'The Crown': How the Cast Transformed Into the Royal Family on the Netflix Series

From Claire Foy to Imelda Staunton, the stars of the Netflix series open up about getting into character.

The Crown returns on Nov. 9 with a new batch of actors to reprise the real-life royals in Netflix's fifth installment of Queen Elizabeth II's story. The shift will be the second time the hit show has switched actors to reflect the passage of time -- creator Peter Morgan first changed casts between seasons 3 and 4. 

Set to cover the events of 1990s Britain, season 5 will now represent what became some of the monarchy's most turbulent years of the modern age, bringing new challenges for the show's current actors and resurrecting memories of the show's first two casts. 

Catch up on how all three groups found their own versions of the royal family ahead of the season 5 premiere. 

Queen Elizabeth II

Des Willie / Keith Bernstein / Stuart Hendry / Netflix

Claire Foy laid the groundwork for The Crown's success in seasons 1 and 2, when Elizabeth grew from tentative princess into resolute queen. Foy won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance, and later earned a Creative Arts Emmy for her guest appearance in a flashback scene during season 4.

"I just had to imagine what it was like, being a girl who wanted to live in the countryside with her husband and children and dogs and horses," Foy told Variety in 2016. "She was a shy, retiring type, very close to her lovely sister, and suddenly she’s given the top job, and she’s the most unlikely person to have it."

After the queen's death in September, Foy told the BBC that she was "very honored to have been a teeny tiny, small part of [the queen's] story."

Olivia Colman then took the role for seasons 3 and 4 as Queen Elizabeth matured and Britain navigated the rise of Margaret Thatcher. Colman also won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance, which came with a stoicism that she said was sometimes hard to pull off. 

"I emote. The queen is not meant to," Colman told Vanity Fair in 2018. "She’s got to be a rock for everyone, and has been trained not to [emote]." On set, Colman shared that she often wore an earpiece playing the BBC weather broadcast to keep her from crying during particularly emotional scenes. 

Imelda Staunton will now play Queen Elizabeth for seasons 5 and 6. "I think this queen is a more familiar look for many people around the world," Staunton recently told ET. "Certainly, for Claire Foy, when it started that was like a costume drama, many years ago. And this is the present queen, what she was like in the '90s. So, I felt more daunted."

Staunton began in 2019 with preparatory voice work. "You just chip away at it every day," she said, remembering lots of vocal practice and watching footage of the late queen. "It's fascinating because they’re real people and of course there is an added responsibility, and yet they are characters that [Peter Morgan] has written," she added.

In the end, it was the physical costuming of the character that allowed Staunton to flourish. "I put everything on and I thought, 'Well, this looks like it might be passable as the queen,'" she said. "Everything helped. Let's face it."

Prince Philip

Ollie Upton / Robert Viglasky / Netflix

Matt Smith set the bar high with his portrayal of a young Prince Philip in seasons 1 and 2, playing a man stumbling to find his own footing in the royal shadow of his wife. 

"I sort of loved Philip," Smith told Variety in 2018. 

"In this day and age, with all the conversations we're having about being a man and maleness, and what it is to be empowered and respected as a woman -- I just found that thrilling," he told BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

Tobias Menzies furthered the character in seasons 3 and 4 while Philip's rebelliousness mellowed and he navigated his own middle age.

"There’s a lot of different forces at play within him," Menzies told The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast. "He's abrasive. He's challenging. He's funny. But there’s an energy about it: it's not calm, it's not gentle. And those things seem to be kind of warring inside him. And so, actually, for someone who doesn't want to give much away, he often feels like he is giving quite a lot away."

Jonathan Pryce now plays Philip for seasons 5 and 6, and recently told Entertainment Weekly that he was "delighted" to be cast. "Prince Philip, all I really know about him is what I read in the newspapers, and it's never very flattering. And then to do the research, and obviously [Peter Morgan has] done the research, and [you] discover that he was nothing like the man you thought he was," he said.  

Princess Margaret

Keith Bernstein / Des Willie / Alex Bailey/ Netflix

Vanessa Kirby introduced modern audiences to the story of Princess Margaret in seasons 1 and 2, portraying a young woman heartbroken by the denial of her engagement to Peter Townsend and forever jealous of her elder sister's fame. 

"I love her with all my heart. I couldn't love her more," Kirby told ET of her character in 2018. 

Helena Bonham Carter took the character for seasons 3 and 4, and once opened up about hiring an astrologer in preparation for the royal role. "I conjured Princess Margaret for a friend of mine, and he said she was the last person who should have been in the public eye, because she didn’t have tact," Bonham Carter told Town and Country in 2020. "She couldn’t pretend to be anything but herself." 

Bonham Carter is also perhaps the actress most closely connected to her royal character -- she once revealed that her uncle, Mark Bonham Carter, courted the princess several decades ago, and the two women crossed paths at parties several times. 

"I went up to her and she kind of knew who I was because she knew my uncle very well. She said, 'Oh Helena, yes, you are getting better at acting,'" Bonham Carter told Variety. "And I just thought that is so inimitably her, which was basically a compliment put down … It wasn't really a compliment, was it?"

Lesley Manville will now continue Margaret's story in seasons 5 and 6, an actress who has also been able to pull small amounts of research from real life. "I know people that knew Margaret fleetingly because she moved in my industry's circles," Manville told ET, "so I've got fleeting little glimpses of what she was like with them. 

Prince Charles  

Keith Bernstein / Des Willie / Netflix

Though Prince Charles didn't take center stage as an adult until season 3, Julian Baring played the now-king as a young boy in season 2. Most notably, Baring captivated audiences with his depiction of Charles' struggle at the grueling Gordonstoun School where he studied as a young teenager. 

Josh O'Connor then took the role of the adult prince through season 4 during Charles' investiture as Prince of Wales and onto his marriage to Princess Diana. O'Connor won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance, though he initially turned down the opportunity to even audition.

"I thought, I can't add anything to this," he told the New York Times in 2020. "I'm a Republican. I'm not interested in the royal family."

Later, though, O'Connor said he developed "a great fondness for Prince Charles as a person." 

"He says, 'I'm essentially waiting for my mother to die in order for my life to take meaning,'" O'Connor recalled of a line from Charles in the season 3 script. "I read that line and I was like, 'Well, that's enough to get your teeth into.'"

Dominic West will now take the role for seasons 5 and 6, during which the unraveling of Charles' marriage will feature heavily.

"I remember the camera test," West recently told ET of his early casting, saying he felt quite intimidated in the beginning. "We were a couple of months off starting, and I felt I hadn't got anything," he said, "and also of course you feel [daunted] in front of a crew that's been doing this for five years with two other casts. You just think everyone's going, 'dear.'" 

But West has previously told  Entertainment Weekly that he grew to love the job. "He's a fascinating man, Charles, and it's a fascinating life," he said. "I realized that I could very happily live with this character for two years." 

Princess Diana  

Ollie Upton / Keith Bernstein / Netflix

Fans quickly fell in love with Emma Corrin's portrayal of young Princess Diana, just 19 when she accepts 32-year-old Charles' proposal for marriage at the beginning of season 4. Corrin won the Golden Globe for their performance, lauded as much for their physical likeness to the famous princess as for their heartbreaking portrayal of an overwhelmed young woman entering the royal family. 

Corrin told ET the Diana transformation was an "unbelievable experience," in particular when it came to the dressing room. "I just loved going in and there'd be, like, a new incredible costume hanging in my trailer," They said. "It was mad."

Elizabeth Debicki picks up where Corrin left off for season 5, which will cover the bitter dissolve of the princess' marriage.

"It's sort of a nontangible thing for me," Debicki said of Diana's essence.

Nevertheless, the mystery of her character didn't deter her. "When you join The Crown, there's an enormous amount of footage that is suddenly available to you," she added, "so I just sort of dove in." 

Princess Anne 

Des Willie / Keith Bernstein / Netflix

Erin Doherty dazzled audiences with her breakout performance as Princess Anne in seasons 3 and 4, playing the queen's second oldest child and only daughter. 

"I've never played anyone like her," Doherty told The Telegraph this year"And I don't think I ever will. The royals are such a specific concoction of circumstance versus emotion. It's just like, when will you ever get to explore the friction of that?" 

Claudia Harrison now takes the reins for season 5. "Everyone is at the top of their game," Harrison told ET of the Netflix crew. "I found that amazingly comforting... you're incredibly supported." 

Camilla Parker-Bowles

Colin Hutton / Netflix

Emerald Fennell introduced audiences to Camilla Parker-Bowles in season 4 during the beginning of the tenuous love triangle between her, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana. Now, the conflict will take center stage for season 5, when Olivia Williams will reprise the role. 

Williams recently caught up with ET about her transformation, saying it can mostly be attributed to the wig (which she affectionately named Camilla). 

"The wig is my friend, the wig does the work for me," she said. "The hair and makeup department did an incredible job on this." 

Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother 

Alex Bailey / Des Willie / Keith Bernstein / Netflix

As the widow of King George VI, the queen mother offered Elizabeth much royal guidance during her early days as queen and later grew into an unofficial symbol of the old fashioned monarchy as Britain moved toward the modern age. 

Victoria Hamilton played the grieving queen mother in seasons 1 and 2, followed by Marion Bailey in seasons 3 and 4, and Marcia Warren now takes the role for season 5. 

"The only thing I've got that's like the queen mother is the teeth and the hips unfortunately," Bailey recently told ET, adding that the physical transformation was "a bit of a job, but I got a very nice fat suit on, very nice and amazing makeup," she said.

In the end, the added components allowed Bailey to age the necessary 25 years for her character. "I go from 91 to 101," she said of the queen mother's season 5 and 6 arc. 

The Crown season 5 premieres on Nov. 9 on Netflix. 



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