Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's only daughter, Princess Anne, has always been a bit of an enigma, even to avid royals followers. She does things on her own terms, says what she means, and, interestingly, doesn't care much for handshakes or iPads.
On The Crown this season, she's played by 27-year-old British actor Erin Doherty. Ten days before season three of the hit Netflix series premiered, Doherty met me for breakfast at the luxurious Corinthia Hotel in London, appearing nothing like the buttoned-up woman she portrays. She was charismatic, warm, and, perhaps best of all, wearing a pair of Levi's with images of the Stranger Things cast on them. (She's a big fan of the sci-fi smash—a tidbit her onscreen father, Tobias Menzies, confirmed to me later.)
"I don't think anyone will need to [be reminded] of her name again," Peter Morgan, the creator and executive producer of The Crown, tells Glamour. "It's breathtaking what she does, and even more so when you realize that her own background is so dramatically different from Princess Anne's. We’ve seen a similar level with Jodie Comer from Killing Eve…. It feels like Erin is just a sensational debut."
Surprisingly, Morgan didn't know who Doherty was when she came in to test for the role. She had had only bit parts to her name (most notably the TV series Call the Midwife), and finding someone to hold her own opposite Oscar winner Olivia Colman was a bit like finding a diamond—or crown jewel—in the rough. "I have a fantastic casting director who found her, and the minute we saw her, she was one of those [performers] where you go, 'Oh!' She's sensational."
While Princess Anne has some of the best lines in season three, bringing her to life wasn't as easy as reading Morgan's captivating scripts. Doherty took horseback-riding lessons because Anne is an accomplished equestrian ("I needed to understand her fascination," Doherty says), learned royal etiquette ("There is a rule for everything—it's so intense"), and worked tirelessly to perfect Anne's deep voice. In the end it came together so perfectly that every outlet, from Vanity Fair to Variety, has dubbed her the season's MVP.
Josh O'Connor, who plays Anne's brother Prince Charles agrees with the critics. "[Erin] actually creates something that we won’t have seen from Anne before," he tells me. "What Erin captures so beautifully and brilliantly is this kind of incredibly strong, together character. In some ways Anne is the Elizabeth and Charles is the Margaret. He's the slightly more emotional one, and she’s the most dutiful and stable.”
"I love that [Anne] doesn't really mind telling the truth," Doherty says. "I think she's fully aware that her opinion might not be the right opinion, but she's going to voice it anyway. She's going to let people know what she thinks, and I love that about her.”
So, if you haven't already declared Doherty's Anne your favorite part about season three of The Crown, then you definitely will after reading about her journey from West Sussex to Buckingham Palace. "It's mental," she says. Indeed it is. Below, Glamour's interview with the rising star:
Glamour: Growing up, did anyone ever tell you that you resembled a younger Princess Anne?
Erin Doherty: Never. But the moment I found out I was going up for it, I looked her up when she was younger and I saw it. I saw a resemblance and I was like, "Okay, I could do all right."
What was your audition like?
It was really intense. I didn't know anything about Anne going into it, so I went away, did my research, and just kind of fell in love with this woman. So that added more pressure when you go into the room to talk to them about it because you're so aware of this mammoth show. I think [my audition] was my first scene this season where Anne is talking to her dad about being launched in the royal family, and she's kind of just battling him. That's kind of how I fell in love with her. She is just openly commenting on why they're doing these things because she sees it as such a bizarre thing.
She's known as the hardest-working royal because of how many engagements she undertakes. What surprised you most in your research?
The thing that shocked me was that she kind of experienced that harsh judgment from the press from such an early age. I think that tells you a lot about her reaction to the press as she rose with it and grew into her role as a royal. To kind of read some of those headlines that they would call her frumpy and stuff like that…. If someone just said that about me when I was a teenager, I'd have an emotional scar. And so that kind of shocked me the most, but also informed me the most about her character. [That's why she developed] this layer of "You can't affect me." She has this armor. But it was also heartbreaking figuring out why that armor came about…that she was just kind of open to that ridicule. I found it really harsh.
Another thing that surprises people is that she was the first member of the British royal family to compete in the Olympics.
Like, ever. But when I spoke to people about playing Princess Anne, people would more often than not say, "Ah, she was a horse rider," [instead of mentioning the Olympics]. Or, on the flip side, some people would go, "She was really fashionable in the ’60s." Some of the photos of her when she's walking the streets of London, she looks amazing. She's on point.
Yes, let's talk about Anne's very fashionable wardrobe for a minute. What was that like?
I feel like I got to have a lot of fun in comparison to a lot of the other family. Do you know what I mean? I felt for Olivia, some of those costumes—and she'd know it, as well—she'd come out of her trailer like, "Here's another one. Another green moldy suit." [Laughs.] That's what she got lumped with. But Anne had a bit of character. Not to mention her hairstyles. I was in hair and makeup for 90 minutes...sometimes more. It depends what the ’do was or if a hat was involved. But I kind of loved it in a way. Some of the big, boofy hairdos were phenomenal.
In doing your research, did you talk to anybody who knew Anne personally?
There's a guy on set called Major David [the show's protocol adviser, David Rankin-Hunt]. He basically worked for the queen and has all this inside information. So he obviously knew her. And really early on he came up to me and was like, "This is an okay symbol for the record." And I kind of didn't need anyone to say anything. Because if Major David is happy with it, then I'm fine.
Did you watch videos of Anne?
Oh my God, that's kind of what I based her on. I basically prepped the audition as I would had I got the part already. I just went up for it like I had just prepped everything for the meeting. The key into her was this one particular YouTube video of her. It's this pretty long—like an hour or whatever—this interview on YouTube. And I learned everything I needed to know about her on that video.
You could see her figuring out where the questions were coming from, what he wanted her to say—but then how she got out of that or how she played to that. She's so funny. She's so witty and quick. I fell in love with her watching that video over and over again. And yeah, that is where I based most of my characteristics. Because also, there came a point when you had to let go of that and be like, "This is going to be my version." The main thing for me was getting the voice right, because it's so different to mine.
Right. You've said you've never heard of someone who talks like that.
No one talks like that. Even the royals now, Harry and William, they don't talk that way. But basically, the way she suppresses her voice...it's kind of this odd, low placement. I'd use that psychologically just to get into where she was at, the head space she's in as this princess who was born into this role. She didn't choose this way of life. It kind of set me up for everything I needed to know. Because that voice placement of pushing it down makes you feel really constricted and controlled, and you just want to break out of it.
Did your throat hurt after doing this?
The first time I did, yeah. My voice obviously kind of became acclimatized to that placement. I think that's probably just a part of voice training, but it took a while for it to settle. Now it's fine. But there was a process maybe for two weeks or something where it was just a bit…it was unhappy. But I would go to random places and order coffee in that voice. I would do anything I could in that voice to try and make it feel natural, because it doesn't. Everything about it my body wanted to reject, because it just doesn't feel healthy or right.
Have you met any of the royals or seen them in person?
Never. And never even seen them in person, either. As a Brit, you kind of grow up and they're there. But you don't really think [much of it]...like you've got the Duke of Edinburgh Award you do at school, and you've got the queen's speech at Christmas, and you've got the weddings, and they're there. But it's kind of peripheral. Unless you have a job that connects you, they're just there. But then this job came along and you throw yourself into their lives, and they are the most fascinating people on the planet.
If you could sit down with Anne and ask her anything, what would you want to know?
Just from a purely selfish, psychological point of view, I'd want to know about her relationship with her mum. I find that the most interesting thing. I think we're all massively affected by our relationships with our mums. So to grow up with your mum as the queen, 100% knowing that she has a duty that will overrule you no matter what…that's got to be a bit tricky. I think, again, that's where she gets her kind of hard shell from, and this ability to just take care of herself and not need anyone, because her own mum kind of has something more important.
What would you ask her daughter, Zara?
I'd be like, "So what's your relationship like with your mum?" I'm clearly fascinated by mums. I watched an interview with Zara because I wanted to know what Anne was like as a mum. She was like, "She is just a proper full-on, hands-on mum, and she's there. Whatever you need, she's there." And I love that about her.
You’re in the middle of filming season four of The Crown right now. Will you get to play Anne as a mother in that season?
Yeah. You grow with them. That’s as much as I can say, though…. There's lists of all these things that you're not allowed to talk about. That's also why I'm so excited for [season three] to be out, because I want to talk to people about it. I want to have conversations.
Your Instagram has 675 followers and doesn't have the verification mark. [Editor's note: The day the new season premiered, Doherty's Instagram account has been verified and doubled the amount of followers.] Are you ready for your life to change? And have you talked to any of the previous cast to ask them for advice?
No, actually. No, that's not happened. Although I'd love to get in a room and talk to Vanessa Kirby [the former Princess Margaret]. But otherwise I'm quite happy with not being ready [for what's to come].
Well, enjoy the next week and a half! [Laughs.]
I was saying this to my sister, that pretty much the first day I got on set with Olivia, she literally turned to me as we were filming a scene on the set for Buckingham Palace and she goes, "Don't get used to this. This type of a show is not normal." And that stuck with me in a really great, grounding way. I just love acting. So I'm trying not to think about anything else and just have a good time. It's a bit daunting, but as long as I stay a normal human being, I'm happy. I just want to go for walks, listen to music, eat pizza, and stay who I am while going on this mental ride. Because it feels like that. It literally feels like there's no way in hell I'm able to control it, so I'm just surrendering to it.
You said you went into the audition thinking as if you already had the job. Where did that confidence come from?
I remember being at drama school, and this video was released of Bryan Cranston saying to prep for meetings as you would prep for a role, because the moment you treat it like it's your one opportunity to play this character...that's it. If you get one day on it in the meeting room, fine. Or if you get the job and you get a year on it, also, well done. But either way, you have been given the opportunity to play this character. So you might as well go in for the meeting like it's your one opportunity to play them as best you can, and then you're satisfied. And it blew my mind, so I was like, "Oh, okay, Bryan. I'm going to do that." I was like, "This might be one opportunity to play Princess Anne, and I'm going to play her as best I can."
When did you meet the rest of the cast?
I didn't meet anyone until we were on set. I know, it's mental. More often than not, you'll kind of just have to form these massively deep and rich relationships in a moment before you're about to do a scene. So for example, me and Josh [O'Connor] have that kind of banter-y brother-sister relationship offscreen, because that's the way that we need each other onscreen. So you just kind of fulfill it. And Olivia, she's like a mum. Tobias is like a dad. And I will go to Helena and ask for her advice on stuff because she's so cool.
What kind of advice does Helena give you?
She's amazing. She'll recommend books to read on psychology. To think, I've got book recommendations from Helena Bonham Carter. Like, what? That's so stupid.
I love the attitude you’re taking with this whole thing, which is let’s just jump in and see what happens.
Yeah, because I want to be able to look back and be like, "I lived in that moment." I wasn't like, "Oh no, I'm afraid of what this person thinks, or I'm afraid of what this person thinks." In a way, that's why I'm actually really grateful that this has come at this point in my life, because I feel in some way stable enough to just let it happen, rather than try and be like, "Oh no, I need to do this." I feel like I'm grounded enough to keep my feet on the ground and just let it happen.
Did you ever doubt that this was the right career path for you?
I made the decision to just act when I was 18, even though I was acting pretty much from age four. My mum put me and my sister into this drama school thing [on the weekends], so it was always a part of my life. But I also grew up playing football. There came a point when I just knew I was going to act, and I didn't really give that decision a second thought. Not in like a cocky way, just in a way that I was like, "Nothing fulfills me in the same way." So I was like, "Well, I'm just going to have to make it happen, because I want to live my life doing it. So let's just try as hard as I can." And it's been going okay.
If Princess Anne watches The Crown, what do you want her to say about your portrayal?
I don't expect [her to watch it], but I feel like all I would want is that she feels like we represented her in as true a form to her spirit as possible. I feel like people will come to her side and I hope that they'll like what they see and connect with that. To me, her spirit is someone who is trying to connect with people as honestly as she can while also struggling with fulfilling her duty and being this figure that she is told to be.
And how did you relate to her the most?
For me, seeing her being thrown in at the deep end like, "Okay, now you're going to be launched and you're going to become a royal." I basically felt that way being thrown into The Crown. So I was like, "Oh my God!" As an actor who has pretty much just done theater and a couple of odd TV jobs, I just had to figure it out as I went and also act like everything was fine on the surface. Underneath, though, I was literally having a heart attack, being like, "Oh my God, I don't know what I'm doing," or "Oh my God, that's Olivia Colman." But that was the correlation that I was like, "OK, cool, you just need to use this, Erin." Because there is a part of you that's going to be losing your mind, but surely there was a bit of Anne that was like, "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm going to make sure everyone thinks that I've got this." It's just a kind of fake-it-till-you-make-it thing.
Last few things: Have you been to the real Buckingham Palace or Kensington Palace?
No, I've never been. I need to go.
I'd die to see people's reactions to you being there. You should at least get a discount at the gift shop.
I'd love it. And they should. Come on.
Most important, as awards season gets underway, are you prepared to meet the cast of Stranger Things?
I'm going to scream. I'm going to lose my head. I love Stranger Things so much, I can't tell you. And that song (from The NeverEnding Story) with Dustin and Suzie...without a doubt, that was my favorite part of season three. Dustin is my favorite character.
Dustin and Princess Anne: the crossover we didn't know we needed.
Yeah, come on, where’s that series?
Season three of The Crown is currently streaming on Netflix. Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can follow her on Instagram here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on Glamour