On season three of The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II’s two oldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, take center stage as they transition from teenagers to young adults with growing responsibilities within the family. Josh O’Connor and Erin Doherty take over the respective roles of the young royals as the Netflix drama jumps ahead in time to cover the events that happened between 1964 and 1977. The two actors are part of the new ensemble -- with Olivia Colman as the head of the monarchy -- taking over for seasons three and four as the royal family struggles to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing Britain.
More specifically, Prince Charles and Princess Anne come into focus around midseason, “challenging the world where they are being told how to behave,” creator Peter Morgan says. “They have to try and navigate their responsibilities and predicaments within a very traditional adult universe.” For Charles, that’s being tasked with learning the Welsh language and culture ahead of his investiture as the Prince of Wales in 1969, his adoration for the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VII (Derek Jacobi), and navigating a complicated romance with Camilla Stand (Emerald Fennell) that the family does not approve of. Meanwhile, Anne is finding her own footing as a young woman of the 1960s and learning just how far she can push the limits on the restrictions to her personal life.
When it came to taking on these real-life characters, O’Connor admits to ET that it was a “strange feeling” at first because “ultimately, we’re not mimics. We’re actors,” he says. But the trick was to be able to “let go of that and create something new and feel like it’s your own,” he continues, while Doherty adds that she never really let herself process that she was playing an actual person. “I had to just kind of forget that she was real in a way,” she says.
While having to disengage with the idea that they’re playing real people, the stars admit that it was important to get it right and “doing justice to the people she is playing,” O’Connor says. While Doherty says she watched “loads and loads” of videos of Anne to study her mannerisms, her co-star was faced with a more difficult issue: his ears.
“We were shooting a scene in Wales and [this Welsh guy] came over, and he said, ‘Have you seen the film Gandhi?’” the actor recalls. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I've seen it.’ He went, ‘Did you know Ben Kingsley -- they put tape behind his ears.’ I was like, ‘That's really fascinating.’ Then he went, ‘What did they do with yours?’ I had to kindly tell him that they were my real ears.” O’Connor was so horrified to learn that the man thought he was wearing fake ears to mimic the royal. “They’re not as big as Prince Charles’,” he says.
Because the show pays so much attention to detail, the actors say there was no shortage of phenomenal writing, exquisite designs, stunning costumes or amazing sets, making it that much easier to get into character. “Half the work has been done for you,” Doherty says, revealing that they recreated Buckingham Palace on the studio lot where they filmed. “That’s just a sign of how well everyone’s doing their jobs on this show. Everyone is at the top of their game, doing the most incredible work.”
“We shoot in some of the most extraordinary houses in England,” O’Connor adds. “We go to all these beautiful properties and I always go in and think, like, ‘People live in these.’ I'm always surprised to think that some family functions in this house. 'Cause it looks like a museum.”
While Colman leads an A-list cast that also includes Tobias Menzies as Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Helena Bonham Carter as her younger sister, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, the younger two stars are still making a name for themselves in Hollywood. O’Connor is a rising star enjoying breakout success thanks to back-to-back roles on TV’s The Durrells and BBC’s recent Les Miserables miniseries and in God’s Own Country, which earned him the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor. Doherty is a relative newcomer, having previously appeared with O’Connor in Les Miserables and an episode of Call the Midwife.
Despite that, Morgan says the new cast members “are all so bloody good.” Both O’Connor and Doherty hold their own opposite Bonham Carter, Colman and Menzies, while crediting their contemporaries for being “just warm and gorgeous human beings,” Doherty says. “So, if anything, I'm just grateful to have been able to get to know them and to learn from them because they're just incredible at what they do but just so grounded at the same time… It's been really inspirational to just see them smashing it.”
“We're incredibly lucky on The Crown because everyone's on their A-game and because everyone really cares deeply about what we're making. There's no kind of hierarchy,” O’Connor says, commending them for “nurturing that feeling… You feel like a company, like an ensemble, which is really rare.”
Now that both actors have gone inside the minds of the family in order to bring their royal counterparts to life onscreen, they admit it’s changed their perspective of them. “I basically didn't have an opinion of them before this show ‘cause they were just kind of there,” Doherty admits, adding that “you’d watch the queen's speech at Christmas and you watch their weddings and you're like, ‘Oh, that's really cool.’ But then you went away and you carried on with your life. Like, they're just kind of behind the glass. That's how I kind of used to think about them… But since doing the show, I have a huge amount of compassion and empathy for their situation because it's just so stressful.”