As much as we might have wanted season three of The Crown to be subtitled The Ballad of Charles and Camilla, we don’t even lay eyes on our young prince until the sixth episode, and this is far less hormonal and more … educational. That’s because, leading up to his investiture as the Prince of Wales (a.k.a. an elaborate ceremony that dresses him up like a posh Dalmatian), the lad is forced to endure a semester “abroad” in the country to learn Welsh at the behest of his family and government. Charles ends up having a grand ol’ time but not before realizing how much he has sacrificed and suppressed who he is for the sake of the Crown, leading to this brutal exchange with Queen Elizabeth that’s destined to give him mommy issues for the rest of his life: “Mummy, I have a voice.” “Let me let you into a secret,” she replies. “No one wants to hear it.”
But yes, let’s talk about romance. This season’s glimpses into the love triangle between Charles, Camilla Shand, and Andrew Parker Bowles are just as compelling as you’d expect — especially when you find out that Princess Anne made it a love rectangle. That and seeing the family deprive Charles of his one true love, only to succumb to the marriage 40 years later. Better late than never! Josh O’Connor, the 29-year-old Brit who joined The Crown this season to play Charles, recently hopped on the phone with Vulture to discuss taking on such a highly anticipated role. We also chatted about tongue twisters, tragedies, and the egg-cellent question he’d ask Charles if given the chance.
How many takes did you need to nail all of those wild tongue twisters?
First off, thank you so much for asking, because I’ve been wanting to talk about those tongue twisters, and nobody’s asked. I’m pretty pleased I nailed it. I think I needed two or three takes for that. But to explain why I’m so good at them: Our drama-school system in the United Kingdom loves them. We basically start every day with them. I like to pretend I learned the Crown ones and got really good at them and needed only one take, but the reality is I’ve been doing them for years and had a bit of an edge.
Which was more difficult for you to master: Welsh or Charles’s speech patterns? Or Welsh with Charles’s speech patterns?
The Welsh was all right. I worked really hard to master that Charles accent, though. I watched lots of footage. But really, the biggest thing was letting go of him after a while. I wanted to honor this character as opposed to the real person. There’s only so much work you can do with the technicality of the voice before ultimately just wanting to let all of that go and create something new and unique.
Did you make any attempts to contact the real-life Charles?
No, I didn’t. To be honest, it was never really an option for me. The difficulty is, while we’re making the show, by meeting the person it means there’s inevitably a responsibility or a protection of care that makes you biased to that person. Or it puts emphasis on the real person. I genuinely see Charles as a work of fiction. When Shakespeare was writing plays about Richard III and Henry V, they were fictionalized tales of these characters. I do see it in a similar way, although it can be muddied and confusing. Even though the historical events are true, the conversations behind closed doors are fictionalized. I don’t think it would’ve helped if I’d met him.
Word on the street is that he’s really worried about how he’ll be portrayed. Should he be worried, Josh?
[Laughs] I don’t think so. The reception seems to be so far one of great understanding. I have huge sympathy for Charles. He’s lived for a very long time in the shadow of his mother and has done so much for the crown and for the country of Wales and for the environment. I think he comes across really well in the show.
I thought it was interesting that your arc this season ultimately focused less on his relationship with Camilla and more about his suppression and sad-sack status within the royal family. Did you always view him as a sympathetic figure? Or rather, have your thoughts about him changed since you took this role?
I was indifferent to start off with. Now I have a lot of sympathy for him. I think he’s removed and lonely. At that younger stage in his life, he had a lot of isolation. It’s pretty tragic.
What makes him tragic to you?
It’s the tragedy of being misunderstood and not being able to share your emotions, share your feelings, or share your pain or your hurt. There’s one scene that always sticks out to me where the queen tells Charles, “Duty comes first, you can’t express anything, as soon as we express an opinion we’ve rejected our duty.” That’s less tragic and more soul destroying.
I’d also say the most memorable scene with you is when Charles receives that elegant verbal assault from Queen Elizabeth, when she insists that absolutely nobody is interested in anything he has to say. I’m curious if you agree with that. If Charles were to suddenly become media friendly and speak openly about certain issues and topics, would the general public want to hear from him?
I think in some ways the press might feel, more often than not, that they want to hear from the royal family, but in reality it would be the last thing that they want. The queen has been brilliant in cultivating the mystery and keeping herself removed from saying what she thinks or expressing an opinion. As soon as they express an opinion, they’re vulnerable and no longer royal. The mystery is gone. I guess the reason we’re so interested in them is that we don’t know what they’re like and we don’t know how they live their lives. I don’t think he’s going to talk to anyone ever. He’s had a long enough time to practice that role in what it would be, a sovereign and king.
How would you define the relationship between Charles and his mother?
I understand they’re quite jokey together in real life, which is nice. But in The Crown, it’s fraught at best. There’s a great line in one of the later episodes where Charles describes his relationship to the sovereign as similar to a character in Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man: A man is waiting to be drafted to go to war, and he wants to be drafted because it’ll give his life meaning even though it means he’s going to his certain death. It’s the same with Charles. You’ve got someone who, in order for his life to begin and take meaning, his mother needs to die. To have that conflict is so profound and so at odds with each other that I think his relationship is always going to be tricky. It’s certainly going to be unlike any relationship that me or you will have with our parents. That, at the heart of it, is an interesting thought.
Truly a psychiatrist’s delight.
It’s insane! But weirdly brilliant.
It must have been nice, then, to give Charles a more playful side in his relationship with Camilla.
It sure was — really, really great. The feeling was that I wanted their relationship to provide a nice contrast to Charles looking so detached and removed earlier in the season. I wanted him to find an ally in Camilla, or someone who he could be loose and silly with and talk to about his feelings and emotions and insecurities. Emerald [Fennell] and I were perfect for the roles and got along so well.
Every scene you and Olivia Colman share is so incredibly tense that I must ask if you two got to do some silly, non-Crown bonding when you weren’t filming.
She makes it very easy to be cheeky and silly. [Laughs] Any scene that’s really tense, we’re having a cup of tea and taking the piss out of each other. She’s a delight.
If you were to ever meet Charles, what would you ask him?
I’d definitely ask him if it’s true that he doesn’t eat lunch and he has a boiled egg with every meal.
That’s a thing?!
Apparently, it’s true. I need to know the facts. I need to know the truth.