Season four of “The Crown” doesn’t hit Netflix until Nov. 15, but at an online event this week, new cast members Emma Corrin and Gillian Anderson discussed embodying iconic British women alongside Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth.
Chief TV Critic Caroline Framke interviewed the actresses as part of Variety’s Power Of Women Conversations presented by Lifetime, two days of virtual events surrounding women in the entertainment industry.
Corrin spoke of her experience embodying Princess Diana in the upcoming season. “I have no living memory of her,” she said of the late Duchess of Wales. “Which I think in retrospect I’m grateful for, because I think it made it easier with doing this season, to kind of bring my own interpretation to her. Growing up my general impression was just how enamored people were by her. I had a sense of tragedy of what had happened to her, and her spirit…her being this generous empathetic person who kind of broke the mold of the royal family.”
Playing Diana between the ages of 17 to 28 didn’t pose as much of a challenge as Corrin expected. “I am in the middle of those ages, so I felt like it was quite a good place to have an appreciation for [both ages],” she told Framke. “I’d have days when she was 19 and when she was 28. But I really enjoyed that because it made me have to understand exactly where she’d come from and exactly where she was going. So I began to get a really clear idea of those different stages of her life in my mind.”
She was especially struck by how young she was when she became a public figure who was beloved worldwide – and under immense pressure upon entering the royal family.
“I mean, she was 19 when she got married. I’m 24 now and I feel so young. On a daily basis I’m always…making so many mistakes all the time. We’re still learning, even now. And I think back to how I was when I was 19 and I didn’t have a clue,” Corrin said. “And to think something so monumental happens to her at that stage of her life, she’s really plucked from the normal trajectory of how a person grows and evolves into this very extraordinary circumstance, into a very public and pressure-filled marriage, and I can’t imagine what that does to to someone’s personal growth.”
Anderson portrays Margaret Thatcher, who she described as “divisive and multifaceted,” but she “put aside all preconceptions and opinions” to be able to channel Great Britain’s first female prime minister. She found motivation in Thatcher’s upbringing, going from a shopkeeper’s daughter to a high position of power. “Essentially she’s a self-made woman. It’s got to be complicated, and the fact that she was as divisive as she was tells you just how complicated a character she was. Which is fun as an actor.”
Despite her trailblazing victory in 1979, Thatcher didn’t really consider herself a feminist.
“As far as she was concerned, she was just putting one foot in front of the other and following what she knew she was good at,” Anderson said. “The conversation about feminism in her world probably wouldn’t have applied to her. We don’t really enter into the battle about feminist or not feminist [this season]…back then, the fact that she was even a prime minister as a woman was enough.”
Though Anderson and Corrin do not share a scene together in the upcoming season, they described similar approaches to playing such recognizable women, referring to research and drawing from their well-documented upbringings in order to analyze how they behaved later in life. Their emotion came from the inside out, long before entering the Emmy-nominated hair, makeup and costumes that brought them to life.
“It does help a huge amount when you’re on set and you step into those clothes. It’s suddenly like the bit that seals you up into the character, I think,” Corrin said.
Both women historically loved fashion – though one was more known for her clothing choices than the other – and both actresses wanted to understand the psychology and physicality of their characters’ movements.
“Understanding her mannerisms and behavior, and those recognizable Diana things that we all know, understanding where they came from and being able to justify them before I embodied them was something that I really loved looking into,” Corrin said, mentioning movement coach Pollyanna Bennett (who also lent her skills to the cast of “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
Anderson laughed at her costume’s heavily-sprayed hair and old-fashioned nylons. “Getting into that wig definitely helped. Walking in her particular shoes, for instance…never in my life would I wear any of the shoes that she wore. Walking in the way that I learned to walk as her and then in those shoes just added so much pleasure and helped so much.”
She also explained that “The Crown” is as much about personal life as history and politics.
“You have to remember that in a way when you’re filming ‘The Crown,’ all of the characters are through the prism of the crown. So we don’t really get into her politics; we as much get into her personal life with her husband and children as we do into her politics,” she said.
“Clothes underline the fact that they are outside the royal family, that they are never quite part of it,” Framke added. “That’s very much part of both your characters that they can’t quite crack this group of people.”
Corrin contrasted her experience on “The Crown” set to her character’s experience meeting their real-life counterparts. “Everyone was so welcoming…it was very hard to play those scenes where Diana is meeting everyone for the first time, having to feel like an outsider. Because from the get-go everyone was exceptionally welcoming. To get into the mindset of those scenes was interesting, especially for Diana.”
Ultimately, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher will be fascinating additions to an already superb television series about real people already audiences feel like they know. “Even if you do all the research in the world, there’s only so much you can ever really know a person,” Corrin said. “But I suppose I have a new understanding and appreciation of what she went through and the nuances of her experience.”