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The Crown season four: Emma Corrin and Josh O’Connor on playing Diana and Charles

A story about a fairytale romance and the betrayals that followed. A story about fame and duty; tenderness and bitterness. A story about a princess the world loved and the villain who broke her heart.The story of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has been splashed across the front pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines…

A story about a fairytale romance and the betrayals that followed. A story about fame and duty; tenderness and bitterness. A story about a princess the world loved and the villain who broke her heart.

The story of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has been splashed across the front pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines since their courtship, and it didn’t end with her death in 1997.

In the 23 years since that night in Paris, the cult around Diana has clung on and grown – everyone still has an opinion on what went on behind the closed doors of Kensington Palace.

That was the challenge facing Emma Corrin and Josh O’Connor, the young actors portraying Diana and Charles in season four of Netflix’s royal drama, The Crown, which starts on Sunday night.

How do you play two real-life icons the world has already judged?

“It was quite overwhelming and daunting to begin with,” Corrin told news.com.au. “But when I got the scripts in front of me and I realised this is [writer] Peter Morgan’s version of events, a fictional version, a character, it was a massive relief.”

The fourth season premieres this weekend with a focus on the young lovers’ dramatic marriage. But if you think you’re going to get a clear-cut narrative about the saint and the scoundrel, think again.

“When we started filming, Josh and I became increasingly aware that their relationship wasn’t black and white,” Corrin said. “It didn’t just fail. Charles wasn’t just the bad guy. It was nuanced.

“We really wanted to bring out the nuance in their experience – the human experience behind these figureheads, these icons we think we know.”

O’Connor had also played Charles in the previous season, as a young man coming into adulthood, trying to find his place in a family as rigid as the Windsors.

A standout in season three, O’Connor humanised Charles in a way that led audiences to wonder if their impression of the heir apparent these past decades was wrong. He also laid the foundation for the tragedy of Charles and Camilla’s thwarted romance.

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“I was surprised by people’s surprise at season three, about Charles being sympathetic,” O’Connor said. “I think people assume that he was some bad boy villain from the off, and obviously he’s a boy that’s lost.

“He has major issues, one being that he has to wait for his mother to die for his life to take meaning. He lives in a permanent state of purgatory. He’s not allowed to marry the woman he loves. So, with all those things, hopefully, people understand [him].”

But even O’Connor’s sense of Charles before he took on the role was more in line with the Prince of Wales’ public image, especially of his complicity in the marriage breakdown.

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“I suppose I always thought, like a lot of people, Charles was maybe the more guilty of the two because maybe he’d given up on the marriage first,” O’Connor said. “But ultimately we don’t know. Who knows what anyone’s marriage is like?

“Playing it out with Emma, looking at Peter’s writing, I think it was immediately apparent that if we’re going to tell this story in any authentic way, it has to be two-sided.”

And it is two-sided, because every story is two-sided, especially something as contentious as a relationship breakdown in one of the most high-pressured and intrusive environments.

As much as Diana and Charles’ lives were tabloid fodder, millions of people around the world were genuinely invested in their fates, as evidenced by the outpouring of collective grief at her death.

Knowing how the story ends, Corrin said she and O’Connor were cognisant about not playing into the tragedy of it. People loved Diana not because she was tragic, but because she was an empathetic royal who they thought they could relate to.

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“Last summer, when we visited my grandma in her care home village and this woman, who I didn’t really know, who’s one of my grandma’s friends said to me, ‘Just play her happy, Em, promise me she’ll be happy,’” Corrin said.

“I thought about that every day I was on set. It was the earnestness with which she said it. A lot of what Josh and I thought about throughout filming was we didn’t want to play the tragedy of the ending because everyone know how it ends.

“It’s so sad and quite hard not to bring that, but I really tried where I could. I was working with a few moments of where I could really show her happiness and I really had that in my mind.”

The Crown season four premieres on Netflix on Sunday, November 15 at 6pm AEDT

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