In the lead-up to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the U.K.’s mega celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne, Erin Doherty received a request from her mom: Would she come to her Jubilee street party—and, most importantly, would she do so dressed as Princess Anne? “My mom lost her mind about [me being in] The Crown,” Doherty, who broke out with her portrayal of the royal in seasons 3 and 4 of the hit Netflix series, says with a laugh from her apartment in South London. “I was like, ‘Mom, no. I’m not going to do that.’ And she was very much like, ‘But… you’re Princess Anne!’”
The public has had the same view of Doherty ever since she entered the spotlight. The vast majority of people have only ever seen the 29-year-old actor as a younger version of the royal, seeing as she primarily acts on stage and isn’t exactly active on social media. (I have to admit: Every time I mentioned Doherty to my colleagues ahead of our interview, I referred to her as Princess Anne.) Now that she’s the star of Chloe, though, Doherty is clearly fast on the path to becoming a name in her own right. The British press set expectations high when the six-part psychological thriller premiered in the U.K. earlier this year. American viewers can finally see it for themselves when the series premieres on Amazon Prime later this week; raves like the Guardian’s five-star review really weren’t exaggerating about Doherty being “outstanding.”
Doherty, who grew up around two hours outside of London in West Sussex, didn’t come to acting easily. Rather than comply with her father’s wishes for her to get a degree—or at the very least have a backup plan in the event she didn’t make it as an actor—she instead resolved to prove him wrong. Little did she know it at the time, but enrolling at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School would put her on the path to starring opposite some of its most illustrious alumni—most notably Olivia Colman, the Oscar winner who played her mom, the Queen, on the show. But for Doherty, having Josh O’Connor play Anne’s brother, Prince Charles, was even more significant. He had the same experience of being taught to expect each role would be his last, making the ones he did end up securing all the more fulfilling. And most importantly, he also knew what it was like to only spend a week or two studying acting on-screen rather than on the stage.
Fresh from winning the Stephen Sondheim Society’s Student Performer of the Year Award, Doherty graduated from Bristol Old Vic in 2015. It didn’t take long for her to join the cast of just four actors in a production of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. For four glorious months, she was convinced that acting was the end all be all. And for four onerous months, she couldn’t find a lick of work. She was about to resign herself to finding what her parents would have considered a “real” job when along came the offer of a cameo on the BBC show Call the Midwife. In another twist of casting fate, her girlfriend, Sophie Melville, also ended up making a cameo on the show.
The Crown was an incredible experience for Doherty, because it was proof that she could love acting on screen as much as she did on stage. (And there were definitely some perks along the way—when she finally worked up the courage to tell Helena Bonham Carter that she was a huge fan of her performance as Bellatrix Lestrange, her costar made a Harry Potter fan like Doherty’s dream come true: Carter pointed her finger as if it were a wand and yelled the “unforgivable” killing curse, Avada Kedavra.) To Doherty’s surprise, as she’s never been one to glamorize the monarchy, she felt a strange affinity for Anne.
Doherty vividly recalls the moment she realized Anne wasn’t your typical royal. At one point in her research, she came across the story of how Anne was nearly kidnapped—and her reaction to a man pointing a gun at her, ordering her to get out of the car, was to retort “Not bloody likely!” Between that feistiness and the fact that Anne is something of an unsung fashion icon, Doherty came to consider Anne a “rock star.” “I’m not a royalist,” the actor says, “but there are some times where you’ve just got to give people props.”
After The Crown, Doherty got back to her “first love”: theater. But upon reading the script of Chloe, she knew she had to get back to TV. Scammer stories are a dime a dozen these days, but Doherty immediately realized that Chloe only fits into the genre on a technical level; the story of Becky Green is actually about class, grief, and a fruitless quest to fit in. Becky’s life is—to put it simply—sad: She goes to work at a boring temp job, comes home to a mother with early onset dementia that she has no idea how to deal with, and wiles away the night stalking someone who appears to be the only friend she’s ever had. Suddenly, the possibility of ever reaching out to Chloe vanishes when she dies a mysterious death. Becky embarks on a quest to find out what really happened—and it turns out there’s no better way to do so by telling Chloe’s friend group, whom she’s also thoroughly stalked, that she was also Chloe’s friend.
Masquerading as Sasha literally changes Becky’s life overnight. She’s ruthless in her choreographing, deducing where and when her first victim, Livia, goes to yoga—and lies her way into the class. She introduces herself, and when they get back to their cars, Livia is touched that “Sasha” offers to drive her home. The coerced favor leads to an invitation inside Livia’s home, and upon stepping inside, Becky discovers her dream scenario: She’s surrounded by each and every one of Chloe’s closest friends. Soon enough, they’re her friends, too; Chloe’s boyfriend is even her lover, and Livia is her employer. (To be fair, Becky didn’t lie about her job qualifications; all those Instagram rabbit holes have made her fully equipped to be a social media manager.) The deception is all the more reprehensible when you consider that they’re all in mourning.
But Becky is also mourning, and being Sasha is exactly what she needs to heal. And Doherty makes her so human that by the last episode, any ill will or judgment you may have had is replaced with overwhelming pity and a sense of injustice at the way Becky’s cards were dealt. “The class divide, the injustice, the environment she’s in—they’re hugely the undertones of why these roots [of Becky’s compulsion to become Sasha] grow,” Doherty says. “And I completely relate to that. I know that anxiety of putting on a brave face or whatever you have in your arsenal to just power through.” And sometimes, like in Becky’s case, what’s in your arsenal isn’t the best. “Alice [Seabright, the show’s writer and creator] is magic at reminding people that no one is all good or all bad; we are so very blurry,” Doherty continues. “And we’re all just trying to keep on keeping on.”
Having wrapped Chloe, Doherty is back to another project centering royals. She recently wrapped filming her scenes—primarily opposite Alicia Vikander, who plays Queen Catherine Parr—in Firebrand, an upcoming film starring Doherty as the ill-fated martyr Anne Askew. Most exciting for Doherty, she’s soon headed back to the stage with a production of The Crucible at the National Theater. With lockdown restrictions preventing her last play from having an audience, she’s “gagging” to get back to performing in front of actual people. And this time, those people will be able to think of her as more than just Anne.