You might already have started The Crown at 8am on Sunday morning, but don’t worry. There’s no spoilers here. There is, however, an in-depth interview with Emma Corrin, who plays Princess Diana.
I came late to The Crown after hanging on to pathological demand avoidance for years. The more people went on about it, the more I didn’t want to watch it. But eventually, like most people it seems, I fell into it. And then binge watched the entire three series over a period of about three days. It was glorious. The best soapy, glamorous escapism I’ve plunged into for a long time.
I’m fairly ambivalent about the royal family. I’m not a royalist, and have my suspicions that perhaps we don’t really need the pampered pooches. But at the same time I do rather love the drama that goes with them.
And yes, I loved Diana – for her big eyes, for her flicky hair, for her fighting spirit and her ability to manipulate. Didn’t everyone? Coined ‘the People’s Princess’ by Julie Burchill, she was beautiful but accessible in a way no royal had been before. She was the sort of sixth former I’d have had a crush on in the Lower 4th, so I’ve been looking forward to this next batch of Crown dramas for ages. The Diana and Charles years.
So where are we now?
As Prince Charles turns thirty and begins to look for a suitable wife in earnest, the beautiful Lady Diana Spencer enters the frame. Hailing from one of the grandest and most established aristocratic families in the country, when she meets Prince Charles as an impressionable teenager she quickly falls in love.
After a brief courtship, Charles proposes, and Diana is quickly propelled from the life of a normal teenage girl into one as the Princess of Wales. Across the series she goes on a transformational journey to become a global superstar, but the fairytale marriage portrayed in the world’s media isn’t quite what it appears to be.
I know actors, and they love a challenge, particularly one that’s going to net them a ton of centre stage action. But what a pair of court shoes to fill! We caught up with Emma Corrin to find out exactly how that felt…
So what was it like playing the part of Diana?
“It just felt ridiculous to be joining The Crown,” says Emma. “I had watched the previous seasons and it was completely surreal, and it still is a bit, having filmed it now and waiting for it to come out. It’s like ‘did this actually happen?’
“I was on a train and I got a call from my agent, and she is normally very together and very calm and she sounded really weird. She told me that she had had a call from The Crown. They were chemistry reading all the girls for Camilla and they needed someone to read in for Diana and had asked if I was available. It wasn’t an audition, she said, they will pay you to read, they just need your help.
“I decided to approach it as an official audition regardless, you might as well – it’s an ideal no-pressure situation. The day came and I learnt the lines and I had been working on the voice as well because she has such a distinctive voice. I had also done some research, as I was going to be in a room with Peter Morgan, the Directors and Nina Gold (casting director) so it was worth giving it a good shot.
“Halfway through the day, the Director asked if I would like to work on some character stuff for Diana, he gave me some guidance and then put me on camera with Emerald, who was reading for Camilla.”
“When the audition for Diana formally opened I went, and worked on some scenes, and I remember sending a message to my friends afterwards saying ‘if it is only this, if this is as far as I get, that would just the most incredible afternoon so it would have been worth it’
“A couple of weeks went by and I got asked to come to set to chemistry read with Josh so I got taken into this insane manor house, which of course I am used to now, but back then it was like ‘woah this is crazy’. I went in and did a few scenes with Josh, and the producers, Ben and Suzanne were there. Then Ben just got down on one knee and said, ‘Will you be our Diana?’
Tell us about Diana, what kind of person do you believe her to be now that you have immersed yourself in this character?
“I play her from around 16 – 28 years old and her arc is incredible. I think people will feel is that they get to see a whole new side of her.
“I think that she had this way of giving herself so completely in everything that she did and so she appeared to everyone as this tower of strength and love even when she was arguably suffering. From my research it seems as though she was always balancing the different sides of herself, she was able to radiate that brilliance and compassion that we all fell in love with even when she was suffering.”
How does Diana meet Charles and how does their relationship develop?
“I actually think their families had known each other for a long time, her family had lived on part of the royal estate. When she was 16, she met Charles because he dated her sister, so they bumped into each other and then they met again a bit later.
“In our version of events, you see Diana attend Lord Mountbatten’s funeral where she watches Charles and sees an immense sadness in him which makes her think, I have this in me, wow, I could help you. We see her offer her condolences when she next sees him and it resonates with him. Soon after that they go on an official date – to the opera, chaperoned by her grandmother!
“Of course, things really progress when she is taken up to Balmoral. When you are invited to Balmoral, it’s ultimately a test. Balmoral is where the Royal Family are most at home and so if you are invited you know that is make or break.
“Diana knew that because she already knew how these things work and I think, although she was incredibly young and in a way naive, I think she also very much knew what she was doing. She knew the rules. She knew why she was there – to be approved. And I think she just turned on the charm. Philip in particular really loved her, so she was given the seal of approval. He talked to Charles and said she’s the one, what are you waiting for?”
How does Diana cope with integrating with the Royal family?
“At Balmoral, she knew what she was doing. She knew the drill, and she won them over very well. But when it comes to her being plucked out of her normal life, without her best mates in her flat and taken to the Palace, suddenly she’s intimidated and almost the lack of warmth of the Firm hits her.
“I think she is expected to be received with the same informal welcome as she had in Balmoral but it was something entirely different. So we see a shift, and as the series continues, the warmth deteriorates to icy frosty cold, and she realises that they are not interested in her as Diana. All they are interested in is her role and how she makes the family look.”
As the marriage start to fall apart, what happens to Diana?
“I think something incredibly interesting happens to her because it coincides with Diana growing up, becoming a woman, discovering who she is, her sense of self and her voice. And so, you have these two things running in parallel; the mounting tragedy of her marriage failing, and also her growth and popularity and celebrity in the world.
“There is this tipping point in episode nine, where she realises the marriage is essentially over and she’s reached rock bottom. I remember Jess, who directed the episode, talking about how she’s gone so far past despair that she basically picks herself up and says, no. That she is stronger than this and won’t let this be the end. In an interview I think she says, “I realised I had a duty and I had a role to play and my work wasn’t done”. She realised that she isn’t going to give up and I think that’s a beautiful thing, where she finds that strength at her lowest, lowest point.”
How do you approach playing such a famous and real-life person?
“It’s so mad, I think it’s incredibly overwhelming and I feel a huge sense of responsibility because no matter how well we do this, it is always going to step on this family’s sense of loss, because it is real and it is so sad, the story – and also so recent.
I worked a lot with the dialect coach on her voice, which was a key part of her… we spent a long time on how she moved, how she would stand in a doorway
“I did the reading, I did the research for months and then when I got the script, I found that the research didn’t really matter. I had done it and that was great but now I could set it aside and concentrate on the material I had in front of me.
“I worked a lot with the dialect coach on her voice, which was a key part of her. And the movement coach, as movement really helps characterisation. And we spent a long time on how she moved, how she would stand in a doorway. Those little details helped so much to make it less scary. It is a huge responsibility but also a huge honour.”
“There is also an amazing research team that we have on the Crown. They gave me this huge binder and they had sifted through all the books, and all the contacts; friends of hers who wanted to help and compiled all this information in this huge file. Everything is colour coded and in different sections, it was so great, it really helped.”
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Did you speak to anyone who knew or was close to Diana during that time in her life?
“Everyone has a story. It is essentially the same story each time, about one of their relatives sitting next to Diana at a dinner party, but it is wonderful because that was her essence, she was there, she was relatable. It shows how she touched so many people.
“In terms of The Crown, I talked to Patrick Jepson who was her private secretary, and is a character who features in the series. He has such good insight – the kinds of things that only someone who knew her very well would know. He said she was so much fun; that she had a sense of fun that was contagious, and that was so wonderful to hear.”
Did you learn anything about the Royal Family that you didn’t know before? Did anything surprise you?
“The struggle that each of the royal family go through, coming to terms with their own roles, how conflicted everyone is about finding their sense of duty. I found that really interesting because I guess it is very easy to see them as symbols, see the public side of them and not actually realise the things they are dealing with, having landed this weird kind of role.”
What did you think of the fashion and did you have any favourites from Diana’s wardrobe?
“My favourite thing was working with Sid and Amy from the costume team. Diana’s wardrobe is like a character in itself! To go through that and do the fittings, with the wedding dress making, it was so fun.
“The wedding dress was a huge, huge thing. It went on very gradually, so they had to put it all together and there were so many fittings for hours. When we finally did it all and got it on, it was crazy. It was one thing to try it on without my wig, but when I put my wig on, it was almost quite terrifying. Because the significance of that image for people is massive.
“There was a weird moment, when we were filming that scene in these three huge rooms. The crew were all sitting up at one end, and at the other end I had the ten people trying to put me in this dress with the train, which was so long. And no one had seen me, and then these doors opened and everyone fell silent, because I think everyone felt, out of respect you shouldn’t speak.
“But she had so many outfits, especially in the later episodes when she started taking more risks and being more playful with fashion, she had this YSL bomber jacket which was so great. I loved her casual stuff; the jeans and jumpers were very her. There were two jumpers which were also replicas – one was a sheep jumper, one of which is in the V&A, and we got the only other one in the world. There was another one she wears in episode one – a pink jumper – and the original makers hand-made one for us.”
We see a lot of Diana’s love for dancing – have you danced before or was this a skill you had to work on for the part? What did you think or feel that dancing meant to Diana?
“I have never had dance training, but I was taught by some amazing people and it was fun. I did everything – I had tap, jazz, and ballet lessons. Josh and I learnt a duet, and then there were some great moments where I could just freestyle, and that stuff I love, especially for Diana.
“In those moments she just loses it and moves, and you can just tell that she is so stifled in her environment that this is her way of expressing herself. I think expression through dance is something that is so beautiful and so therapeutic. I remember in one scene they offered to choreograph, but I asked if I could just go for it and lose myself as she is supposed to be doing.
“I decided I wanted to dance to Cher, Believe, so they put that on in this huge insane hall and everyone was like, that looks so therapeutic, I want a go! That’s the thing, it was for her. That was her last straw, wanting to get this pain and frustration out. She loved dance, she wanted to be a dancer but I think she was too tall. And it was something that she had taken from her life before, so it was a source of comfort.”
Were you a fan of seasons one to three?
“I actually do remember the first time I ever watched an episode of The Crown. I was at uni in second year and my friend from school messaged me saying ‘Emma you’ll love this series’. I remember I was short with work, but I was like okay I’ll watch an episode. And I don’t think I stopped watching, I think I had to watch the whole series, I was obsessed.”
What to expect from this season…
Set between 1979 and 1990, season 4 will take us to incredible places including South Georgia, where the invasion of the Falkland Islands sets Britain on a war footing, and across the world to Australia, where the Waleses embark on a politically sensitive tour after republican Prime Minister Bob Hawke has been elected.
We will also be revisiting Balmoral Castle, where both Thatcher and Diana will be subjected to the infamous ‘Balmoral Tests’, and the beaches of Mustique, where Princess Margaret retreats during a difficult period in her life.
But that’s all you’re going to get from us – no spoilers here! Buckle up though, there’s a mad ride coming.
The Crown, Season 4 streaming live on Netflix from 8am on Sunday 15 November
Sam is Silver’s founder and editor-in-chief. She’s largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.