You’ve probably never given Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth, more than a passing thought. Erin Doherty is about to change that. The new star of The Crown achieves the impossible in season 3, stealing every scene from the dramatic titans she performs alongside. Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, Tobias Menzies, Charles Dance—Doherty’s Princess Anne faces them all down with a side-eye sure to spawn a thousand GIFs.
“I don’t think anyone will really expect what they get from Anne in this season,” Doherty tells ELLE.com breathlessly over the phone, a few weeks before The Crown is slated to drop on Netflix. “I’m excited for people to meet her. I think she’s rather brilliant.”
From her first moments onscreen, the spare to Prince Charles’ heir demands respect from her starchy family members, and is determined to gently nudge the monarchy into modernity. Anne sings along to David Bowie in the car and blasts Fontella Bass in her messy Kensington Palace apartment. Later in the season, she renders her parents, the Queen Mother, and Lord Mountbatten speechless when she reveals her part in a love quadrangle with Andrew Parker-Bowles, Camilla Shand, and her own brother. “I hope that wasn’t too emotional for you all,” she snaps as she leaves the room. She’s the kind of teen you can picture coining “ok, boomer” if she wasn’t technically a boomer herself.
“I found it really easy to relate to Anne, not knowing how on earth to handle this new phase of her life, being thrown into the deep end and fulfilling this duty,” says Doherty, who had just one screen credit to her name, an episode of Call the Midwife, before joining The Crown. “I linked my situation with getting the part, because I felt so out of my depth. Like, Oh my God, now I’m going to be in a room with all these people, and I have to make out like I know what the hell I’m doing, whilst I’m quietly having a panic attack. I might as well make use of it.” The anxiety clearly worked to her benefit. Below, Doherty opens up about unlocking the mysterious royal, bonding with her co-stars, and imagined conversations with Princess Anne.
You’re predominantly a theater actress. Why did you decide to go out for the role?
My agent was like, “This has come up. Come on, let’s do this,” and I was like, “I don’t know anything about Anne.” But it’s The Crown. I’m obviously not going to say no. So I went away and did my research, and I fell in love with this woman. She’s like this royal rock star. She doesn’t really care about the repercussions of her actions, because she’s doing what she believes to be right every step of the way. If someone is not afraid to push the boundaries, it’s so much fun to play. I went in for a meeting [about the role] in January 2018. I basically just dashed in the room, I was like, “I love this woman. She’s amazing,” and I went out being like, “I haven’t got that, because I was literally just word vomiting and professing my love for this woman.” But it went okay.
What was it that excited you about her?
The voice, because it is so different from mine. I spent a long time making sure it felt right. You can tell a lot about someone, psychologically, from where they’re speaking from, because when I’m really emotional, or really happy or angry, my voice changes. For me, it was the key into her psyche, because her voice is kind of weird, pushed down, obviously very posh. It’s this suppressed way of talking. It’s oddly placed in her throat, and whenever I do it, it makes me really angry. I feel like I can’t really move, and honestly, that was my in. That’s where it all started for me.
It’s like there’s a thread of anger running through everything she does.
One hundred percent. It’s this wish to express herself in a world that doesn’t necessarily want her to express herself. She’s battling against this age old family, and the tradition of how you’re supposed to act in the world. It’s the ‘60s and ‘70s, she is massively affected by her environment and the surroundings, but she can’t do anything about it. And also, she’s a teenager. She’s wanting to do so many things that don’t necessarily fall in line with the duty of her role, so she has to suppress everything. And honestly, it makes me so angry every time I do anything related [to the character].
And yet she’s the most normal of all the royals. She drives herself around and listens to David Bowie. Her bedroom at the palace actually looks like a normal teenager’s!
I think in every single step, through her becoming the princess royal, she wanted to stay as grounded as possible, because that’s what she was. That’s what she felt most comfortable in. And who can’t relate to that? That’s why I think there’s all these things coming out now about her being the most hard working royal. I think that’s what got her through this really sticky situation—she just got her head down and did what she knew she could do: Use the opportunity to help and work. She wasn’t interested in the rest of it at all.
It’s very similar to the story of Princess Alice, who gave up the royal life to strictly do charity work. We see Alice and her grandmother bonding throughout the season.
It’s amazing what falls into place when you’re on set. When we were doing those scenes, I had a weird mental breakthrough. I was like, this is where she gets it from. It’s also in Margaret as well—she sees her aunt behaving this way and pushing—it’s women wanting to assert their authority and not being able to. I think they’re very witty, humored, creative people who were never able to go down that route, and you see it in little bursts in their duty.
Anne, in her second place to the heir, feels like the new Margaret this season. But there’s something about Anne where she didn’t let the weight of the monarchy crush her, whereas Margaret often succumbed to it.
Whenever we manage to [shoot] together, and I watch Helena do her thing, I’m like, God. It could’ve been so different for Anne. I really think she missed it by a thread, because they’re so similar. They just won’t back down from what they believe to be right, so I have so much admiration for them. I think I’d lose my mind if I was in their situation.
How did you develop the relationships in the family? Anne and Charles seem to have the healthiest rapport, but I also love the odd self awareness we see when Anne and Philip are together.
That introductory scene with Tobias in episode 4 was my first scene ever. There’s a weird, special place in my heart for him because he really introduced me to The Crown in a way. They’d been filming for a couple of weeks and I was massively, massively nervous, but he’s such a lovely, warm guy. I’d say this about everyone—I don’t know whether it’s subconscious or what, but you just fall into those relationships that you need to portray. On some level, you actually need it. I needed him to be my dad on that day, and he really was. You pull through for each other, and it’s a really weird, special thing that happens when you’re in a cast. That was so helpful to me in getting over my fan-girl experience of meeting Olivia and Helena. I was literally like, okay, I just have to get into the frame of mind that these are my mom and my aunt, not Oscar nominees, winners galore. I had to ignore it. Every time I go on set, even now, I have to be like, Erin, this is your mom.
The family dynamic is so unsettling. In one scene they’re sitting around, watching the moon landing like a normal family. But in the previous episode, they lined up formally to tell Charles he was transferring school for the semester.
They are so fascinating, because they literally go from zero to a hundred like that, and I think that’s why it’s such a great part to play, from Charles’ perspective and mine. You’re in this weird relationship with these two people who are supposed to be your parents, but at the same time, they’re dictating the rest of your life. It’s such a mental thing to try and get your head around that actually, a lot of the work is done for you because it’s such a difficult thing to try and process. And it makes you so removed from them, which is where all the beautiful friction comes from. Who has that relationship with their parents? It’s its own weird, alien thing, and only they have to go through it. I feel like they are the most fascinating family on the planet, for that reason.
What’s your first question for the real Princess Anne?
I would be really tactless and just go straight for what her relationship was like with her mom. I find that the most fascinating, because I think her relationship with her dad is pretty much there. They’re so similar that they kind of bounce off one another and they know each other so well. They know how to push each other’s buttons. But with her mom, it’s like you’re walking on eggshells. I don’t feel like they really get each other, at least at the age that I’m portraying her. I feel like they find their way a bit later on.