This summer, Emma Corrin, who joins season 4 of The Crown as Princess Diana, found herself on the same plane as Vanessa Kirby, who starred as Princess Margaret in seasons 1 and 2. “We had this moment of reunion as if we were long lost sisters. It was so nice,” says Corrin, 24, of the instant kinship. (The pair had only met briefly before.) “It’s because you’re part of a family.”
In joining the esteemed series, Corrin has forged connections not only with A-list co-stars like Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham-Carter, but become part of a lineage of talents from seasons past and future. Though she’s a relative newcomer among her colleagues (previous credits include the Epix Batman spinoff Pennyworth), she captivates from the first moment she appears onscreen, portraying Diana as a shy teen both forward and demure with Josh O’Connor’s Prince Charles. Over the course of the season, Corrin takes Diana from a young girl of 16 to a confident and increasingly independent 28-year-old.
Corrin spent an audition-packed year fighting for the role, and embodying one of the world’s most famous women presents distinct challenges. “If you say her name, you instantly have her image, you have her voice, you have her mannerisms. That’s a very intimidating thing to be up against,” she says. Joining Peter Morgan’s high-profile series in a pivotal role, Corrin is sure to have a brush with overnight stardom—and its accompanying highs and lows—much like Diana. “All these feelings of excitement, the novelty of it, the fear and the confusion, that’s all what she would have been feeling. Exactly, like play by play,” Corrin says. But fame is something she’s steeled herself for. “I live in a flat with my three best mates from university, none of whom are actors. It keeps you grounded. I never want to get lost in it.”
You were quite young when Diana died. How did you study her?
Peter’s scripts helped immensely. I watched one documentary called In Her Own Words, which is fantastic because it’s narrated by her and you have her telling her story. You’re not going to get closer to an actual version of events than that. Then working with William Conacher, who was my dialect coach, and Polly Bennett, who was my movement, character coach. Working on her physicality and her psychology, that’s when I really felt like I could get my teeth into her.
What was the casting process like?
I initially went in to read when they were choosing a girl to play Camilla for season 3. They called my agent and said, ‘Can Emma come in and help read. We’ll pay her, it’s not an audition, we just need someone to read for Diana in these scenes. Josh [O’Connor] will be there, and all the producers and the director and casting directors will be there.’ It was an absolutely absurd situation.
I treated it as an audition—a very non-pressure audition. I think that’s a great lesson in retrospect, on making opportunities your own. I did a lot of work on her and the character. It was fun because she’s a phenomenal person to read about and to explore.
They asked me to go on camera which I thought was weird. I remember going outside, calling my agent and being like, ‘Maya, something changed in that room. I think they were interested. The director wanted to work with me and they wanted me to go on tape.’ It was absolutely surreal, looking back. I don’t know how I didn’t go a bit insane. I think I probably did go a bit insane.
There’s a great deal of dancing this season. Was that something you felt prepared for?
It’s so funny because I’m notoriously not a dancer. I’ve got very long limbs and for the best part of my life, they’ve been very uncoordinated. Someone at school said I dance like a spider, and I’ve never got beyond that. It’s always been a running joke in my friendship groups.
I do 5Rhythms a lot. It’s like dance meditation. You go into a room and there’s a DJ and it’s in the evening, completely sober, and it’s spiritual. You can just move and dance however you want. I love that kind of expression. For Diana, that’s what dance was. In the series. you see it’s her way of communicating and dealing with her feelings. Through that lens, I was able to find the process of learning jazz, tap, and ballet from nothing, less intimidating. I could understand where it came from. Learning ballet at 24 is the worst. It’s almost impossible. It’s one of those things you need to learn [as] a kid.
What part did the clothes play in getting you into the role?
The costume and the wigs had such a huge effect especially in the trajectory of her character across the series. We meet her dressed as a tree when she is 16. You leave her in this insane dress when she’s become a woman. Her clothing tells the story of her coming of age in a way that speaks for itself.
People talk about Diana’s iconic style but in the early episodes she doesn’t dress well.
She’s got yellow overalls. The public knows her as the woman and not the child. Actually, the child is one of the most important parts of understanding her. Especially in episode 3, you see where she came from—a young girl with no real experience being tossed into this world that was about to eat her alive. The costumes show that she’s not just shoulder pads and power suits.
You’re coming into the spotlight somewhat abruptly. How are you preparing for that?
I don’t know if you can. I’m being asked, “Are you ready for it to change?” Which is a bit terrifying, to be honest. When I got the part, one of the directors, Ben Caron said, “Hey, whenever you get followed home by photographers or your face is on the Daily Mail or whatever, just use it.”’
There’s a lot of people saying, “I’m really worried you’ll change.” Which is horrible to hear, because I’m like, “I don’t want to.” The one thing I’ve been told by Helena and Olivia is just keep your head down, work hard, keep really good people around you.
Are you working on anything new right now?
No, I’m not actually. It’s a combination of lockdown and waiting for The Crown to come out. I sort of haven’t been able to focus on anything else, but I’m developing a few things. I’ve written and directed a short film that will be coming out with Gucci. It was my first foray in that kind of thing.
Is directing something you’d like to do more of?
I don’t know about directing. I found the process absolutely terrifying, but writing, producing, and developing stuff, yeah. I’m worried I’m not assertive enough to be a director. On the day we shot this short film, I was constantly making sure everyone was okay. Everyone started referring to me as the director of happiness because I was so worried. My friend said, “Emma…it’s really great that you’re worried that everyone is cold or making sure everyone has some tea, but also, make sure you do get the footage you need, because that’s irreversible.” It was funny.
A condensed version of this story appears in the November 2020 issue.
Styled by Sarah Zendejas; Hair by Patrick Wilson at The Wall Group; Makeup by Florrie White at Bryant Artists.