The British actor, who received an Emmy nomination for playing Diana in The Crown, is happy to be handing off the role as it takes a darker turn. "I feel very protective over her," she said.
Fans of Netflix's The Crown awaited Season 4 with particular interest — it would be the Diana Season. Emma Corrin won the key role and soon found herself, not long out of Cambridge University, starring in one of TV's most popular shows as modern history's most beloved royal, portraying Diana Spencer as she evolved from a precocious and playful 16-year-old into the Princess of Wales.
Corrin's was an arc not unlike Diana's — a mostly unknown young woman thrust suddenly into a global spotlight. Fans and critics were generally taken with Corrin's turn, which displayed a charming, grounded accessibility and grace that mirrored Diana's public image and offered a sympathetic portrayal of her often chaotic personal life.
Corrin, 25, has since followed the accolade-laden path of an earlier Crown breakout star, Claire Foy, whose performance as a young Queen Elizabeth II nabbed her two Screen Actors Guild awards, a Golden Globe and an Emmy before she was replaced by Olivia Colman as an older Elizabeth. Corrin won the Golden Globe in February, thanking her cast and crewmates in her video acceptance speech, and now has an Emmy nomination for lead actress in a drama. And like Foy, Corrin will exit The Crown as the show ages up — Elizabeth Debicki plays Diana next season, in production now, and Corrin wishes her nothing but the best. (Dominic West takes over Charles from Josh O'Connor, another Emmy nominee.)
Playing a bona fide icon has afforded Corrin plenty of attention, but perhaps not as much as she might have received had there been no pandemic. She has several high-profile films lined up, including a just-wrapped My Policeman! adaptation opposite Harry Styles, as well as female lead in a new version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. But because production on Corrin's season of The Crown ended early because of Covid and then debuted during the shut-in fall of 2020, its impact hasn't quite felt tangible, she said in a recent interview.
That changed recently, while on holiday in Spain, when she was tickled to be recognised by a boat full of Italian men.
"It was so weird; we're in the middle of the sea, and there are guys floating toward me calling out, 'Oh Lady Di!'" Corrin said with a laugh. "Those moments still feel very strange. So maybe it will never really sink in. And that's maybe quite a good thing because it could be very overwhelming."
In a video interview, Corrin discussed saying goodbye to Diana and the significance of having a nonbinary queer person play such an internationally beloved figure. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: Your season of The Crown was generally well liked and received 24 Emmy nominations, the most of any series this year (tied with The Mandalorian). How has its reception felt to you? Is it different from your expectations?
A: It's a weird thing, expectation. I don't know what I expected. I was sort of waiting in trepidation to see what it would be like, and then with the pandemic, I think that things were just so different. Because we didn't get to have a wrap party together to actually celebrate the end of filming, and then when the series came out, we've all been in isolation for a year, and then obviously we haven't been able to go to award shows together. So it's very strange. I think in normal circumstances, it would have been very hard to comprehend everything, and the pandemic made it even weirder. So it doesn't feel real, especially awards stuff.
I remember in the midst of everything, when the series was coming out and the whole cast was feeling sad that we weren't together, and it was strange I wasn't experiencing anything in real time. My friend who I live with said, "The most important thing is the work that you've done — that at that moment, everyone's at home watching the series, and it means that everyone's 100 per cent focused on your work and not what you're wearing at different press interviews, or where you're going."
Q: Diana's relationship to the press and the tabloids is explored in The Crown. What is it like to become a known person? Does that make you identify more with Diana?
A: It's a very weird thing to get your head around. It's a very invasive, intrusive sort of thing to happen. And I remember when I got the part, Benjamin Caron, the producer, said: "Life's going to change a lot when this comes out. And even when the role is announced, if there's moments that you feel overwhelmed by it or scared by it, or if you get followed or if your picture ends up in a newspaper or anything, use it, because that's exactly how she would have been feeling. Use all the emotions around it, use the excitement, use the curiosity, use the fear." So it was very helpful.
I remember there was this one scene we were filming outside her flat when she's leaving for the last time, saying goodbye to her flat mates. We had loads of supporting actors being the press, and then beyond the cameras are film cameras as well — actual paparazzi. And it was such a weird double world. I was like, no acting required.
Q: We've seen the new photos of the new Diana and Charles. What was your initial reaction? Is there any sadness about not having the opportunity to continue playing the role?
A: I feel so happy to have done the arc of her life that I did, but for me it feels like a very closed chapter. I went into it knowing I wouldn't continue. I saw the picture of Elizabeth [Debicki], and I just think she looks absolutely brilliant. And then there were our photos side by side, and I felt really special — almost like a sort of sister feeling that there's this continued likeness. She came to see the play that I just did in London because she's friends with the director. We hadn't met before, and it was wonderful. It was a bit of that thing where we felt like we knew each other so well, even though we didn't.
Q: Is this the type of relationship where you would share information or tips?
A: We haven't actually. We haven't done that, and we didn't speak about it when we met. It would have to come from her because she wants to do that, and I'm assuming that she wants to do her own thing, which is good. She knows I'm here.
Q: How do you feel about not having to go through the end with Diana, which is to say her death?
A: I hadn't thought about it, to be honest, but I don't know — it feels like someone else's thing. I'm grateful that I don't have to do that because I know how attached I feel to the person I played. I feel very protective over her.
Q: You recently came out as queer and nonbinary. What do you think is the significance of a queer nonbinary person playing someone that's so prominent, a princess so beloved the world over?
A: I think it's such a joy. My journey with that is still evolving and quite recent. It's wonderful to know that I've played someone who was such a help to so many people in that community and so supportive to that community. I think I'd be lying if I said it didn't help me in my journey with everything to play someone like Diana. She was so openhearted to everything and explored so much. I feel like Diana helped me explore so many depths of myself and really do a big internal discovery of what I was feeling about everything because she was a very complex person. It feels great. I was very honoured.
Q: What kinds of roles are you being sent now? Is there any sense that you're being typecast, or are you reading only things that are completely different?
A: Initially, we were being sent a lot of royal princess sort of things. Wonderful parts, but we decided very early that we need to be clear in like, "We're not going to do this kind of thing." But to be honest, for me it's always going to be about the story, and it's always going to be about how I feel about the work.
I remember saying, "I want to do some contemporary stuff now," but then getting the Chatterley scripts, which I start in a few weeks, and thinking "Oh, my God." I wanted to work with Laure so badly, and when I saw her vision for it and what they wanted to do with it, I was just like, "I'm in!" And that's a period piece, so I eat my words. It's a good lesson to sort of keep an open mind, not pigeonhole yourself.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Written by: Trish Bendix
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