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Elizabeth Debicki On Waiting Six Years To Play Princess Diana In ‘The Crown’

In preparation for season two of Netflix The crown started in 2016, Elizabeth Debicki went on to audition for a small portion of the upcoming season. Little did she know that years later in seasons five and six of the series, this audition would land her cast as Princess Diana.

But due to the pandemic, her stint as the beloved late Princess of Wales (whose title has now passed to Catherine) was postponed from 2020 until earlier this month, when the season dropped on Netflix. However, this gave her a lot of time to do some real research and learn more about the icon.

Debicki stars opposite Dominic West (who plays Charles), Imelda Staunton (who plays the Queen), and Jonathan Pryce (who plays Prince Philip). Production on season six is ​​already underway.

Read The Hollywood Reporter‘s Q&A with Debicki below.

How did you get attached to playing Princess Diana in this season of The crown?

i was watching The crown season one. And I watched it because one of my best friends, Vanessa Kirby, plays Princess Margaret. So I watch it, and then my agent says, ‘Would you like to audition for this one episode, a small part, for season two. So I say, ‘I’m not physically fit for that role at all. I don’t think I work. I don’t think I want to do that.” And she said, “Of course you should just do it, because these people are making this great TV show.” So I go into this audition and there’s the casting director and a few producers, when I’m halfway through the scenes it’s kind of like, “Okay, thank you so much for coming,” and I go home with my tail in between . my legs. But it turns out they saw something Diana-esque in that audition, which surprised no one more than me when I got the email a few days later. And it wrote it more or less vaguely as, “We think this could be a good fit and we’ll bring it up in four years,” which in an actor’s life is like an eternity. You’re like, ‘Well, then I’m old! I want to do it now!” It was very, very loosely on the back burner in my mind. But I had always hoped it would come back, but I didn’t know. And then it happened and then I was asked to do it in 2020.

Did you have any trepidation about taking on such a role?

It was such a natural no-brainer. The acting challenge alone is so great, but it’s such an excellent challenge. It’s such a real challenge. Like how do you do this? And how do you interpret that? And to get close to such an incredible person and give an interpretation of them and the other layer of it is that I love the show. Everyone is great on the show. I honestly think the performances have been incredible all along. And so as an actor, there’s a part of you that thinks, of course I want to get in there and try that and see if I can do that. And so you say yes, without thinking, and then the thinking kicks in as soon as you say yes, and then you actually stand over your counter and think, what have I done? And you struggle with those things, and you do your preparation and you go through your process.

What kind of preparation went into your portrayal and how much time did you spend getting her mannerisms right?

Quite a bit of time to be honest. I had time because it was a very strange period of the world where all of a sudden we all had time that we didn’t have before because it was COVID and a few months before that I actually started preparations in London. By that I mean basically sitting in the makeup chair and five people watching a lock of hair being cut, and then everyone steps back and says, “Hmmmm.” I had quiet time to myself and I was on the other side of the world, literally, I was in Australia and I was with my family and I opened the box, and all this footage and all these pieces and all these books that you can reading, and in my normal life as an actor I would usually have thought, “My God, I don’t have time,” but suddenly I had this time, I wasn’t doing any other work at the time, and I settled with it. And also, just on a human level, I found it all fascinating, I found the stories fascinating, I often found the fact so much stranger than fiction, in this 90s period of their lives. Also the effect Princess Diana has on people when you look at her and when you listen to her, she has that effect too me, we all have that feeling for her. She is so fascinating and watchable. I loved doing that, I loved learning, trying to learn who she is, and getting as close to it as possible. So it wasn’t like a job. It was a kind of joy. But it was a lot of work at once.

Diana has been portrayed on TV and in movies quite a bit. Have you looked at previous iterations for inspiration?

I had seen a few. I think that’s one of the things that is so beautiful The crown is that because someone played your part for you, it’s sort of a nice equalizer in a way. I also love it as a device for the public as a reminder that this is craft and its construction, and you can suspend disbelief. And that’s what we ask the audience to do when we transition to a new cast. And in a sense, it takes a little bit of the — when I say preciousness, maybe I mean prudence. There’s a kind of muscularity to it, it’s really like, this is your job, and someone did it for you and they pass the baton and you take it from them and you run with it. And that has a nice dynamic. We all have our try and then we pass it on and then the next person has a try and in a way it reminds me of theatre. … They are all so different, and neither is right or wrong. And they’re all just an interpretation, and so I think I probably put it there in my head.

What was your most challenging scene?

Many of them were challenging for various reasons. As an actor, [I often think] about the thing you still have to do. If you have to make a movie, there might be that one scene where you think, “Oh, God, how do I do that?” And it’s often the things that demand the most from your heart or your soul or whatever. And I think it was the same before. There were certain scenes where I thought, ‘That’s going to hurt, it’s so, so sad. And how am I going to be able to do that?” And so there were a few. In particular, there’s a scene with Imelda in episode eight where Diana goes to tell the Queen that she’s the Panorama interview. And there’s a kind of turning point in that scene, which I just found devastating. … But I also love my job. When something is the most challenging, it is also the most rewarding as an actor.

You said that Diana still means so much to so many people. How have you eased the pressure of the expectation of playing this role and how are you coping with the newfound interest?

Materially, it’s unlike anything I’ve done before, so it required some kind of mental discipline, in the sense of, of course, you have to correct your brain a lot. Because at the beginning there’s really a sense of, How do I do this? And how do you handle it? On the one hand, it’s like a role you’ve played before. Here’s the script, here’s the scenes, here’s your lines, this is your character’s name, this is what you do as an actor, you interpret that. But then, of course, there’s this huge amount of information that people add to the story: memory, lived memory, expectation, opinions, and you have to leave room for that, for what the audience adds to it. And then on a really basic level, and I’m being super honest about this, I think we all are, that it’s really daunting to play someone that so many people think they know and also love. I think it came down to just accepting that it is. You can’t make it go away. You can’t quiet it. You really just have to be disciplined and just stay in your story and stay in that interpretation, and really trust the writing. In a way there’s so much noise and there’s so much research you can do but you come back to the script, and then it’s sort of a refinement process, and then you calm down, but it’s part of the thing and it’s also to do with the conversation that’s happening around the show as well, where it seems kind of, of course it’s there. Of course people have opinions and of course they have memories and of course they have thoughts and feelings. And of course it’s polarizing. And that’s it, you know, it’s a huge conversation, totally expected and I’m not really doing much about it because I’m still doing it. But when I think about it, and when I’ve read little bits of it, you understand the scope of it and you understand the different opinions about it, but of course at the end of the day it comes down to just being an actor of sorts and playing a part to the best of your ability. And be as honest as possible while you’re at it.

I feel like some people think the royals should be off limits for entertainment.

Right. And I mean, you can understand why there’s a certain amount of people who want to be protective, but yeah, they’re public figures and they’re historical events. And they’ve been told many times before and I’m sure they’ll be told many times and maybe part of that is trying to get to the heart of something and understand a time period, understand something that’s critical to the how the culture and society of an entire country has evolved and developed and who these people are at the center of it.

What would you say you learned or feel differently about Diana now, filming season six, than you did before you started two years ago?

I actually didn’t know that much. And everything I learned, I really learned for the first time. I don’t think I understood the extent to which the media influenced her life and the course of her life. Of course I understood that she was a public figure, and she was incredibly well documented, and someone who wasn’t left alone enough. Privacy is so fundamental to one’s ability to stay centered and be happy and build relationships and feel calm, and she was denied that throughout her entire public life. But I don’t think I understood her journey with all that and the way it evolved and grew and became something that really manipulated her. And of course, as we know, it just grew into this frenzy that was incredibly disruptive. I didn’t really know the extent of it.

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