Elizabeth Debicki and Emma Corrin on Failed ‘Crown’ Auditions, Sharing the Role of Diana and ‘Abusive’ Paparazzi: ‘We Haven’t Learned Anything’

Elizabeth Debicki and Emma Corrin
Photographs By Mary Ellen Matthews

For both Emma Corrin and Elizabeth Debicki, the road to “The Crown” began with failed auditions. Each performer was up for a guest part in the Netflix series’ early seasons; both ended up playing Princess Diana at different ages. Corrin was Emmy-nominated for portraying the newly wed and then increasingly disillusioned princess in Season 4. Debicki, previously a nominee for Season 5, which centered on Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, is eligible for a nomination this year for the show’s final season, in which Diana tragically dies in Paris. Corrin has springboarded off their “Crown” success into further risky and intriguing roles — this season playing the enigmatic and dogged sleuth Darby Hart on FX’s snowbound mystery “A Murder at the End of the World,” created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

EMMA CORRIN: We had a similar thing where you auditioned for a smaller role before.


CORRIN: For Season 1 or 2?


CORRIN: Mad. And then they called you back. What was the role you went in for?

DEBICKI: I’ve never told anyone what the role is because the person who did it was so brilliant.

CORRIN: Was it a big role?

DEBICKI: You know how in “The Crown,” there are cameos that pop up and the whole episode becomes about that person that might only appear for one or two?

CORRIN: Mm-hmm.

DEBICKI: So, in that sense, it was a big role. But I was almost completely physically wrong for it.

CORRIN: Love an audition like that.

DEBICKI: Love that. You feel very prepared. Here’s my takeaway from the fact that we both have this story: Maybe we’re better at acting when we’re not trying. I went to do this audition because Season 1 had just aired and it was huge. Do you remember?

CORRIN: I remember where I was when I first watched it. I was in my second year of uni in my tiny single bed in an attic somewhere. Cross-legged on my bed.

DEBICKI: With your little dinner on your lap?

CORRIN: My little pot noodles. Being like, “Whoa, this is cool!” I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Peter Morgan smashed it.

DEBICKI: It was so lush. To be frank, the amount of money that was on the screen was extraordinary. It was sort of at the dawn of television becoming this Golden Age — especially Netflix. I don’t know when “House of Cards” came out — my 20s are a blur. But I went in for the Season 2 part, and I got an email a few days later from my agent saying, “Not that part, but we are thinking …”

CORRIN: And they explicitly said it? That’s wild.

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

DEBICKI: I guess they must have felt something Diana in it, which is hilarious because I wasn’t playing an English person even. The funny thing is, for five or six years, I continued to watch “The Crown” religiously, and I would think, “I wonder if that’s ever going to come around.” And when you were cast, I thought, “Well, it was a nice dream.”

CORRIN: Oh no.

DEBICKI: And I thought, “Well, you’re perfect. Who is this creature?” I sort of gave up the thing when you appeared.

CORRIN: I went in for a chambermaid — a real “Tree No. 2” kind of role. The queen’s chambermaid — is that what it’s called?

DEBICKI: Lady-in-waiting.

CORRIN: That one. I went in for that and never heard anything.

DEBICKI: What was the line?

CORRIN: Something like, “Yes, ma’am.” Curtsy.

DEBICKI: I can’t imagine you just went in for Tree No. 2.

CORRIN: No, genuinely. And then I got asked to read with the Camillas.

DEBICKI: Once you had the part, how much time did you have to prepare?

CORRIN: I want to say six months. And I read that you did a similar thing, which is to ask for all the research. You’ve got all the binders. I loved it.

DEBICKI: It just landed in this big box outside my flat. The one thing that struck me about “The Crown” was the machinery to help you prepare was so extensive and available. Should you wish to click on any of these boxes, these things were just there for you. That, for me, was — after doing many other jobs — something I’d never seen before.

CORRIN: Did you feel overwhelmed by it?

DEBICKI: It was a double-edged sword. Because I love to just dive straight in. If I do something that’s historic, I’ll find any reason to do immense amounts of research. But this was particularly overwhelming.

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

CORRIN: With her, it’s bottomless. At some point, I was like, “I’ve got to stop, because there’s too much.”

DEBICKI: I’m curious about at what point you decided to throw it out. For me, I was trying to carry around so much information. And it was important, because at one point during, I’m sure, a mild nervous-panic-attack-breakdown thing, I decided that what would stick would stick, and it would have to do. Because there was no way of accumulating everything I felt I needed to. And I was doing more than I’d ever done because I felt that I owed —

CORRIN: You want to do it justice.

DEBICKI: Any other job I’ve ever done, even if it was based on a real person, I felt I could be the authority on the character from the beginning.

CORRIN: Whereas with her, there are so many authorities.

DEBICKI: And let’s feel sorry for me for a second, because I watched you do it, and that was so beautiful. It was like crystal: so measured and moving. I remember watching that and thinking, “What do you do? Before you get to do it, some brilliant human is going to do it before you.”

CORRIN: I didn’t watch Season 5 as it came out. I’m going to confess that, because it was emotionally a lot. But I watched as 6 came out — and I found it heartbreaking and incredibly empowering to see her in her happiness. That freedom and that sense of herself that I had spent a lot of Season 4 not being able to present, knowing it was there. What was your process working on the voice?

DEBICKI: Of all the things that really gave me anxiety, it was the voice.

CORRIN: More than the mannerisms?

DEBICKI: Much, much more. What you as the actor playing that character owe the audience is a very specific sonic imprint. I felt a huge responsibility to get as close to it as I could. I’ve lived in London a long time, so my Australian accent is kind of transmorphed anyway. But of all the accents I’ve ever learned to do …

CORRIN: … it’s the hardest.

DEBICKI: For Diana, it felt like a music. And that music and that rhythm was so far from how I sense myself as a person. So I worked extremely hard. People ask, “Was there a little hook? Was there any footage you watched?”

CORRIN: The most quintessential bit, for me, was the post-engagement interview. The mannerisms that she had, they appear in the moment where she’s under such intense emotional stress. They almost become tics.

In scenes where Diana’s being chased by paparazzi, I’ve had that a little bit. It’s so invasive, and I’ve experienced it personally, and it’s the worst thing in the world. How did you manage with those scenes?

DEBICKI: I treated them like stunts. So I carved the physical path out so I knew what my body had to do. And then would let myself respond. For me, it’s very physical. You don’t have to act very much.

CORRIN: Your body does it for you.

DEBICKI: It was an extraordinarily horrendous, appalling, abusive thing that happened to this human being. And I think the fact that that culture of chasing people still exists, and there are no laws against it that protect you, is astonishing to me. We have not learned anything from it.

CORRIN: A lot of what I had to deal with in Season 4 was not playing the end, pretending I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was hard not to. In your scene, just before the accident, Diana and Dodi have the most honest conversation that I’d witnessed her having in the series so far. [And] I remember really forgetting. That’s a testament to how well you did that. It was this breakthrough that they had that led to such a feeling of hope. What happened afterwards destroyed me.

DEBICKI: Unlike the show you’ve just done, where we learn as the character learns, this is different; it’s this huge whole life that the audience brings to every moment.

CORRIN: Talking about ends is interesting, because on “A Murder at the End of the World,” in the first episode, my character loses this person, Bill, who she hasn’t seen for about six or seven years, but who she was incredibly in love with; they were each other’s first big loves. And I remember shooting one of the flashback scenes in Utah where she first meets him. Zal, the director, said to me, “Just a quick note, but could you possibly sort of infuse this with a sense that when Darby sees Bill for the first time, she falls in love with him, but at the same time knows that she will lose him in a very fundamental way?”

DEBICKI: Hell of a note. Unlike Diana, which comes with this sort of enormous amount of information and preconceived ideas, this must have felt like a freefall, but also kind of wonderful at the same time.

CORRIN: I thought I had a process — because research gives you a process. And I wish I did, because it comes with a lot of security. It unnerves me that I don’t. But then I think I adapt, I pivot, with each role. You can let each project bring something to you, instead of you bringing a rigid thing to each one.

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

DEBICKI: When I watch your character, what’s really satisfying is there’s a fearlessness, but there’s a real vulnerability. And I find it so satisfying to watch intelligence — that’s a really difficult thing to play well.

CORRIN: There’s a lot of interiority to intelligence — playing someone’s mind. The fearlessness thing is an interesting one. Very early on, Brit and Zal said to me, “We’ve written a female detective who is going to go against the stereotypes we’ve seen before” — which is someone having to access their vulnerability in order to solve a crime, not shut those parts of themselves off. It’s a softer version. She realizes how to access her own emotion, and that the only way she will be able to solve the crime is through that.

DEBICKI: You’re in every scene.

CORRIN: I don’t regret it for an instant. I wouldn’t change it. But it was a lesson learned in hubris. When I read the script, I remember thinking, “This is great. This character is in every single frame.” And then six months into the shoot, where I had to be there physically and well enough to do my best, it was a lot. There were moments where your body, it catches up with you. My wisdom teeth started coming through — super helpful. My jaw was swollen, and I was in so much pain. But they were like, “Our hands are tied. If we can’t shoot with you, we miss a day of filming.”

DEBICKI: And you were like [muffled] “Mm-hmm.”

CORRIN: They got this doctor who turned up with this dodgy briefcase, and he was like, “I’m going to give you a steroid for the pain. Just turn around.” He shot me in the bum. It was great. I was high as a kite. And the scene where me and Alice Braga are on a snowmobile, we were reshooting it against a green screen. And I was convinced I was being attacked by bees. Utterly convinced.

DEBICKI: Poor thing.

CORRIN: It was mostly a fantastic experience. You learn a lot from being on set every day about boundaries. How are your boundaries?

DEBICKI: They are porous. At times, they are far too porous.

CORRIN: It’s hard to say no in this industry.

DEBICKI: That’s right. But “no” is what makes you. And makes your career.

Production Design: Keith Raywood

From Variety US