As prep for season two of Netflix’s The Crown started in 2016, Elizabeth Debicki went to audition for a small part on the upcoming season. Little did she know that this audition would get her cast as Princess Diana years later in seasons five and six of the series.

But due to the pandemic, her stint as the beloved late Princess of Wales (the title of which has now been handed to Catherine) was delayed from 2020 until earlier this month, when the season dropped on Netflix. However, this gave her a lot of time to really research and learn 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 become attached to play Princess Diana in this season of The Crown?

I was watching The Crown season one. And I was watching it because one of my best friends, Vanessa Kirby, plays Princess Margaret. So I’m there watching it, and then my agent says, “Would you go in and audition for this one episode, small part, for season two. So I say, “I’m not at all physically right for that part. I don’t think I work. I don’t think I want to do that.” And she said, “Of course you’ve got to just do it because these people are making this amazing TV show.” So I go in into this audition and there’s the casting director there and some producers, when I get halfway through the scenes, and it’s a bit like, “OK, thank you so much for coming,” and I go home with my tail between my legs. But as it turns out, during that audition, they saw something Diana-y in that audition, which surprised no one more than me when I got the email a few days later. And it was sort of faintly penciling it in like, “We think this might be a good fit and we’ll bring it up in four years’ time,” which in an actor’s life is like an eternity. You’re like, “Well, I’ll be old then! I want to do it now!” It was very, very loosely on the back burner in my mind. But I’d always hoped that it would come back around, but I didn’t know. And then it did and then I was asked to do it in 2020.

Did you have any trepidation taking on such a role?

It was such a natural no-brainer. The acting challenge of it alone is so great, but it’s such an excellent challenge. It’s such a true challenge. Like how do you do this? And how do you embody that? And to get close to such an incredible person and do an interpretation of them and the other layer of it is that I love the show. Everyone’s amazing in the show. I really do think the performances have been incredible the whole way through. And so as an actor, there’s a part of you that thinks, of course I want to step into that and try that and see if I can do that. And so you say yes, without thinking, and then the thinking starts once you’ve said yes, and then you really stand over your kitchen sink and you think, what have I done? And you wrestle around with with those things, and you do your prep and you go through your process.

What kind of preparation went into your portrayal, and how much time did you devote to get her mannerisms right?

Quite a bit of time to be honest. I had time because it was a really strange period of the world where suddenly, we all had time that we didn’t have before because it was COVID and a few months before, I actually started prep in London. By that, I mean actually sitting in the makeup chair and five people are watching one strand of hair be snipped off, and then everyone steps back and goes, “Hmmmm.” I had time on my own quietly and I was on the other side of the world, literally, I was in Australia and I was with my family and I kind of opened up the box, and out comes all this footage and all these pieces and all these books you can read, and in my normal life as an actor, I would have usually thought, “My God, I won’t have any time,” but suddenly, I had this time, I wasn’t doing another job at the time, and I sat down with it. And also, just on a human level, I found it all fascinating, I found the stories fascinating, I found the fact to be so much stranger than fiction, often, in this period of the ’90s of their lives. Also, the effect that Princess Diana has on people when you watch her and when you listen to her, she has that effect on me, we all have that feeling towards her. She’s so mesmerizing and watchable. I loved doing that, I loved learning, trying to learn who she is, and get as close to it as I could. So it wasn’t like a task. It was sort of like a joy. But it was a lot of work at the same time.

Diana has been portrayed on TV and in film quite a bit. Did you watch previous iterations for inspiration?

I’d seen some of them. I think one of the things that’s lovely about The Crown is that because somebody’s played your part before you, it’s a kind of lovely leveler in a way. I love it as a device too for the audience as a reminder that this is craft and it’s construction, and you can suspend disbelief. And that’s what we ask the audience to do when we turn over to a new cast. And in a way it sort of takes some of the … when I say preciousness, I mean maybe tentativeness out of it. There’s a kind of muscularity to it, it’s really like, this is this is your job, and someone’s done it before you and they pass the baton over and you take it from them and you run with it. And that’s got a lovely momentum to it. We all have our attempt and then we pass it over and then the next person has an attempt and in a way it sort of reminds me of theatre. … They’re all so different, and neither is right or wrong. And they’re all just an interpretation, and so I guess that’s probably where I put it in my brain.

What was your most challenging scene?

Lots of them were challenging for different reasons. As an actor, [I often think] about the thing that you’re yet to do. If you have to do a movie, there might be like that one scene where you think, “Oh, God, how do I do that?” And it’s often the things that are the most demanding of your heart or your soul or whatever. And I guess it was the same for this. There were certain scenes where I thought, “That’s gonna hurt, it’s so, so sad. And how am I going to be able to do that then?” And so there were a few of them. In particular, there’s a scene with Imelda in episode eight, where Diana goes to tell the Queen that she’s done the Panorama interview. And there’s this sort of turning point in that scene, which I just found devastating. … But I also love my job. When something is the most challenging, it’s also the most satisfying as an actor.

You mentioned that Diana still means so much to so many people. How did you quiet the pressure of the expectation of playing this role, and how are you dealing with the renewed interest?

Materially, it’s unlike anything I’ve done before, so it required a kind of mental discipline, in the sense of of, you have to course correct your brain a lot. Because at the beginning of it, there’s a real sense of, how do I do this? And how do you approach it? On the one hand, it’s sort of just like a role you’ve played before. Here’s the script, here are the scenes, here are 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 enormous amount of information that people are bringing to the story: Memory, lived memory, expectation, opinions, and you have to leave a space for that, for what the audience brings to it. And then on a really basic level, and I’m super honest about this, I think we all are, that it’s really daunting to play somebody that so many people feel that they know and also love. I think it came down to a point where you just sort of have to accept that that is what it is. You can’t make it go away. You can’t quiet it down. You really just have to be disciplined and just sort of stay in your story and stay in that interpretation, and trust the writing, really. 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 like a refining process, and then you calm down, but it’s a part of the thing and it’s also to do with the conversation that’s happening around the show too where it’s sort of like, 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 is what it is, you know, it’s a massive conversation, totally expected and I don’t really engage in it terribly much because I’m still doing the thing. But when I think about it, and when I have 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 sort of being an actor and playing a role as best you can. And being as honest as you can be while you’re doing.

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 degree of people wanting to be protective, but yes, they are public figures and they are historical events. And they’ve been told many times before, and I’m sure they will be told many times again, and perhaps part of that is trying to get to the heart of something and understand a period of time, understand something that’s pivotal to the way the culture and the society of an entire country has evolved and developed and who these people are that are at the center of it.

What’s one thing you’d say you learned or feel differently about Diana now, filming season six, then before you started two years ago?

I didn’t really know that much. And everything I was learning, I was really learning for the first time. I don’t think I understood the degree to which the media affected her life and the course of her life. Of course, I understood that she was this public figure, and she was unbelievably well-documented, and somebody who wasn’t left alone enough. Privacy is so fundamental to somebody’s capacity to stay centered and be happy and grow relationships and feel calm, and that was something that was denied her for her whole public life. But I don’t think I understood her journey with all of that and the way it sort of evolved and grew and became something that that really manipulated her. And of course, as we know, just sort of grew into this frenzy that was incredibly disruptive. I didn’t know the degree of it really.

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