“I find the word ‘icon’, particularly in reference to Diana and to other women that we put on a pedestal, to be quite reductive.”
“It ignores so much of who Diana was and her beautiful complexity. People felt they could relate to her – that’s so much more important than any label.”
It’s not a conclusion that actress Emma Corrin has come to without careful thought. After securing her role as The Crown’s Princess Diana, she describes having to take on a ‘psychological journey’ to get to know the People’s Princess on a deeper level, well aware that her arguably striking resemblance to Diana would only take her portrayal so far.
Working alongside a movement coach, Emma tried for months to get inside the late princess’ head – to get beyond the tabloids, the tell-alls, even the endless documentaries. It seems she never wanted to run the risk of simply showing the public the same side of Diana that we feel we have known collectively for years – the afore-mentioned ‘People’s Princess’, always on duty.
In her portrayal, Emma wanted to work alongside writer Peter Morgan and on-screen husband Josh O’Connor (The Crown’s award-winning Prince Charles) to peel back the layers on who the real Diana was.
Millions of viewers and several awards later, it’s fair to say that she certainly did so.
“I just thought ‘How am I going to get to grips with this?’ and put aside all of the hot air about her,” Emma says.
In many ways, the role of Diana is a difficult one for an actress to accept, let alone to pull off so successfully. The allure of playing such a universally recognisable character – one who touched the hearts of people around the world in life – is one thing, but the pressure that inevitably comes with it is quite another.
In fact, screenwriter Peter Morgan has openly spoken on his worries regarding finding the right actress for the part, suggesting that the casting of the perfect Diana was a make-or-break situation.
“I was so nervous about being able to find someone capable of doing it, I was prepared to consider cancelling the show and simply not continuing, rather than getting it wrong,” says Morgan.
Thankfully, it was a fear that went unrealised – Emma’s performance in the series has been celebrated by viewers across the world. It’s a part that Morgan himself feels that she was ‘born to play’.
When Season Four of The Crown hit Netflix in November 2020, Emma was immediately catapulted into the public eye, having arguably stolen the show. It’s no small feat considering that her co-stars included Olivia Colman and Gillian Anderson, two of the most revered actresses out there.
So, how does she feel about all the attention? In many ways, she’s yet to get a real taste of it – finding such sudden fame at the height of a global pandemic was certainly a little jarring. However, Emma says that it has allowed her to adjust a little more easily.
“It has made the explosion a lot more manageable,” she says, on becoming a household name at a time when the households in question were rarely outdoors. “I’ve had more time to come to terms with it, I suppose.”
You’d imagine that anyone with the confidence to take on such a widely controversial role – given the real-life royal family’s well-publicised disapproval of the series – might have been expecting such fame to follow. For Emma, however, it was never about that – she had been looking to act since she was so young that the roles themselves are rewarding enough.
“I don’t remember the decision to become an actor,” she says, “I just had a very stark interest.”
It was an interest that quickly grew further in her teenage years.
“I was 16 before I started thinking about it seriously. I had to say to my family ‘This is what I want to do’. I wanted to quit school, and get an agent. My parents wouldn’t let me. They wanted me to have another option, to get a degree under my belt.”
It’s the sort of teenage conversation that many of us can relate to – to ask our parents for something and become inexplicably annoyed when we can’t have what we want. Perhaps that’s why it was so much stranger to Emma to consider that Diana was just 19 when her relationship with Charlies went public.
“It really stresses me out,” she says, of finding out just how young Diana had been when the tabloids began keeping a close eye on her, “When I was 19, I thought I knew everything. From 19 to 24, I’ve done so much growing. I’m an entirely different person, in almost every respect.”
The main difference Emma has noticed in her own personal growth over the years is her ability to assert herself in social situations – to speak up and have the confidence to say ‘no’ if she feels she is not being respected.
“I normally let people in situations walk all over me,” she says, “Which, in this industry, can be quite dangerous.”
“I’m discovering my voice.”
Following her acclaimed performance in The Crown, fans were disappointed to find out that Emma wouldn’t be returning for a second run as Princess Diana, with the role for the next season going to Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki as the characters ‘age up’.
While Emma loved the experience of playing Diana, she admits that she isn’t entirely resentful of being cast in just one season of the series.
“I got to play her from 16 to 28, I took her from girl to woman and I loved that arc,” she explains. “But I’m quite pleased to move on. The industry loves to pigeonhole.”
So, how do you follow a role like this one? Emma has a few things in the works – and not always in front of the camera.
“I met a producer at a festival and she said that, as you get older, there might not be parts. There aren’t always roles out there for women that are any good.”
For that reason, Emma’s looking into writing her next big role for herself – that is, after a highly-anticipated turn in My Policeman, an adaptation of the 2012 novel which will see Emma star alongside Harry Styles.
For now, however, Emma is still settling into life in the public eye – and keeping lessons from Diana in mind along the way.
The Crown is available to stream on Netflix.