The portrait of Prince Charles by Josh O’Connor in The Crown is one of simmering fury because he can’t be with the woman he really loves…Camilla.
The 30-year-old actor, who I predict will be propelled to major stardom thanks to his flawless depiction of a lovesick love rat, said it took him time, after playing the part across two seasons, ‘to work out what really triggered’ Charles, stressing that his take is a fictionalised one, based on real events.
O’Connor noted that when he first tackled the Prince, in Season Three, ‘he’s not allowed to say what he feels’.
Crisis: Diana (Emma Corrin) and Charles (Josh O’Connor) in The Crown. O’Connor’s performance across both seasons is as powerful as anything I’ve seen on television in years
‘There’s that scene where the Queen says: ‘No one wants to hear you!’,’ he told me, during a conversation conducted over Zoom. ‘He wants to marry Camilla, but he’s shut down.’
There are several instances in the upcoming fourth season — all ten episodes stream on Netflix from Sunday — where O’Connor’s unhappy Prince is upbraided by his parents, who insist he cast Emerald Fennell’s Camilla aside, and marry Emma Corrin’s Diana.
‘He goes to the Queen to say, in essence, ‘This marriage isn’t working. Diana’s not happy, I’m not happy. Camilla’s not happy.’ And he’s shut down, shut down, shut down.’ Olivia Colman’s monarch is having none of it.
Later, a frustrated Charles confronts Diana, and lets her have it — at full throttle. I mentioned that Corrin told me she felt frightened during the filming of that moment.
‘I felt awful,’ the young actor admitted. ‘I tend to keep myself to myself, especially on days where it’s that kind of emotional scene.
‘Emma and I get on very well,’ he told me. When they were filming the ‘Australian’ scenes, on location in Majorca, they ‘roamed around for weeks on electric scooters’.
‘But on the day, they go, ‘Action!’ — and I scream in her face. All I want to do is give her a hug and say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ ‘
O’Connor’s performance across both seasons is as powerful as anything I’ve seen on television in years. Combined with Corrin’s potent portrayal of Diana, the duo really are the jewels in The Crown.
I told him I observed echoes of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in his brooding heir. ‘I definitely referenced him,’ he agreed.
There are hints of Shakespeare, too. And O’Connor described The Crown creator Peter Morgan’s writing as ‘Shakespearean in its melodrama, in that the stakes are so huge. It’s all to do with the mix-up between power, and family.’ Which brought us to another influence: TV hit series Succession.
Charles with Camilla (Emerald Fennell)
While he may have had to spend two series portraying an angry, tormented man on screen, O’Connor said that off it, ‘I’m quite a happy-go-lucky person’. ‘But I take acting seriously.’
He studied for three years at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School; tending bar and stacking supermarket shelves to make ends meet.
‘I think it’s helpful to stay light and playful in your everyday life; but on set and on stage it’s about focus.’
Which works most of the time, unless Olivia Colman is in range. ‘She’s a devil!’ he exclaimed. ‘As soon as Olivia’s there, my guard’s down — and I can’t stop laughing!’
He regretted having just one scene with her on the film version of Graham Swift’s novel Mothering Sunday, which he recently completed shooting, along with Colin Firth, Sope Dirisu and Odessa Young.
O’Connor hails from Cheltenham, where he and his two brothers (he’s the middle child) were raised by his midwife mum and teacher dad.
When he auditioned for Francis Lee’s acclaimed film God’s Own Country — a stunning breakthrough for both director and actor — the filmmaker wondered, initially, if he was right for the part of a Yorkshire farmer who falls in love with a Romanian seasonal worker.
O’Connor said Lee mistakenly had him pegged as a ‘big old posho’. ‘But I’m not public-school educated or anything like that.’
By the way, he and Lee are developing a second film, with plans to shoot it next year.
Right now, though, he and Jessie Buckley are rehearsing for a filmed production of Romeo And Juliet that should have been staged at the National Theatre.
The company also includes Fisayo Akinade, Tamsin Greig, Lucian Msamati and Deborah Findlay. Director Simon Godwin and Emily Burns have abridged the text down to 90 minutes, and it will be shown on Sky Arts next year.
And after that, O’Connor thinks he’s going to enjoy a quiet couple of months in 2021. Whereas I think he’s going to be offered everything going.
How rising teen star Sophia kept her (own) hair on at last!
Sophia Lillis said she can’t understand why she keeps being cast as the younger version of characters played by Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain.
‘I noticed the pattern — and I don’t know why,’ mused the young actress, who played teenage Camille Preaker in murder mystery mini-series Sharp Objects, which starred Adams; and Beverly Marsh, one of the kids terrorised by evil clown Pennywise in horror flick It; who grew up to become Chastain in It Chapter Two.
‘All of them are redheads — and I’m not a redhead,’ she sighed.
Well, Lillis, 18, has her own head of ‘like, pale brown hair’ in Uncle Frank, in which she stars opposite Paul Bettany.
The Brooklyn native plays Beth Bledsoe, a student who can’t wait to leave her sprawling family, who reside in a South Carolina hamlet, and go to university in New York, where her favourite uncle, Frank (Bettany) is a professor of literature.
Sophia Lillis said she can’t understand why she keeps being cast as the younger version of characters played by Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain
‘She loved Uncle Frank because he was the man who got out,’ Lillis explained. She added that Frank left town because he felt unable to come out to his family. The movie, on Amazon Prime from November 25, focuses on a road trip Beth, Frank and his lover Wally (Peter Macdissi) take from NYC back to the southern homestead.
‘My God, it was really intimidating,’ Lillis said of rehearsing with Bettany, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale and Lois Smith.
‘I remember coming in and Paul bringing out this enormous binder. I thought: I’ve got to step up my game. So the next day I brought an even bigger binder to rehearsals.’
The movie, directed and written by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under and American Beauty), is set in 1973, and Lillis loved the Seventies clothes. ‘I remember having four days of costume fittings!’
The cars were pretty cool, too. ‘Genuine Seventies vintage. Only problem was the bad air-conditioning, which was a problem in the smouldering heat in North Carolina,’ she said, slightly puzzled as to why the feature was shot there, and not over the border in South Carolina.
Beth grows up on the road, gaining confidence. There’s a smashing scene where she ‘demolishes’ a leering mechanic. ‘I enjoyed doing that,’ Lillis said gleefully.
Sophia Lillis is pictured above with Paul Bettany and Peter Macdissi in Uncle Frank
The food down south was good, too; though she admitted her culinary choices weren’t as exotic as the alligator sausages I once sampled while on an assignment in Mississippi.
Back home in New York, the actress, who I remembered seeing in Julie Taymor’s exhilarating stage version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatre For A New Audience in Brooklyn (a film of it is available online), voted for the first time in last week’s presidential election.
She’s also been brushing up on her theatre studies. ‘We worked on received pronunciation, and for no reason at all we started doing Saint Joan in a Yorkshire accent. It was definitely bad at first,’ she said, of her efforts. But she was encouraged to try and get it right by her tutor Alan Cox — yes, the actor son of Succession star Brian Cox.
‘The vowels for speaking Yorkshire are different. Very specific,’ she said. And then she bid me farewell, in an accent which was not half bad.
Lily James joined Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson, director Shekhar Kapur and writer Jemima Khan for a read-through last week of Khan’s first feature film script, tentatively titled What’s Love Got To Do With It? Set mostly in London and Pakistan, the romantic comedy is about two friends (James and Latif) who fall in love. The Working Title and Studio Canal film is due to be filmed next month.