Josh O’Connor’s dancing eyes and fabulous head of dark Byronic hair have always detracted from his rather prominent ears.
But today it’s the ears that are getting all the attention, thanks to his role as Prince Charles in the new series of The Crown.
‘These came free,’ he laughs, pulling gently on them. ‘When it was suggested I try for the role of Charles I was thinking, “Perfect. How many actors have these ears?” I actually do love them but they’re not as big as Charles’s – his take up half his head!’
Josh, who along with his ears has already graced The Durrells, Peaky Blinders and this year’s Les Misérables mini-series, hasn’t always loved them though.
Erin Doherty plays Princess Anne in the third installment of The Crown this November
‘Lots of people don’t notice them and my partner says they’re not noticeable either. But growing up, there was a guy called Jack who used to call me Dumbo.
‘I loved that though because I used to say, “Well, Dumbo’s my favourite character.” But I always thought, “I’ll get them pinned back one day”. Thank God I didn’t – my head would look really weird without them.’
Josh O’Connor plays the role of Prince Charles, pictured in character
His co-star and on-screen sister in The Crown, 27-year-old Erin Doherty, who plays Princess Anne, looks aghast. ‘Oh my God, they do that? Pin ears back?’
Josh nods with a smile and a twinkle of the eye, underlining the playful dynamic between the two actors that translates into the sparky but close relationship between the royal siblings that we’ll see on the screen.
Joking aside, there was much for Josh to get to grips with in the role of the young Charles, but he’s got his famous hesitant diction, that distant gaze and, crucially, his tortoise walk down to a tee.
‘It’s not that Charles is slow, it’s more that his neck comes out so he moves his head before his body. It’s really weird,’ explains Josh, 29, who had to have daily massages to overcome the strain in his neck.
‘We were lucky though because we had Polly Bennett as our movement coach. She told me to imagine that he’s always protecting his internal organs, in case there’s a sniper.’
Another challenge was that neither his English teacher father nor his midwife mother are fans of the Royal Family.
In fact, the only royalist in the family is his grandmother, a ceramicist to whom Josh is very close, and he’s now come round to her way of thinking.
‘Apart from Lawrence Durrell I’ve never played a character who actually existed, and even Lawrence was a fictionalised version. What I learned is that it’s totally impossible to replicate the real man.
‘But Peter Morgan, The Crown’s creator, doesn’t just present us with the person we can all see on YouTube clips, he delves much deeper. I have a huge amount of empathy for Charles now. I definitely see him in a different light and I feel quite protective over him.’
Josh and Erin – along with Olivia Colman as the Queen, Tobias Menzies as the Duke of Edinburgh, Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret and Derek Jacobi as the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor – form the new central cast of The Crown in the upcoming two series.
Season three, which is released on Netflix on 17 November, sees Charles starting at Cambridge University, his emergence into the public eye and his investiture as the Prince of Wales in 1969.
The real Prince Charles and Princess Anne in the grounds of Balmoral Castle in Scotland during the Royal Family’s annual summer holiday in 1972
It will cover his early relationship with Camilla Shand, played by Call The Midwife’s Emerald Fennell. Interestingly, the show is also set to examine Princess Anne’s romance with British Army officer Andrew Parker-Bowles (played by Andrew Buchan), who was dating Camilla as she was pursued by Charles.
Season four, which is expected to follow next year, will continue these storylines and cover the period after Charles’s wedding to Diana (Emma Corrin), and Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister.
When we first see Josh’s Charles in the new episodes, he’s joyfully daubing on make-up as he prepares to go on stage in a production by the performing arts group, the Dryden Society, at Trinity College.
After having been bullied and put down by his father the Duke of Edinburgh in previous series, there’s a feeling that Charles is beginning to come into his own.
The series will also star actress Olivia Colman (left) as the Queen and Tobias Menzies (right) as the Duke of Edinburgh
However, as the drama continues, we discover that his elders are still pulling the strings. Peter Morgan insists that while people always assume Charles cheated on Diana with Camilla, in fact he was deeply in love with Camilla all along and forced to marry Diana.
The day Anne foiled a kidnap
The show is expected to cover the moment in 1974 when a gunman, Ian Ball, drove his car in front of one carrying Princess
Anne and her husband Captain Mark Phillips as it travelled from Buckingham Palace along The Mall. Ball told her he was going to kidnap her and to get out of the car, to which Anne replied, ‘Not bloody likely!’
Two policemen and two civilians were injured in the ensuing skirmish, and it was reported that Anne briefly considered hitting Ball, but instead exited the limo from the other side.
‘Reading about that incident was pivotal for me,’ says Erin Doherty, who plays Anne.
‘I thought, ‘Oh, so that’s who you are!’ She was only 23 years old and the man had a gun, but she said, ‘No.’
‘It’s such a good insight into her character. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a human being like her.’
As well as this, when Charles began his courtship with Camilla he was being encouraged to ‘sow his wild oats’ by his beloved great-uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten (now played by Charles Dance).
So do we get to see much of the playboy prince? ‘Luckily, for the first time ever, I don’t get my kit off,’ laughs Josh. ‘I always get my kit off in my roles, somehow there’s always a bit of flesh on show. But I don’t think it’s appropriate here. I mean, no one wants to see Charles naked.
‘But Charles really was the most desirable man of that time – quite dashing, I think, and physically fit as he played polo and swam a lot.
‘There were two periods, really. One was pre-Camilla, when he was a bit of a playboy, then he fell in love with Camilla after she swept him off his feet. And then there’s a period after Camilla when it comes to the point where we don’t really know what’s going on. But I think certainly he loved her.’
Josh was filming Les Misérables with Olivia Colman when he heard he’d landed the role in The Crown. He says that working more closely with her in this series was incredible. ‘Olivia’s presence, her whole vibe of normality, just trickles down.
‘It affects everything, and everyone just kind of steps up and all the nonsense drops away. She wouldn’t admit it, but Olivia really does set the tone. She’s brilliant.’
Their on-screen dynamics were far spikier though. ‘There was some dynamite because there’s a friction between Charles and his mother,’ explains Josh.
Portraying the role of Prince Charles is actor Josh O’Connor who has already graced The Durrells, Peaky Blinders and this year’s Les Misérables mini-series
‘There was a mention in the scripts about this philosophical question of Charles being in waiting, so until his mother dies his life doesn’t begin to take on meaning.
‘What that does to a young mind is massive, and it’s such a huge conflict that he’s literally waiting for his mother to die. I’m sure he’s not hoping for that, but that’s the crux of being king-in-waiting. It’s so messed up.’
Charles’s somewhat happier relationship with his feisty sister is seen in sharp focus. ‘One of my favourite moments in series three is the beginning of episode six where Anne comes and kisses Charles on the cheek… and then punches him in the stomach!’ laughs Josh.
One of my favourite moments in series three is the beginning of episode six where Anne comes and kisses Charles on the cheek… and then punches him in the stomach!
Erin agrees. ‘That, to me, sums up sibling love so well. It’s so British. I’ll show you emotion for two seconds and then I’ve got to undercut it by saying, ‘You’re still an idiot though.’ It’s beautifully awkward.
‘Their parents are no-go areas, and you see them both desperately thinking, ‘Please, just give me some encouragement or anything.’ But they don’t get it, so they have to be that support system for each other.’
It’s a vital sibling bond, as in this series we see the tough regime in which they are being raised by the Queen.
In one scene a jubilant Charles wants to share some small success with her, only to be told the Queen doesn’t want to be disturbed, and in another exchange Charles stutters, ‘Mummy, I have a voice’, to which she retorts, ‘Let me let you into a little secret – no one wants to hear it.’
It’s well known that Anne is close to her father, but we get to see a more challenging dynamic with her mother in the show.
Josh as Charles with Derek Jacobi as the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, in The Crown
‘She’s got a great relationship with Philip because they’re both quite fiery and outspoken,’ says Erin. ‘If they have a problem they talk about it, whereas a lot of the time when she’s interacting with the Queen it’s different because the Queen is quite firm.
‘This is just a daughter and a son trying to communicate with their mother, but what they’ve got is a queen. Ultimately, the Queen is mother to the nation first and we’re like her second children.’
There was fun to be had enjoying Princess Anne’s sexy wardrobe though. ‘Clothes for events were constricting, with tight dresses and no off-the-shoulders outfits. It was a case of, “God, I can’t move,” says Erin.
‘But when Anne was a teenager and in her early 20s she was right on point. I was amazed by these incredible photos of Anne on the streets of London, rocking a miniskirt and leather boots. I felt more like her when I was wearing those clothes, when she’s rebelling.
‘It was a really important part of the story to show her as a teenager, going partying and having fun. It’s great to see these characters in these very normal situations.
Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and The Earl of Snowdon (Ben Daniels) in The Crown
‘In terms of portraying her sex life, it was a case of showing it was very natural to all of these people. It humanises them and makes them even more relatable. The scenes with other men were my favourites to film because the barriers dropped away and you get to see a completely different Anne.
‘She’s pretty much surrounded by the family most of the time, but when she gets in a room with a man it’s a very different Anne. I can’t wait for people to see it. She’s flirty and she’s up for it. But she’s still no-nonsense. She’s like, “Well, we’re not going to beat around the bush here.” She’s brilliant.’
Like Josh, Erin knew little of the royals beforehand. ‘I had no preconceptions, and what I find most exciting about this series is that there might be a lot of people who don’t really know Anne, so I’m getting to introduce her to people.
She’s a really big presence, but she keeps herself quiet. Only those in her more intimate circle really know her
Erin Doherty on The Crown
‘She’s a really big presence, but she keeps herself quiet. Only those in her more intimate circle really know her. What’s beautiful about Peter Morgan’s writing is that he gets to show you what these people are like at the kitchen table.
‘I love Anne so much. My interpretation of Peter Morgan’s version of her is that she’s very strong-willed and, if she really believes something to be right, then she’ll follow it through. She’s resilient and determined to be of use.
‘I found this quote when I was researching her, which said, “Just get me to work.” So I think that’s what she ended up doing – just rooting herself as the hardest-working royal.’
Both Josh and Erin worked hard to perfect their royal voices. ‘I watched and watched an interview on YouTube that Princess Anne did with Michael Parkinson, and I got all the sounds she makes from that,’ says Erin.
‘I recorded it and I’d go for walks listening to it. Then I’d order a coffee in a coffee shop in her voice to try to make it sit naturally.’
Josh is horrified. ‘Oh Erin, you’re mad,’ he laughs. ‘I never did anything like that.’
Which is just as well, really, because along with the tortoise walk and those ears, he might well have been mistaken for the real Prince Charles.
The Crown returns on Sunday 17 November on Netflix