FROM THE MAGAZINE

The Education of Emma Corrin

After a whirlwind year, the breakout star of The Crown is bringing nuance and empathy to a slew of new projects—and to fame itself.

Photographed by Tim Walker
Styled by Harry Lambert

Emma Corrin wears a Prada jumpsuit and shoes; Cartier earring.
Emma Corrin wears a Prada jumpsuit and shoes; Cartier earring.

Emma Corrin is in the third week of a month-long run of a new play, Anna X, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London, when we dial in for our Zoom chat one late summer afternoon. It’s Corrin’s West End debut, and the reviews of the play have been quite enthusiastic. “It’s a bit mad,” the 25-year-old actor, who uses they/them as well as she/her pronouns, tells me from the bedroom of their North London flat. “I knew we had a good show and a gem of a script, but I thought there was going to be a massive generational divide.” The play was inspired by the story of the fake German heiress Anna Delvey (real last name: Sorokin), the Russia-born grifter who scammed New York high society before being arrested in 2017. Corrin plays Anna, who charms Ariel, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, a start-up wunderkind who has created a Tinder-like dating app. For 80 minutes, Corrin and Rizwan engage in what Corrin describes as “a TED Talk on steroids.” After speaking directly to the audience to set up each scene, the actors depict various characters in different scenarios, against a kinetic downtown Manhattan backdrop of designer drugs, art openings, and luxury hotel suites. “There were so many accents to rattle through, like the tech bro who says ‘What? Wow,’ a lot to his Midwestern girlfriend. I never looked up what a Midwestern accent was; I just did a very generic one,” Corrin admits.

Marco Ribeiro top; Fiona Bennett hat; Lauren Perrin gloves.

Learning how to speak like a proper Sloane Ranger came a bit easier for Corrin, who grew up in Kent, just outside of London. In fact, Corrin’s portrayal of the late Princess Diana in The Crown, Peter Morgan’s cultish royal drama, is a tour de force. Unknown and just a few years out of Cambridge University, Corrin conjured up a performance that would not only earn them a Golden Globe—they even beat out their costar Olivia Colman, who plays Queen Elizabeth—but make them almost as famous as the woman they were playing.

Marco Ribeiro top and leggings; Fiona Bennett hat; Lauren Perrin gloves; AGL shoes.

Marco Ribeiro top; Fiona Bennett hat; Lauren Perrin gloves.

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Corrin seems to be taking it all in stride this afternoon, as they lounge on a sofa, casually dressed in trousers and a knit sweater. There’s an effortlessness to them, a self-assuredness beyond their youth. The paparazzi aren’t swarming around today, but a pigeon is hovering around a window, which seems to be causing some concern. “My brother came to the show last night. It was so much fun, because there are so many lines about how dysfunctional and hilarious dating apps are,” Corrin says. “He’s going to hate me for saying this, but he has the most amazing dating app stories. When we were taking our bows, I winked at him, and he was just screaming and applauding. I felt so happy. People always ask how fame has hit me, and rarely do I feel it emotionally. But last night I did.”

Laura Barnes box dress and shoes.

Not that Corrin has had time to let things really sink in of late. Just before they started rehearsals for Anna X, they wrapped production on My Policeman, a film starring Harry Styles and David Dawson, and directed by Michael Grandage of the Donmar Warehouse. It’s an adaptation of Bethan Roberts’s 2012 book, which is based on the real-life relationship that the writer E.M. Forster had with a married policeman in Brighton, England, in the 1950s, when homosexuality was still illegal. Corrin plays Marion, the wife who must share her husband with a man, until a tragedy occurs. Corrin has also just signed on to star in a remake of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which will be helmed by the French female director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. They are eager to see a woman’s approach to D.H. Lawrence’s risqué novel. “I think that’s the only way I would have done the film,” Corrin says. “There have been so many versions done before, that it needs to be different.”

Burberry turtleneck bodysuit and hat.

Kaya Chie cape, bodysuit, and shoes; stylist’s own briefs.

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Corrin was only a toddler when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, in Paris in 1997. “I had no memory of her, so I think that helped me,” they say. “It was a blank slate.” After Corrin got the part of Diana—they play her from ages 16 to 28 in season 4 of the series—their mother, a speech therapist, helped them master the accent. Corrin also holed up for days with Polly Bennett, a well-known choreographer and movement coach who helped Rami Malek channel Freddie Mercury for Bohemian Rhapsody. Together, Bennett and Corrin built a narrative by trying to understand Diana’s shifting mental and physical states; the goal was to not reduce her to a head tilt or a polite wave. “There became a clear connection from Diana’s unstable childhood to her looking for something welcoming,” Corrin says. “We knew she was a very warm person who gravitated towards people. She was looking to be embraced in something very warm and very familiar, and she didn’t find that at all; she found the exact opposite with the royal family.”

Wolford bodysuit; Hood London hat; Cartier earrings; Lauren Perrin tights; Vivienne Westwood platform shoes.

The way Corrin sees it, as Diana’s loneliness increased within the cold, stately rooms of Buckingham Palace, she behaved—or acted out, in the eyes of the royals—in two ways. There were the bouts with bulimia, which Corrin pushed to have included in the series. “Of course we wanted it to be sensitive and thoughtful,” Corrin says. “It’s about the battle for control over your food, in relation to what you’re feeling. For Diana, it was a way of physically getting out everything that she had bottled up.”

Molly Goddard shirt; Giorgio Armani pants; Cartier earrings; stylist’s own necktie.

Then there were the gawky moments when Diana was trying to gain her husband’s attention. “We see her burning, youthful spirit exploding out in these dance scenes, and in the way she tried to get through to Charles how she felt about him,” Corrin says, referring to the naive but nonetheless cringeworthy moments when Diana dances to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” at London’s Royal Opera House, while the prince, played by Josh O’Connor, recoils in his box. Or when she surprises Charles with a VHS recording of her singing “All I Ask of You,” from The Phantom of the Opera, with a full orchestra. Charles will later describe it as “monstrous” to his sister. “It’s like something out of a high school movie,” Corrin says. Watching those awkward scenes is both excruciating and heartbreaking, even for an audience that already knows the sorry ending of the fairy tale. Corrin credits their close friendship with O’Connor for getting them through those moments. “We both spent a long time during prep researching the nuances of failed marriages,” O’Connor says. “Our care for our own characters and each other’s meant that whatever the scene was, we were completely focused on telling a truthful and real account of those moments.”

Loewe jacket, shirt, pants, and tie; Jo Miller Studio hat; AGL shoes; stylist’s own gloves.

Proenza Schouler trenchcoat; Cartier earrings.

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In Corrin’s Golden Globes acceptance speech, they thanked the late princess, saying that Diana had taught them “compassion and empathy beyond any measure.” It was an emotional tribute, and one can’t help but see similarities between Corrin’s and Diana’s trajectories to stardom. Corrin accepted their award from their apartment, with their “uni” flatmates and their dog, Spencer, tucked away in the next room. It was not unlike the scene in which a young Diana is plucked from the Earl’s Court apartment she shares with her roommates to move to Buckingham Palace, and ultimately onto the world stage. “I’ve thought about that before,” says Corrin, who is grateful to still live with the same college friends today. “They’re my constant. They’ve known me before, and through this whole thing.”

Schiaparelli Haute Couture jacket and pants; Cartier earrings.

Prada jumpsuit and shoes; Jo Miller Studio x James Kelly hat; Cartier earring.

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Corrin adds that as much as they appreciate all the recognition they have received for their work in The Crown, they also realize that their rise to fame has happened during the pandemic. “It’s been a huge change in my life, but it’s manageable,” they say. Without the endless parade of red carpet and television show appearances, it’s been more about the work than the stardom; there’s been less scrutiny. While they are not constantly harangued by the paparazzi the way Diana was, they haven’t been immune to photographers snapping them walking their dog with a friend, or to tabloids turning an on-set kissing scene with Styles into something more salacious. “Emma has a natural wisdom,” O’Connor says. “They understand the pressures associated with being in the public eye better than anyone I know, including people who’ve been in the public eye for many years.”

Laura Andraschko dress; Jo Miller Studio hat.

Giorgio Armani jacket and pants; Molly Goddard shirt; Cartier earrings; AGL shoes; stylist’s own necktie.

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In early July, Corrin changed the pronouns on their Instagram to she/they, identifying as both a woman and nonbinary. They don’t want to talk about specifics this afternoon, but they are aware that they are famous and that what they put out there is, well, out there. “It’s hard when you have a platform, but I want to make everything feel very authentic,” they say. The tumult of the past year has also made them think about their responsibility as a public figure. “I think we’ve become much more aware of our positions in our communities and the circles in which we operate,” they say.

With their announcement, they posted a series of elegant black and white photographs of themselves wrapping fabric around their chest; they look commanding and vulnerable at the same time. In the caption below, they wrote: “some time before I bought my first proper binder, messing around with @sirdavidsimon, we used boxing wrap, thanks for capturing this with me, very intimate, very new, very cool. It’s all a journey right. Lots of twists and turns and change and that’s ok! Embrace it.” It’s a heartfelt message, even if maybe not all of their 688,000 followers can grasp it. It also feels very real—something Diana no doubt would have appreciated and understood.

Schiaparelli Haute Couture jacket, skirt, and hat; Cartier earring.

Hair by Ali Pirzadeh at CLM; makeup by Lucy Bridge for MAC Cosmetics at Streeters; manicure by Simone Cummings for Pleasing at CLM.

Produced by Susannah Philips at Truro Productions; production manager: Alex Pasley-Tyler; photo assistant: Sarah Lloyd; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; fashion assistants: Ryan Wohlgemut, Harriet Cummings, Sachin Gogna, Noemie Schelbert; production assistant: Charlotte Norman; hair assistant: Tommy Stayton; makeup assistant: Kyle Dominic.

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