From A Princess To A Sleuth, Emma Corrin Embodies Enigmas As An Actor

By Alexis Soloski
New York Times
Emma Corrin at the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. Photo / Jeenah Moon, The New York Times

The actor has worked steadily since breaking out as a young Princess Diana in The Crown. Corrin’s latest role is as an amateur sleuth in A Murder at the End of the World.

“I have no idea what I like,” Emma Corrin said.

This was on a recent Friday afternoon

Corrin appealed to the store’s manager, Tom Wickersham.

“Go for it,” Corrin said. “What’s the best thriller?”

Corrin, 27, had taken this last-minute trip, which coincided with the end of the actors strike, to promote A Murder at the End of the World, the moody, brooding FX limited series that began November 14. They play Darby Hart, an amateur detective who becomes a true-crime author after solving a case involving unidentified women in the Midwest. A Murder had filmed two scenes at the shop, which (appropriately) bookend the series.

“We spent all day and all night here,” they said. Between setups, Corrin would read aloud from selected books, including a collection of erotica. “It was very funny.”

Emma Corrin looks at books at the Mysterious Bookshop. Photo / Jeenah Moon, The New York Times
Emma Corrin looks at books at the Mysterious Bookshop. Photo / Jeenah Moon, The New York Times

On the series, Darby sports pink hair, layered hoodies and a watchful, wounded expression. Another character, the guerrilla artist Bill Farrah (Harris Dickinson), describes Darby as “really tough and really fragile at the same time.” In person, Corrin, who wore a brown suede jacket and black pants, their brown hair sleekly buzzed, was sprightlier, less wary, sliding from shelf to shelf in black flats.

Corrin had spent the strike in London, with Spencer, their cockapoo named for Princess Diana, whom Corrin played in the fourth season of The Crown. “I honestly hadn’t really stopped working for the last three or four years, so it was a really nice chance to be with family and friends and dog,” they said.

Had Corrin taken up any hobbies during the strike? No. “I found that so intimidating during Covid,” they said, laughing. “I’m not making bread. I refuse.”

After a few months, relaxation had palled and Corrin seemed delighted to be back to work, even if work meant a whirlwind promotional tour. “I like talking about the work,” they said. “I like celebrating it.”

Corrin paused at a row of true-crime books, as if expecting to see Darby’s book, Silver Doe, among them. Pulling out Helen Garner’s This House of Grief, Corrin mentioned a pair of genre favourites: Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer and Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts.

“It’s so good,” Corrin said of the latter book. “I found that such an interesting study of humanness in this arena.”

Darby is also a study in humanness. A different sort of detective, she is young, female and despite her perpetual scowl, she is, as her name suggests, all heart. “She takes it upon herself to become the voice of the voiceless,” Corrin said. “That rests very, very deep inside her, that need to help those people.”

“I will always prioritise human connection over artificial connection,” Emma said. “That’s where it begins and ends for me.” Photo / Jeenah Moon, The New York Times
“I will always prioritise human connection over artificial connection,” Emma said. “That’s where it begins and ends for me.” Photo / Jeenah Moon, The New York Times

One of the show’s prescient themes is the increasing dominance and sophistication of artificial intelligence. Darby remains skeptical of technology, even as she uses chat boards and online searches in pursuit of her investigation. Corrin shares that skepticism.

“I will always prioritise human connection over artificial connection,” they said. “That’s where it begins and ends for me.”

In some respects, Corrin felt quite far apart from Darby. “She’s far more cynical than I am,” Corrin said. “I quite naively look for the best in people, probably to a fault, and I can be quite gullible.” But Corrin identified with Darby’s empathy and drive. “She likes rising to a challenge, and she likes a problem,” Corrin said. “I share that as well. I’m pretty fearless.”

The actor’s past roles, which have also included starring turns in My Policeman and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, have been largely period and largely romantic, the better to exploit Corrin’s English rose looks. Darby is the least femme screen role Corrin has played (onstage, the actor starred in an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s gender-fluid Orlando). And though A Murder is in part a love story, gender and sexuality don’t particularly define Darby.

“The modern aspect was a real tick for me,” Corrin said. “Playing someone more androgynous was a real tick for me.”

Because Corrin has spent the whole of their young adulthood on-screen, the actor’s identity and relationships have been the source of much unwanted attention. Corrin described this corollary of fame as “that poisoned chalice thing,” as well as “grim” and “inescapable.” Maybe this has made them even more motivated to disappear into fictional people or to make choices that the public might not anticipate. It was recently announced that Corrin will next play a young scammer in the mercenary comedy Peaches, set in Hong Kong.

“I surprised myself by being so into it,” they said.

So Corrin does have some idea of what they like, just not when it comes to mysteries and thrillers. Stumped, Corrin appealed again to Wickersham.

“Do you think that John Grisham is the absolute master?”

“I liked those books when I was a kid,” he said diplomatically.

Corrin considered one of Maurice Leblanc’s Lupin novels, a Len Deighton, a Charles Willeford, a mystery cowritten by the prime minister of Iceland. A Murder had shot for a month in Iceland, which lent some verisimilitude to the chillier scenes. (Maybe too much verisimilitude. Brit Marling, one of the creators, experienced hypothermia on the shoot’s first day.)

“The elements we were shooting in were just so intense,” Corrin said. Even when the production moved inside, to soundstages in New Jersey, “you still could feel that in your body,” Corrin said. “Being that freezing.”

Still, Corrin couldn’t choose a book. “I’m experiencing real indecision,” they said. “Crippling indecision. I’m so bad at making decisions.”

Finally, with their publicist murmuring about a subsequent appointment, Corrin was nudged toward Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, a classic of California noir. The blurb on the back described it as a page turner, and Corrin nodded in approval.

“That’s very exciting,” they said, happy with the choice. “I’ll need to do a lot of flying soon. So I need a good book.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. A Murder at the End of the World is available to watch in New Zealand on Disney+.

Written by: Alexis Soloski

Photographs by: Jeenah Moon


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