Glass speaks to British actor Emma Corrin

Jewel in the Crown – Glass speaks to British actor Emma Corrin about her break-out role of Princess Diana in Netflix’s The Crown and how she came to land it

There are few roles in the film and TV industry that have the ability to catapult an actor straight into household-name status. At the time of our video call, the 24-year-old British actor Emma Corrin is blissfully unaware of the impact her portrayal as Princess Diana in the next series of Netflix’s The Crown will have when it is released.

As we speak over the course of an hour, she sits and leans against her propped-up leg, and her modesty shines through, reminiscent of the woman she has been cast to play.

EMMA_CORRIN Portrait, yellow dress, issue 43

Emma Corrin. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Born in Kent, Corrin developed a love of acting as a child. The defining moment was when she got the lead part as Toad in her primary school’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale, Wind and The Willows. “I just remember I had the best time doing it,” she recalls. “Someone’s mum came up to me afterwards and said, ‘You were great, sweetheart, you should be an actor.’  I was about 10 years old and since then I have been set on it – it never changed.”

After school, she attended Cambridge University where her presence on stage not only continued but thrived, “I think I did about 20 shows over my three years there.”

Six months prior to graduating, Corrin got an agent determined to pursue acting once she left university. “I had never done film before, or really anything on camera,” she explains, “I remember, and we still laugh about this now, how awful I was taping and doing any auditions because I had just done theatre.”

Emma Corrin, portrait, yellow dress, Bulgari

Emma Corrin. Photograph: Nick Thompson

She moved to London where she sofa-surfed at friends and worked at a tech start-up to get by. “It was a strange period of my life, when you’re hustling and you’re taking any opportunity,” she says, adding, “I remember having to lie [at work] and say I was going somewhere, but actually I was going to an audition and changed in a bathroom on my way there.”

Grateful for these experiences, they made Corrin build up resilience and accept rejection: “At the time, it was a bit shit and very uncertain of how you’re ever going to make it. There were parts that I really wanted and didn’t get. It was heart-breaking.”

Emma corrin, blazer and hat portrait

Emma Corrin. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Last year, Corrin struck luck and was cast in Epix’s drama series Pennyworth, a spin-off from the Batman series, set in London during the 1960s. Although rooted in fantasy, the plot manifests itself naturally in the real world, not straying too far from reality. Playing Esme Winikus, the love interest of Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), I asked what drew her to the series.

“What I really engage with on the show is how it tells very human stories,” she replies. “Esme is very complex due to what she has been through in the past and how that comes into play with her and Alfred’s relationship – even with Alfred and his PTSD from the war. It deals with human emotions and important issues as well as telling a story that everyone is quite familiar with.”

Earlier this year, Corrin starred in Misbehaviour, an inspiring, true story that hadn’t been told. The film is centred around the early days of the Women’s Liberation Movement in London and its plans to obstruct the 1970 Miss World Beauty pageant. The cast is made up of an exceptional array of actors as well as being directed by a woman.

This female-dominated production – in which Corrin plays Miss South Africa – is a rarity in Hollywood and an experience nothing less than empowering, “It was incredible to work with that many women. It felt like what we were experiencing was incredibly unusual in that sense.”

Emma Corrin, sequin dress, flowers

Emma Corrin. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Had she learnt anything from it all?  “I think that working with a group of women, who were all ages and at different stages of their career, had come from different places and had completely different experiences, reminded me that … if you put the time in and the effort, you will get there.”

Corrin’s hard work and effort paid off.  After nearly a year of auditioning, she was driven to a stately home outside of London to do a final reading with Josh O’Connor, who plays Prince Charles in the fourth series of The Crown.

“Everything was dog-themed in this room – it was so weird,” she laughs trying to set the scene for me. The pair had read the scene a few times over when O’Connor broke the good news with the question, “Will you be our Diana?” Comparing it to a proposal, Corrin stood there completely shocked, not moving for a minute. “I just don’t think it sunk in for a long time, and honestly, I still don’t think it has even though I’ve filmed it.”

It goes without saying that this part comes with a huge amount of pressure and responsibility. Corrin is not just playing a role; she is dealing with portraying a historical figure who was deeply loved – and mourned – by the nation. “I think I realised quite quickly that if I were to do this any justice, I was going to have to come to terms with that and put it to one side,” she explains. “I needed to shut off all the noise that was saying, this is huge. It’s her, how are you going to do this? What will people think? It was terrifying and it’s not conducive to good work.”

Emma Corrin Flower Bath, issue 43

Emma Corrin. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Preparing for this was an incredibly meticulous task for Corrin as she plays Diana from when she was 16 to 28, seeing her go from shy teenage girl to the “people’s princess”. Guided by voice coach William Conacher and movement coach Polly Bennett, the trio worked to take Emma into Diana, “I remember at one of the first sessions, we [Corrin and Bennett] spent half an hour thinking about how she would stand in a doorway. We figured she would lean to one side.”

Diana had a sense of style that will forever be hailed by the fashion community, so I asked Corrin if there were any outfits from the set that stuck in her memory. “One of the most iconic things was the wedding dress – that was an insane moment. The Emanuels, who designed her wedding dress, came in and gave [the wardrobe design team] all the original designs, so it was a complete replica.”

Emma Corrin, puffy sleeve dress

Emma Corrin. Photograph: Nick Thompson

With an estimated 750 million people watching the 1981 wedding of Diana and Charles on TV around the world, it’s a dress sketched into the memory of a generation: “I remember filming that scene. The atmosphere in the room changed when I walked in wearing that dress. It was a sombre moment, as if everyone had just had a minute’s silence, but not intentionally if that makes sense … I felt incredibly emotional wearing that dress. I felt honoured.”

It’s hard to predict Corrin’s future even though she has already surpassed every expectation in record speed, but all the signs indicate that when she graces our screens as Princess Diana, she will be a queen bee.

by Imogen Clark

First published in the autumn 2020 issue of Glass – entitled Together.

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