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Elizabeth Debicki taps into Diana’s wit, intelligence — and humanity — for ‘The Crown’

Elizabeth Debicki lies on a sofa looking pensive as Princess Diana in "The Crown."
“It was essential to me that there was more joy and more lightness and a real intention to release some of what you’d already seen the character go through,” Elizabeth Debicki says of transitioning from playing Princess Diana in Season 5 to Season 6 of “The Crown.”
(Netflix)
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Playing an international icon with utter authenticity can be a daunting task. But Elizabeth Debicki’s depiction of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Seasons 5 and 6 of “The Crown” (following Emma Corrin’s turn as the younger Diana in Season 4) proved an impeccable re-creation of the ill-fated icon’s roller-coaster life from 1990 to 1997.

The Paris-born, Australia-raised Debicki, who has received both an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for her performance, recently spoke from London via Zoom about inhabiting one of the world’s most revered and influential role models.

The script and actual events aside, how did you prepare to transition from the Diana of Season 5 to 6?

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I had changed so much between the two seasons; my approach had changed significantly. [At the end of Season 5], I was a very tired and had-a-lot-of-sadness-in-me Diana. But my experience as an actor inside of the work in Season 6 was really much more fruitful in a way, like I was able to find more and trust it more. [Showrunner Peter Morgan] said to me a long time ago, “I think the experience on ‘The Crown’ is that everybody has a lovely time on their second season because they’re not as scared anymore, basically.”

‘We discussed a lot what would happen if the queen passes away during the time of us making ‘The Crown.’ And when it actually happened, of course, none of us were quite prepared,’ says executive producer Suzanne Mackie.

June 17, 2024

How do you approach playing such a beloved real-life figure? There’s so much more on the line, yes?

Usually, as an actor, when you read a script and you create a character, you are the authority on that person. This was lending pieces of myself to try and imbue Peter’s version of her with the things I personally felt I could feel from this person after much research and conversations with people.

It was kind of a multilayered experience, as actually a lot of “The Crown” is — you’re both inside of it but also observing it in a pretty unique way. It was essential to me that there was more joy and more lightness and a real intention to release some of what you’d already seen the character go through. To try and find fresh air, to try and find fresh connection with people and to let that kind of fill a very empty cup.

Through your portrayal, what did you feel was your responsibility to Diana’s memory?

A lot of my research in the early days was watching footage of the real Princess Diana. I found her so mesmerizing and so funny and sharp and human and moving. That’s why people’s interactions with her felt so poignant and stayed with them their entire lives — they felt that they’d come into contact not only with a princess but a real human. It felt like if I could get anywhere near giving a version of that to an audience, then that is my responsibility.

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What did you discover about Diana by playing her that you never knew or maybe even imagined?

The origin of her behaviors was surprising to me. Apart from that real sense of humor, [there was] her self-awareness and wit and a real will to draw joy into your life when, in fact, you’re a part of a system that can enforce [the rules]. She found her ways of resistance that I think [are] kind of radical. She was really marching to a beat of her own a lot of the time and that was very brave. I don’t think I really realized the forces that were against her doing a lot of that.

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