we watched that, and then Ben basically bought loads of desserts in the rehearsal room and just made Camilla make me eat them. As in every time, he made Emerald basically keep feeding me and ask me questions about Charles. And obviously Diana, her relationship with food is so complicated anyway, but that added a whole different layer.
And then also something that Ben did was get Josh into the room and get us to play the scene out with Josh sitting there between us. Josh was literally driven there for that reason. He arrived and would be like, “Guys, this is a total stitch-up. What am I doing?” I think that scene is so interesting. So many dynamics at play.
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What do you think was going through her mind as she’s starting to get accustomed to the royal family?
I don’t know. I think for Diana, she came to the royal family thinking that it would be a family, that it would be exciting, because people would know who she was maybe. I know she was marrying a prince, but I think she genuinely thought that there would be a support system. And I think you see, in Episode 3, her increasingly realize that that doesn’t exist. And that actually, she’s joining an incredibly broken system full of incredibly broken people.
Yeah, I thought it was really heartbreaking when she was trying to reach the queen and they kept telling her she’s not available.
I know. And it’s continuing that trope [in the show] of the queen just being … she can’t operate as a mother. And you see that with her and Charles as well. She can’t give him the approval, the maternal love that he needs. And that’s something Diana is also searching for and she can’t give that to her either.
But I think what was interesting is that we get to see her create this bond with Prince Philip. Was that rooted in real life?
That’s very true. I think I was sent a load of their letters that they wrote to each other.
They wrote to each other a lot of letters, especially at a time when Diana had fallen out with the rest of the royal family. She and Philip stayed in touch. And I think you get a sense of it at the end, although maybe he says it a bit more vehemently in our version. I think he comes across quite firm, but I think he genuinely did feel sympathy for her as an outsider, because I think he had felt like that too.
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Diana is obviously a fashion icon and the crews have done a great job at re-creating some of her most iconic looks, but on your end, was there any one you slipped into that made you feel especially like you were her?
I really loved some of her earlier jumpers. The sheep jumper that she wore and the pink one. Those are so iconically hers. And that always really helps. Also, there was an outfit later on when I think we receive Hugh Lindsay‘s body back from the avalanche incident, and I’m wearing this YSL black bomber jacket. I was just like, “If I had this, I would be wearing it the entire time.”
And the way that the season ends, it’s just a close-up on Diana’s face and you see that the tensions are very much at their end. We all know how it goes down in history, but internally, where do you think she’s trying to go next?
I think at that moment, she knows she’s done. I think in the episode, you’ve seen her have that huge fight with Charles and it’s the first time he said, you know, “I do not love you. I love someone else. This is her name. And now you’re making her unhappy.” To hear that, not only to hear the person you love talk about someone else but also to blame you for how this other person is now feeling, I can’t even. And I think after that scene, she goes back and she’s about to make herself sick, because obviously, that’s how she’s learned to cope with emotion. And she doesn’t. She stops herself. And I think that is such a powerful moment, because it’s kind of that thing where stuff gets so shit that you can finally process it. And you can finally detach yourself from it.
You just see her have this moment that is like, “No, they aren’t worth my suffering anymore, actually.
And you just see her have this moment that is like, “No, they aren’t worth my suffering anymore, actually.” And then I think she makes the decision to very much take things into her own hands and try and make the best of things. And then again, she gets rejected by the queen. She gets rejected by Philip. And I think that final look is just a heartbreak of like, “Wow, I’ve really tried. And you will never listen, and you will never understand. And so I’ve got to do my own thing now.”
Elizabeth Debicki will be taking on the role after you, which, I wish we could see more of you, but I’m also excited to see what she does next. If there’s any message or advice you could give her about playing this role, what would it be?
I guess it would be, don’t be worried about playing someone who’s so iconic or that what people will think. This is your interpretation. People will be interested in your version of her.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.