Surprisingly-or perhaps not-when Netflix held a viewing for Corrin and her friends earlier this fall, she says she could barely watch. “I was as low as you could get into my seat as possible…. I was practically on the floor,” she says with a laugh.
“I just couldn’t watch because it’s so hard to be objective when you see your own work. But hearing and seeing my friends’ reaction meant the world. I trust them.” In the end, she says, she’s very proud of what she “and everyone on the cast has done this season.”
It’s been a little over a year since Emma Corrin began filming her star-making turn as Princess Diana in the fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown. But the night before her first scene, when most people might feel too excited or anxious to sleep, Corrin was as calm as could be.
“Because of the amount of research and work you do to get into these characters, it had been a long time I had to prepare,” she tells Glamour via Zoom from her place in London. “I got the part in March 2019, and we started filming in September 2019. So I felt ready.”
But it’s also not every day that one goes to bed knowing they’re about to play one of the most iconic women in the world. Perhaps that’s why Corrin succeeds so brilliantly in the role-there’s an unshakable confidence paired with a genuine sensibility and unpretentiousness. In many ways, just like Diana herself.
As she should be. The almost 25-year-old from Tunbridge Wells, England, gives such a tour de force performance that Andrew Morton, the author of 1992’s bombshell biography Diana: Her True Story, told Vanity Fair it’s “far and away the most accomplished and realistic portrayal of Diana I have seen.”
“It’s spooky, isn’t it?” Josh O’Connor, who has played Princes Charles since season three, tells Glamour. “When I first met her, I walked into a room where they were casting Camilla, and Emma Corrin was there to read [scenes as] Diana before they were even thinking about Diana. I was like, ‘I don’t know who this girl is, but she literally is Diana.’”
O’Connor says that while he knows Corrin (who, sadly for fans, will only be on this season of The Crown before Elizabeth Debicki takes over in seasons five and six) will go on to do great things in her career, “there is something about this role for her that she was born to play. There were countless occasions where I was halfway through a scene and I’d be like, ‘My God, Diana’s actually here.’”
So how did Corrin perfect her portrayal of the people’s princess? And what would she have asked Diana if she could have? Here, Corrin fills us in on that and more moments from the series’ fourth season.
On her first day on The Crown set
We filmed everything out of order, so my first scene was actually set in Scotland when I’m in bed and get woken up by a maid at 5 a.m. to go stalking with Philip. It was very nice because there wasn’t much acting required. I call it ‘waking up’ acting.
Everyone had already been filming for a week or so in Scotland, so someone had to remind people it was my first scene. It was like, “Okay, Emma’s here. Now you’re waking up. We ready?” And then someone was like, “Wait, it’s her first day!” They started clapping. I also remember we were filming the last two episodes and episode three at the same time, so I was constantly going from young Diana to older Diana. It was quite fun.
On how fashion became Diana’s armour
She didn’t really have a sense of style at all, which I love. It was all very frumpy and adorable. But to be honest, the majority of what I wear is sweater vests and big jumpers with ridiculous patterns on them. And I loved her jumpers.
When Diana was a little older and did the Australia tour, she was in all these lovely dresses-and they were beautiful-but you get the sense that they would have been just all laid out for her and she’d put them on. Whereas a few years later during her trip to New York, it felt like, “Oh, there’s a sense of you coming through these clothes.” I really enjoyed that. They became an armour, a statement, a voice, and that was very exciting. I also loved some of the suits and some of the dresses that I wore in the later episodes.
I only watched the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, which is now on Netflix. I didn’t watch another documentary. I don’t think I would have got the part without it. Honestly. I watched it before I did any audition. I haven’t watched it in about a year, but it still comes up every day on my Netflix: “You wanna watch this again?”
It’s a phenomenal thing, and honestly, for research purposes, you don’t need much more, because it is her, talking about her life, overlaid with footage. It’s everything.
On how she learned to speak like Diana
She has a downwards inflection on the end of her sentences or words. I got the voice mainly through watching Diana: In Her Own Words on repeat. My mum’s a speech therapist, and that helped initially. I also worked with an amazing dialect coach, William Conacher. He’s just brilliant and really helped me refine it.
On what she’d ask Diana if she were still alive
In retrospect, I’d love to find out what she felt about leaving her friends and her life before. Did she miss it? How did she feel about leaving her old life for her new one? And as an adult, how would she view her younger self?
I’m really interested in young Diana, because no one knows that much about her. I loved playing young Diana so much. I am so fond of her, it’s almost insane. That’s why I found episodes two and three really intriguing. I live with my best friends, so I imagine how unstable I would feel if I was swept up into this whole new world, never really seeing them again. And then the little things, like you wouldn’t have your favourite jumper to put on anymore…all familiarity is gone.
So I’m interested in her transition from living in a flat to moving to the palace. In the documentary, one of her drivers says to her, “Are you ready for the last day of your life as you know it?” I wonder how she felt about that in the end.
I have thought about it. I would like to, though I’m not sure about Charles. I think I’d be quite scared to meet Charles, but I think William and Harry seem really nice. But who knows? I’d probably be quite nervous.
On the Diana and Meghan Markle parallels
Regardless of the fact that I’m playing a royal, as a human I feel very empathetic towards [Meghan and Harry], as I do with anyone who is so in the spotlight. I’ve started to experience being followed around where I live, and it’s never nice.
With acting, you realise that it’s part of what you sign up for, but with the royals, you’re sort of born into it. And then that intrusion becomes part of your life. With Diana, all she did was love someone and then she was followed around all of the time. It’s just quite an unfair invasion of privacy.
On the moment that wasn’t in the script
The clubbing scene with Diana’s friends was just the most fun thing in the world. Those girls are just fantastic, and it was such a joy to work with them. We went in Annabel’s in Mayfair and we just got to dance to Stevie Nicks for an afternoon in ridiculous ballgowns.
I’ve never actually mentioned this before, but I remember at the end of that scene when we’re walking out, we start singing the national anthem, drunkenly. I did that on a whim because [director] Ben Caron was like, “Act drunk.” I’m actually terrified of acting drunk because I think it can go so wrong so easily. I just thought, Maybe I should sing the national anthem. He really loved it, so we kept that in.
On that scene where Diana dances inside the palace
I loved getting to dance when Diana loses her mind inside the palace. It was so much fun, and I’m actually dancing to Cher’s “Believe” because I asked for them to play that for me while I danced. So if you put Cher on, the dance would probably make more sense.
On Camilla and Diana’s cringeworthy lunch scene
I loved that. It turned out really well when I watched it. It was so fun to do because Emerald Fennell is fantastic and absolutely terrifying as Camilla in such a great way. I call it sugar-coated iciness.
I think even in the Diana documentary, there’s that story about how Diana-when she was older-goes to a party and takes Camilla aside and says, “You can do what you like, but don’t think that I’m an idiot. I know exactly what’s going on. So carry on with whatever you’re doing, but I know.” I hope the writers include that in a later season, because what a great scene.
On portraying Diana’s bulimia
I did a lot of research. I reached out to our script team and said, “Is it alright if we fleshed the scenes out a bit?” I wanted viewers to see the before, the during, and the after, as to not make it these isolated moments with no context. From all the research I did and speaking with people who’ve been through it and experienced it, it is all-consuming. It is something that your day ends up revolving around and it obviously has a huge strain on you mentally and emotionally. I felt that in order to do the whole of her story justice, I had to include that. I felt a lot for Diana.
It really wasn’t easy [to film]. I think I really underestimated it. As an actor, you tend to get excited about scenes that are weighty or meaty because you get to shift gears in a way that’s quite interesting.
I think of Josh O’Connor in that shouting scene in episode 10, where he just loses it. It’s that equivalent because you really get to let go. Same with crying scenes. I had a scene that didn’t make it into the series, but I just cry and cry and cry. So I kind of thought [the binging and purging scenes] would be the same-that it would take me to a very intense emotional place and that would be very interesting for me. But actually, at the end of the day, it was not enjoyable. It was very disturbing, even though I knew I was doing the right thing.
On Diana’s decision to perform “Uptown Girl” as a surprise for Charles
I think she fully thought that it would be a nice thing to do. It’s love languages, right? It’s just the way she wanted to show how she felt. We must remember she had such an infectious sense of fun. More than anything, it was quite fun for her to learn a dance routine and perform it. But she probably misjudged Charles’s reaction. I could imagine myself doing that for someone and it not going down well. But I still think it’s quite a sweet thing to do.
On why we shouldn’t blame Charles or Diana for their failed marriage
It’s beyond complex. You can’t stick a label on whatever happened. You can’t really blame anyone. I mean, for God’s sake, Charles loved one person his entire life, which is better than many of us do, to be honest. Who do you know these days who’s loved the same person since they were 15 and are now 72? It’s so rare. And for whatever mistakes he made, I think the biggest one is that the marriage happened in the first place. It’s probably the fault of the institution. You feel for everyone.”
On the scene where Diana hugs the Queen
That was an incredible scene to film, obviously because acting with Olivia Colman is just incredible. And it is such a striking scene because it really defines the entire series, which is the royal family’s struggle with affection and loving their own. I, as Diana, say in that final argument to Charles, “You can’t even hug your own, let alone other people.” It really points to this fundamental issue of affection. Diana had that warmth naturally. She couldn’t help but thaw the ice everywhere she went. It just was not the right mix.
On the scene that made her the most nervous
The big argument that Josh and I have in episode 10. Scenes tend to be very short in The Crown and dialogue quite sparse, so those big, meaty scenes where you have three pages of a shouting match doesn’t happen often. It happened twice for us though this season. Once in Australia and once at the end of episode 10. Josh and I rehearsed it a lot and then Peter [Morgan] actually came to set on the day and helped us with it. But it was a lot.
On Diana’s major turning point as the season comes to an end
I talked to our fantastic director, Jessica Hobbs, a lot about Diana’s [frame of mind when she walks down the staircase], and Jess said, “She’s reached her limit.” I think you actually see it a bit before that after she’s had that huge argument with Charles, when he says, “Camilla is who I want, Camilla is who I love, and if you have a problem with this marriage, take it up with the people who arranged it.”
That is the single worst thing I’ve ever heard! She goes to make herself sick, which has previously been her way of taking control over the emotion she’s feeling, but she stops herself. It’s such a huge turning point. When she’s talking to Philip in her room, and he says, “You know, there’s only one person that matters,” referring to the queen, and I think her mindset is, Sorry, I don’t want that anymore; that’s not what I signed up for, actually, and I want to have a purpose other than serving this other person. I think she realises the good she can do-that she has a way with people because she herself has suffered in a way that allows her to empathise.
On the close-up of Diana’s face that ends the season
Jess and I always spoke about that last look being like, “This is war. I’m done. It’s the final straw.” It’s kind of the birth of the start of the new Diana. She’s found a sense of self, I think, but it takes her a long time to get there. I feel like the whole series is a climb to try and fight this institution that’s trying to put her in a straitjacket. And then, in those last three episodes, she’s figuring out what she wants. It’s a great moment.
I couldn’t believe the scene ended on my face. I was so hyped about it! Everything can change in an edit, so just because it is in the script doesn’t necessarily mean it will end up like that. When I watched the last episode, I was like, “Oh, my God, Mum! I’m the last shot in this season!” I was so excited!