'The Crown' Star Josh O'Connor on Playing Prince Charles and 'Passing the Baton' After Season 4 (Exclusive)

Josh O'Connor in The Crown. Netflix

The actor opens up to ET about the acclaimed Netflix drama, the response to his portrayal of Charles and who should play him next.

One of the notable things about the Netflix historical drama The Crown is the breakthrough performances it has produced by growing English stars, including Claire Foy, who first portrayed Queen Elizabeth II, and Vanessa Kirby, who portrayed her sister Princess Margaret, both of whom have gone onto international acclaim after leaving the series. Season 3 was no different for rising actor Josh O’Connor, who was on the receiving end of critical praise for his portrayal of a Prince Charles coming into his own as a young man within the confines of royal life and the pressures of being part of the British monarchy. 

His Crown debut coincided with the BBC release of Les Misérables and was followed by the celebrated 2020 remake of Emma, with the actor playing Mr. Elton, and is expected to be named among the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards. “Any kind of acknowledgement feels like a real boost to yourself and the hard work you put in and that hard work that everyone involved in the show puts in,” O’Connor tells ET’s Nischelle Turner about what it would mean to be recognized, adding that any nominations for season 3 of the series “would mean the world to all of us, I think, for sure.”

He adds, “You just never know and fortunately we’ve had lots of kind of great responses and that’s, you know, that’s really good.”

On his debut season -- the actor is set to reprise his role as Charles on season 4 before departing per tradition of the series -- O’Connor tried to separate reality from drama and focus on what was written on the page. “Part of the process was letting go of all the stuff that I thought I’d learned before -- all the kind of facts that were either real or not real,” he says, adding that “we go behind closed doors and we look at the things that we don’t know about, that we can only imagine. And that’s what makes it a drama.” 

And the person he was pretending to be, O’Connor says, was “a young boy who shares his mother with an entire nation and is waiting for his mother to die in order for his life to take meaning.” 

In addition to his relationship with his mother, the series also sees Charles falling in love with Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell) before his family puts an end to their romance and sets him on a path to meet a young Diana Spencer (set to be played by Emma Corrin in season 4). “He’s falling in love and then not being able to have that love,” all of which the actor describes as the royal version of Shakespeare or a Greek tragedy. 

What comes next will be even more tragic for Charles, whose relationship with Diana was followed by fans all over the world, with every detail making headlines in the press during their 15-year marriage. Like previous seasons, season 4 covers a significant amount of time, but it’s unclear where it will end. 

“You have to wait and see,” O’Connor says of watching to see how The Crown’s version of the marriage plays out onscreen in the upcoming season, which ET confirmed was completed just before the coronavirus outbreak forced TV productions around the world to shut down. While a formal release date hasn’t been announced, O’Connor says, “I don’t think you will have to wait an entire year. I don’t know when, but I hope you will be able to see it very shortly.”    

Netflix / Getty Images

Season 4 also marks O’Connor’s last turn on the series, since The Crown recasts all the major characters every two seasons as it jumps forward in time. For the actor, it’s an honor to step in, give it his all and then move on. “Being able to play a character for a period and then pass on the baton feels so lovely,” he says. 

When it comes to season 5, which has already announced that Imelda Staunton will be taking over for Olivia Colman as the queen and Lesley Manville will follow Helena Bonham Carter as Margaret, who is playing Charles is still to be determined.   

O’Connor, who admits he knows nothing about the next two seasons, jokes that Brad Pitt should take over. “But whoever it is will be very fortunate because it’s a gift of a part. He’s such a troubled and complicated character,” he says.