Josh O’Connor, the actor who plays Prince Charles in the recently released third season of Netflix’s The Crown, opened up about what piqued his interest in portraying one of the most recognizable royals in the world.
“There was a kind of moment which sort of stuck with me when I started reading the script,” O’Connor told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview ahead of the show’s premiere, referring to a specific scene involving his character in Episode 8 (beware: spoilers ahead).
“He talks about Dangling Man by Saul Bellow, and in the theme, essentially what he says is until my mother dies, my life can’t take meaning. Until he becomes king, he’s just waiting for his own mother to die.”
In a season that already deals with several key figures of the monarchy growing older, O’Connor was immediately drawn to the show because of how it laid out one of its “most profound, most beautifully put concepts.”
The relationship between Charles and his mother, the Queen, is tested more than ever this season as he tries to reconcile his feelings of individuality with his duty as the Prince of Wales.
The tension between Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, played by Oscar winner Olivia Colman, is best exemplified in Episode 6, “Tywysog Cymru” — Welsh for the Prince of Wales.
“Mummy, I have a voice,” O’Connor’s character tells Colman’s fed-up queen, who responds sharply by saying, “Let me let you into a secret: No one wants to hear it.”
O’Connor said the scene was filmed in about three takes, and that working with Colman was a “dream come true." The exchange is “an incredibly important scene for Charles,” O’Connor said, “not only in Season 3, but it transfers kind of an important theme for Series 4, as well."
Though her character is very cold in the scene, O’Connor said the atmosphere while filming the moment was pleasant thanks to Colman, who “in real life is one of the loveliest, warmest people you'll ever meet."
He said that after they called "cut" for scenes in which the Queen is icy toward Charles, Colman would tell him, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm awful."
Capturing the essence of the prince proved to be a bit of an obstacle for O’Connor, who said one of the biggest challenges was “forgetting that I was playing someone who is real.”
The actor recalled the 2007 film I’m Not Here, a biopic of the iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, in which six different actors represented different facets of the artist’s personality.
“I remember watching that and thinking, That to me is far more interesting seeing someone — who's nothing like Dylan in appearance or voice — but they introduce another aspect of Dylan,” O’Connor said.
“With this,” O’Connor began, referring to his own approach to The Crown, “the hardest thing was accepting that.”
In addition to sparring with his mother, Charles has another complication thrown into his life this season with the introduction of Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell), the woman he dated prior to marrying Princess Diana, and who some consider to be one of the reasons the fairy-tale union between the two didn’t last. The Crown sets up the beginning of Charles and Camilla’s romance in a way that may make viewers sympathize with the prince and his lover. Asked if the portrayal of the two was too lenient considering Season 4 will introduce Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) next season, O’Connor disagreed, complimenting Peter Morgan, the writer of the series, for his balanced approach.
“You know, what Peter's so good at doing is having empathy for all sides,” O’Connor said. “He makes you feel and understand everyone and he doesn't make a decision. He doesn't force you to go, 'Well, they're wrong and that person's right.' You can decide for yourself.”
O’Connor, who is British, said before joining The Crown he was a bit “indifferent” to the royal family.
“In fact, I would go as far as to say I was all-out Republican,” he said, referring to a person who would like to see the monarchy abolished.
But the experience of playing Prince Charles “100%” created a bond between him and his character.
“Ultimately,” O’Connor said, “Season 3 is about setting up Charles, hopefully, for people to feel some sympathy for him.”