07 November

Feature: Elizabeth Debicki for The Guardian’s Saturday Magazine

Elizabeth Debicki has had Diana, Princess of Wales on her mind for at least five years. When she first auditioned for The Crown, the soapy royal family saga that doubles up as a tabloid flashpoint, it wasn’t to play Diana at all. She read for a part way back in season two, though she won’t say which, because someone else played it “beautifully”. “Also, if I told people, they’d be like, what?” she adds, as if the idea is absurd, which means we can only speculate that she was up for the part of Prince Philip.

She thought she had blown it. “Well, I did, in the fact that I did not get the part,” she deadpans. The Crown’s creator, Peter Morgan, spotted something else, however. “They obviously saw something Diana-ish in my audition, which is really not what I was going for at that time.” Her agent called her and asked if she’d be interested in playing Diana at some point in the future. She filed it away in the back of her mind, where it lurked until a couple of years ago. Then she got the call. “It was a much more formal, will you do this role?” She’d had plenty of time to think about it. She said yes.

Debicki lives in London, but we are speaking on a video call as she is in Mallorca filming The Crown’s sixth and reportedly final season. She has come to my rescue, giving me clear instructions about how to make the windows bigger, which she finds funny, as usually she’s the one in need of tech support. “Any technology I use is running on some ancient program. People open it up and they’re like, why is this from 2004? Why do you have 874 unread emails?” She picks up her phone and shows me her email app. It’s actually 23,460 unread emails. That’s disgraceful! “It’s utterly, utterly revolting,” she grins. She has friends who, when they meet her for coffee, open up her phone, just so they can delete some of her messages.

This is a rare day off for her and she is feeling tired. It is easy to understand why; much of The Crown’s fifth season is Diana-heavy and deals with the final collapse of her marriage to Prince (now King) Charles. We talk for almost an hour and a half, and she fidgets admirably. She puts her glasses on and takes them off. She wears her hair up, and down, up, and down. She scratches her forehead, her nose, touching her mouth, her face, always moving, just a bit. This is all the more striking because most of her characters, from Jed in The Night Manager to Kat in Tenet, are glacially still, regally sombre, near-encased in their own sadness. One of the reasons she doesn’t often get recognised in the street, she suspects, is because she doesn’t much resemble her characters off-duty, and in the case of The Crown that’s certainly true. Even after two years of filming, her long, straight blond hair came as a surprise to one of the makeup artists on set, who had assumed that the Diana hair was real and that Debicki’s real hair was a wig. “At least we’re selling it,” she says. [More at Source]

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