It may come as no surprise that Emma Corrin — who recently changed their pronouns to she/they — is a first-time Emmy nominee, considering that before their career-making turn as Princess Diana in season four of The Crown, they had only appeared in two TV series, including four episodes of Epix’s Pennyworth and one of PBS’ Grantchester. In fact, Corrin first auditioned for their breakthrough role while still studying at the University of Cambridge. Now they are up for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series amongst some big names. Let’s take a look at how the 25-year-old British newcomer got there.
When talking to the Los Angeles Times, Corrin alluded to their own upbringing in reference to playing Diana. “I’m kind of a bit posh, so it was not a huge leap,” they said about getting the accent down. Corrin grew up in Kent and recalled to Variety that their acting journey began around the age of 10 when they played Toad in a school production of The Wind in the Willows. A parent approached them after the performance and praised Corrin’s work, suggesting they consider becoming an actor. “I think that planted a seed, and there was nothing else I ever really wanted to do after that,” they remembered. “Marine biology was in contention for a little bit, but there was never a great chance of that happening.”
Corrin even chose the boarding school they attended, Woldingham, based on its theater program and starred as Audrey in a production of Little Shop of Horrors while there. But they hit a roadblock when applying to drama school and were rejected twice. “I’d heard an interview in which someone said: there’s no one way of doing it; determination and harnessing your creativity are the most important things,” they told The Guardian. The actor pivoted and sought training via a different route, gaining admittance into Cambridge to study education in English and drama. While there, they helped put on a production of Jez Butterworth’s Mojo and appeared in plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Philadelphia.
Then came the opportunity that led to Corrin’s breakthrough role. The Crown casting directors Nina Gold and Rob Sterne were auditioning actors for the role of Camilla and asked the Cambridge student to come in help by reading opposite them the lines for Diana. Corrin detailed during an Actors on Actors interview with Regé-Jean Page how they decided to approach it as if they were auditioning to play Diana. “I worked on the voice with my mum, who is a speech therapist,” they shared. “And then I learned the lines.”
Eights months later, they got the call asking them to audition for the role with The Crown creator Peter Morgan. The unknown actor landed the role of Diana Spencer-turned-Princess of Wales, portraying her from the ages of 16 to 28 for the fourth season of the royal drama series. “That’s a big arc to take her on,” Corrin told GoldDerby. “I focused very much on this fine line — this balance — this line that she toed all the time between vulnerability and strength.” Besides learning to roller-skate and dance ballet for the role, they also trained with movement coach Polly Bennett to take on the physicality of the beloved public figure. That included the technique of deciding which animal Corrin most saw their character as and adopting some of its traits. “Cats do this thing with their faces where they’re so still, but they have this almost magnetic connection to anything they’re observing,” the actor revealed to Vulture about their choice. “They have this amazing way of drawing you in but never giving too much away. Diana had that complete effect on people.”
Corrin may add another career milestone marker in the form of a first-ever Emmy win when this year’s award show airs on September 19. They are amongst a number of other nominees for season four of The Crown, including Olivia Colman in their own category and Benjamin Caron for directing episode three, “Fairytale.” The title could be applied to Corrin’s own journey from unknown actor to leading the most recent season of the popular Netflix series. But considering the well-deserved nomination for their masterful work in it, we certainly think they’ve earned their place in the spotlight.