‘The Crown’ Has a New Diana and Charles to Tear
Season 5 tracks the collapse of the royals’ marriage.
In a joint interview, Elizabeth Debicki and Dominic West discuss the challenge
of taking on these roles and the scrutiny the show has received since Queen
West and Elizabeth Debicki had no illusions about the expectations and
challenges they’d face as the latest incarnations of Prince Charles and
Princess Diana in “The Crown.”
their predecessors in the roles, Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin, had each won a
Golden Globe and an Emmy for their portrayals in Season 4. And West, 53, and
Debicki, 32, were charged with depicting the most precarious chapter of the
Charles and Diana story: the painfully public implosion of their royal
Season 5 of
“The Crown,” arriving Wednesday on Netflix, is set during the apex of their
marital imbroglio in the early to mid-1990s, when Charles’s affair with Camilla
Parker Bowles and Diana’s tell-all with Martin Bashir — which included her
complaint that “there were three of us in this marriage” — made for tantalizing
tabloid fodder. The show arguably has never recreated events, as imagined by
the creator, Peter Morgan, that so many viewers already have strong feelings
in early September, the death of Queen Elizabeth II turned up the heat even
more, as some of her majesty’s high-profile subjects took aim at the series.
prime minister John Major told The Daily Mail that people should boycott the
show and said that a scene in the new season, in which his character meets with
Charles, who is pushing for the queen’s abdication, was “damaging and malicious
fiction.” Judi Dench, writing to The Times of London, called for adding a
disclaimer to the start of each episode, adding that Netflix “seems willing to blur
the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism.”
to be upsetting a lot of people,” West said with a nervous laugh in a recent
video interview with Debicki.
thinks that we don’t feel a tremendous amount of responsibility, then they
would be wrong,” Debicki added.
interview, West, in England, and Debicki, in Spain, spoke about navigating
public opinion, approaching their characters with compassion and why it matters
what Diana wore. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
difficult has it been acting out a story that the world feels it already knows?
WEST You’re very aware everyone has a strong opinion about what happened and
whose side they’re on. It’s a bit of a minefield.
DEBICKI From an acting perspective, it’s a really interesting exercise because
people bring their living memory to this story. I’ve never been a part of
anything like that.
queen died while you were both shooting Season 6 in Barcelona. What was your
always amazes me how fast history moves, how quickly change happens. It shocks
you. We were all very deeply sad, and we paused shooting. And then that
beautiful queue started forming, with all those people from such different
walks of life and ages and abilities passing that coffin, and it absolutely
remember feeling what an amazing death, what an amazing effect and what an incredible,
unique world figure. But also what was interesting was so much of Season 5 is
about, “Will Charles become king?” In the ’90s, a lot of people were going, “I
don’t think he’s the right guy.” Then it happened, and it was amazing how
quickly and instantly everyone accepted him as the new king — and
unquestionably. It seemed like so much of the turmoil that we’d represented for
Charles, of whether he would ever fulfill his destiny, was answered in those
season has already received criticism for some scenes and characterizations.
“If anybody thinks that we don’t feel a tremendous amount of responsibility,
then they would be wrong,” Debicki said.Credit...Keith Bernstein/Netflix
any hasty rewriting of scripts after her death? Any tweaking of story lines?
asked Peter or Netflix a few times last year, “What’s going to happen when the
queen dies?” And they said, “Pretty much nothing.” I was struck when she died
that there wasn’t any sense of, “Oh no, oh gosh, we’ve been awful.” What it
underlined for me was the degree of respect with which the writers and
everybody have taken these stories and these figures. It was comforting that
there was no sense of needing to re-evaluate things.
mood change on set?
did. I think it reactivated a sense of purpose. I feel like there was, if I’m
honest, a lot of sadness. A real sense of loss. A lot of people I spoke to were
surprised by how deeply they were affected by it.
How much of
your own memories of Charles and Diana did you bring to these roles?
WEST Oh my
God, I’ve been a royal watcher since they got married. I was obsessed with
Diana. Still am. I must have been 10 or 11. I remember planning with two
friends to try to go and camp out to see her — it’s rather sad now to relate.
first memory of this period was, like I think many people my age, experiencing
the funeral through your parents’ reaction to it. That’s a distinct memory for
find that as you spent more time portraying these characters, your perspectives
on them and their troubles changed?
think that’s one of the benefits of dramatizing these events now. People say,
“Why do we need to churn this stuff up again?” There was no perspective then.
The divorce and even the death of Diana — we’ve needed 25 years or whatever it
is to process it. And it’s interesting what we now think and how we can be far
more evenhanded in our view of it. There’s the benefit of hindsight.
quite a controversial role in the way he’s depicted. I was involved in the
Prince’s Trust, and I really admire the work he does for that; I didn’t want to
jeopardize that in any way. But I’m more and more persuaded that it doesn’t
jeopardize that or anything to do with the royals.
dissolution of Charles and Diana’s marriage is a major story line this season.
“We’ve needed 25 years or whatever it is to process it,” West
O’Connor said the key to playing Charles is his posture, which becomes
increasingly stooped, as if the burdens of the crown and his mother’s
disapproval weigh on his head. Did either of you have particular traits that
you tapped into to get at your character’s essence?
was sort of a turtle, and it’s so effective. So I do sort of keep that. The way
[Charles] touches his clothes and is always fiddling — I realized the fiddling
is the only way you can keep looking immaculate. The voice was sort of a closed
mouth, keeping the teeth closed — in some ways the psychology of someone who is
very careful about what he says. And he’s always pointing, and I realized it’s
a really clever technique when he’s going through a crowd. He points to people
and he’s able to make people feel like they’ve made a connection. So I adopt a
lot of the pointing.
That was really my favorite thing. Do you remember how many times in scenes I
would just ask you to stop pointing at things? [Laughs.]
We have a
movement coach in “The Crown,” and her job is to help us get inside of the
physicalities that are attributed to these people. If you want to go deep, the
research department can provide you with this huge amount of archival footage.
I love watching the really raw, uncut stuff, where it’s just these weird little
reels that go for, like, 40 seconds, and it’s the two of them getting out of a
car. There’s so much available, so I watched a lot of that. How much can be
said and how much is left unsaid, and how that manifests in the bodies, is very
interesting for actors to work through.
this is silly, Elizabeth, but what is it like wearing Diana’s amazing clothes?
don’t think it’s silly because it’s so much a part of the character. It’s
fascinating what makes somebody iconic, what makes their wardrobe iconic.
Princess Diana was so iconic, and so cool — the kind of cool I could never ever
be. It came from her in this sense of, “I will create a narrative that is
separate to the one that I can speak about, and I will do it with my clothing.”
watched archival news footage as part of her preparation to play
difficult was it to master Diana’s signature gaze?
as hard as one would think. It comes, perhaps a little alarmingly, naturally.
now that Prince Charles is King Charles III, do you find yourself playing him
WEST I was
hoping for a pay raise but … [laughs]. This is just wonderful food for me. The
tells, the little irritable bloody pen. I was just glued to his Accession
Council. You saw why “The Crown” and the monarchy have so fascinated people.
Who knew about the archers coming out, defending the queen with bow and arrow?
And all these extraordinarily arcane people showed up and have been practicing,
it turns out, every month for the last, like, 200 years. A Mad Hatter’s tea
British armed forces are not perhaps what they were on the world stage, they’re
certainly world beaters in ceremony and ritual and pomp. We’re still
good for theater.