With The Crown Season 4 now streaming on Netflix, I recently spoke with Josh O’Connor about playing Prince Charles. During the interview, O’Connor talked about how The Crown creator Peter Morgan manages to make such an incredible series, what it’s like behind-the-scenes, what fans might be surprised to learn, how his opinion of Charles as a royal and a public figure has changed, what it was like filming the fight scenes with Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, and so much more.
The Crown Season 4 sees the 1970s drawing to a close, with Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) and her family finding themselves preoccupied with safeguarding the line of succession by securing an appropriate bride for Prince Charles (O’Connor), who is still unmarried at 30. As the nation begins to feel the impact of divisive policies introduced by Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), tensions arise between her and the Queen which only grow worse as Thatcher leads the country into the Falklands War, generating conflict within the Commonwealth. While Charles’ romance with a young Lady Diana Spencer (Corrin) provides a much-needed fairytale to unite the British people, behind closed doors, the Royal family is becoming increasingly divided.
The Crown‘s fourth season also stars Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Tobias Menzies as The Duke of Edinburgh, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles, Marion Bailey as the Queen Mother, Georgie Glen as Lady Fermoy, Tom Byrne as Prince Andrew, Angue Imrie as Prince Edward, and Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten.
Check out what Josh O’Connor had to say below.
COLLIDER: I’m going to start with, I think, the most important question; were you more nervous stepping on the set as a young actor on Doctor Who or meeting Peter Morgan for the first time?
JOSH O’CONNOR: Actually, I know you’d probably think it would be The Crown, but no, it was Doctor Who was because Doctor Who was one of my first ever jobs. I think I’d done one job before that, which was just one line, and this was a bit more than that, not very much more. I remember being petrified. A little fun fact for you: in the same episode that I was in and Doctor Who was Tobias Menzies, Prince Philip no less, although we never met on that job. We found the out recently. It was quite a fun little story.
That’s actually very funny. I had no idea.
O’CONNOR: Yeah, isn’t that great?
I would imagine actually as a young actor and also Doctor Who in the UK is massive. It’s massive around the world, but especially in the UK.
O’CONNOR: Yes. Very much so, yeah. That was maybe eight years ago now, I’ve been working for a good nine years now, and I still, to this day, receive more fan mail about Doctor Who than I do for any other job. I was literally in it for one minute, so there you go.
I am a massive fan of what Peter Morgan has done in his career and especially on The Crown. Can you talk a little bit about meeting with him for the first time?
O’CONNOR: Yeah, sure. Well yeah, like you, I was a great admirer of his pre The Crown, and then The Crown was obviously such an incredible series. I think when I first met him, I went over to his house actually for one of his script sessions. I’d read some of the scenes from episode six of season three and it was terrific. He was open. He’s got such a handle on the story. He’s an incredible person actually and such a talent and continues to write these amazing stories. It’s a real honor to have been involved in The Crown, in big part, because of him.
I think a lot of people don’t realize how difficult it is to make a television series and to make a television series that is exceptional year in and year out. Season four is just as awesome as season one. How the F does he do this?
O’CONNOR: I don’t know. He’s an amazing talent really. I don’t know how he does it. Look, he has such to grasp on story and character and he understands family. I think when it comes down to it, the greatest story of The Crown is to do with family and to do with the balance of power and empathy. He’s got some sort of superhuman access to those words. Every time a script came and lands on my desk, I was always in awe of what he created. Yeah, he’s a real special man.
What do you think might surprise fans of the series to learn about the behind the scenes making of The Crown?
O’CONNOR: Well, I’m still always surprised by the level of research. I don’t know if anyone else would be surprised by it. When I first signed up to the show, I was sent an email with about five people CC’d in, and I was just told, “If you have any questions about anything to do with Charles, this is your team.” It was my Prince Charles team. Literally any question I had, I would email them. It might be a very simple question like, “What kind of side salad does he have,” and then you’d get back information on the salads that Prince Charles ordered and that sort of thing. That kind of level of detail is extraordinary. Yeah, I suppose, if there was one piece, I think that would be it for me.
What was your understanding of Charles as a royal and a public figure before signing on to do The Crown?
O’CONNOR: Well, not very interesting because I suppose I was just disinterested. I wasn’t engaged in it in any way. I hadn’t thought too much about Charles apart from in the periphery, he was ever present as the entire royal family are, but I never really thought too deeply about him. Now, of course, I think about him regularly and I think he’s an incredible man and has done lots of brilliant things, but certainly at the time, yeah, I was maybe just not aware so much.
How has playing him for two seasons changed your view of him and maybe of the royal family?
O’CONNOR: I think it’s changed it greatly. It is a funny one because ultimately we are working with invention. They’re inventing these characters and they are fictionalized versions of history. In some ways, I don’t feel any differently except that I think inevitably when you play someone, your job as an actor, we work in empathy and we have to feel that empathy for those characters.
I suppose, yeah, I’ve got a lot more time for him. I understand his difficulties. I think he’s done an incredible job talking about the environment for so long. We used to laugh at him with regards to the environment. Now, we realized that he was right all along. I think they’re an incredible bunch of individuals, but I still remain skeptical about the royal family as a structure and that hasn’t changed as such. Yeah, I’ve a huge respect for him as a person.
I have to ask you about filming the fight scenes with Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, because you’re putting on screen stuff that we’ve really never seen, like the angry side of Charles. What was it like filming those fight scenes with her?
O’CONNOR: Not very nice, only because Emma is such a great friend, and so I always felt awful afterwards. No, you’re right. We haven’t seen them, but I imagine that they would have had shouting matches that they might not have done. I think that particularly the one in episode 10 where I’m screaming, “I refuse any longer to be blamed for this grotesque misalliance,” that, to me was pure Peter Morgan joy. What a line that is. Yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed them and I enjoyed them because I got to play across from Emma, who’s a terrific actor and use Peter Morgan’s lines, which are of course, often beautifully articulate and real and believable. Yeah, I loved that.
How is it in terms of the blocking and staging of those scenes? How long does it take to film a scene like that?
O’CONNOR: Well, it depends. I cited that scene as a really important scene and it didn’t take too many takes, that one, to be honest, partly because there was only so much my voice could take doing that scene too many times. It can really depend on so many things. Some days you just get it right, and some days you need to dig a bit deeper and find different ways of doing it and experiment a bit and find things you maybe weren’t expecting. Yeah, definitely it varies, I think.
Through the season on Season 4, looking back, which do you think was the stuff that you were most excited to do? Was there anything that really made you nervous to film?
O’CONNOR: I think that one of the scenes I was most excited about filming actually was a scene with Tobias in episode one where Charles comes in and finds Prince Philip drunk and they have this horrible scene really, but that was a pleasure to film and I was so looking forward to it because Tobias is a great friend and I’m a great admirer of him as an actor. I just loved working with him.
In terms of nerve wracking, I will never forget, I know it’s not Season 4, but I was in season three, standing up in front of everyone and speaking Welsh was a terrifying prospect. I will never forget the fear that I had just before that. No, other than that, it’s been a total joy and I’ve really enjoyed every minute.
Actually, you did great in that scene when you were speaking. I completely spaced on that, but man, you’re right. That must have been really, really nerve wracking.
O’CONNOR: It really was, yeah.
One of the things about a lot of American TV is that scripts, and even movies, scripts can change often where actors are getting pink and purple and green pages constantly and tweaking dialogue and what might be filmed. How is it on The Crown in terms of when you get a script and what you’re actually putting on screen?
O’CONNOR: Well, Peter writes way in advance so you get the scripts quite early on. They do change and that’s inevitable as you say. It’s very hard to not change as you go through. They do change, but in my experience, not as much as most things. By the time you get the script, Peter has pretty much explored every option and he knows those scripts back to front. Sometimes there might be the odd day where people turn up to set and he’ll hear it and there’s something about the actors performing it and he’ll to think, “Do you know what? Let’s change this or let’s change that,” because something about the music of it isn’t quite right in his head.
He’s a lyrical writer, but he’s also a musical writer. I think there’s something in the rhythm of some of those scenes, much in the same way that Shakespeare writes in those kind of rhythmic ways. Sometimes he will shift something, and it just flips the scene its head. Yeah, in terms of the changes I would say not as much as most shows, actually.
I have to ask you, have you heard of Charles or if any of the royal family actually watches the series?
O’CONNOR: I have heard mixed things. Some people have said to me, “Of course they watch it,” and some people say, “I’ve heard they have watched it,” and then some people have said, “Absolutely not. I don’t think they’d ever watch it.” My opinion is I can’t imagine they’d want to watch it, but who knows? I know if there was ever a series made about me, the last thing I’d ever do is watch it. If Charles anything like me, I can’t imagine he has, but who knows?
For whoever takes over the role of Charles, is there any advice that you would share?
O’CONNOR: I think in some ways there is no advice. It’s just as in the theater, if you play a Richard the Second or Hamlet or whoever it is, there are hundreds of actors before you who played him and there are hundreds of actors after who will play him. That’s what I love about The Crown is that I very much think that it’s about whoever takes over, taking control of that and doing it their way. Yeah, I look forward to whoever takes it on and I wish them the best of luck.
Speaking of the theater, you’ve done the theater many times. Do you still get super nervous before you’re going to step on stage or have you reached the point now where it’s become comfortable?
O’CONNOR: Ooh, good question. I haven’t stepped on stage for a little while now. I was supposed to be doing a play right now, but unfortunately, because of COVID, it’s not happening, although we’re starting tomorrow. It’s Romeo and Juliet at the National Theater but we’re doing it as a film version now. I don’t think so. The stage is just in some ways in the same way as television or film, if you know the words and if you understand the character, if you’ve done the work, it’s just a different venue, essentially. I love it. I love the theater, that was my first love, so I’ll never stop loving the theater, I don’t think. I can’t wait to be able to come back and see theater and stand on stages again. I really miss that.
Well, it’s funny is you brought up Romeo and Juliet and believe me, I was getting there. I’m a big fan of Jessie Buckley and you’re doing it with her. I find it fascinating because you were going to do this as a stage production, and now you’re going to use the Littleton theater as a film studio. How exactly is this going to work?
O’CONNOR: I’m not sure is the short answer. We don’t know. I’m glad you’re a fan of Jessie’s because I am too. She’s one of my great friends and we’ve been friends for many years and have been trying to do something together for a very long time. Romeo and Juliet came up about just over a year ago. They approached us about it together and we jumped at the chance and thought, “This is probably our last chance to play Romeo and Juliet, otherwise we’re getting a bit old.”
Yeah, I think we, we were devastated that we’re not going to be able to as a live production, although whether we do it later down the line…but for now, we start tomorrow. If I knew anything more, I would tell you, but the joy of this is I think we’re going in and we’re going to make it whatever it is. We’re going to discover it together. It might well turn out to be something like the kind of Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street, or it could be more of an NT live version or it could be a more of a filming version. We’re not entirely sure and that’s the joy is that we’re going in and we’re going to work out together, I think.
I would suggest watching if you can, the live version of what they just did recently with Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing, which they filmed.
O’CONNOR: I have. I’ve seen it and I loved it. It was terrific. I’m a huge West Wing fan, so I love that so much.
That’s because Aaron Sorkin and Peter Morgan are cut from the same cloth.
O’CONNOR: You’re absolutely right. I think you’re right.
Listen, I’m just going to say congrats on The Crown, Season 4, and your work on the series. It’s exceptionally well-made and your work has been great. Great talking with you.
O’CONNOR: Thanks so much. Take care now.
The Crown Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.