Josh O’Connor is on the verge of a breakthrough. He’s one of those actors who is going to start appearing in the films of some of your favorite directors. That’s how good he is. He first demonstrated his impressive talent on the global cinephile stage in Francis Lee’s “God’s Own Country,” but with his role as Prince Charles in Peter Morgan’s “The Crown” a much larger audience is at his disposal.
The assumed heir to Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles has rarely been perceived in a good light in the media (at least in the U.S.). O’Connor had the difficult task of portraying his early years and finding means to make the viewer sympathize with his, granted, privileged plight in the third season of the Netflix series. This was before Diana. Before the divorce. Before he remarried. O’Connor portrayed a Charles who hoped for something more with his life. In a season full of impressive performances from Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Erin Doherty, O’Connor’s work deserves equal praise.
The now 30-year-old actor, who demonstrated his comedic chops in “Emma” earlier this year, jumped on the phone last month to discuss his first crack at “The Crown,” tease season four and proclaim his passion for “The Last Dance.”
The Playlist: I think that you’ve already shot season four, your second season of “The Crown.” Is that right?
Josh O’Connor: That’s right, yeah.
Did you all finish before the isolation started or are there still episodes left to shoot?
We did. We just finished. There’s obviously post-production and various things to sort out. I don’t know if that’s going to delay us, but we were very lucky and fortunate, and we just managed to get across the finish line before. All things considered, we’re pretty lucky, I think.
How did the role come your way?
I just had some critical success with a film called “God’s Own Country” the previous year, and that kind of built some momentum over in the UK. I was just shooting a BBC drama and adaptation of “Les Miserables” and my agent called me and said, “Look, they want to come have a chat with you about playing Prince Charles.” The embarrassing thing is, my feeling at the time was, even though I was a big fan of the show, my feeling was that it wasn’t quite the right thing. It wasn’t something that was kind of jumping out at me to want to play, but I met with the team and they told me a little bit about what their plans were for season three and four. I spoke to Peter [Morgan], I spoke to Ben Caron and the team [and] it just suddenly became apparent that it was kind of massively exciting, what they wanted me to do. The jump between season three and four was so dramatic that it felt really like a good challenge.
In the U.S., Prince Charles as a public figure isn’t seen in a very positive light. I don’t know if that’s the same as in the UK. Was that one reason why you weren’t interested initially playing him?
I guess so, yeah. There was certainly a part of it. My reaction to Charles wasn’t necessarily a negative one; just a kind of indifferent one. There was a program called “Spitting Image” here, which slightly poked fun at Prince Charles in the ’90s, and that felt very much like my memory of him was this sort of joke figure. Then, of course, there is a mix. There’s a lot of negativity about around him and the relationship with Diana. It doesn’t take long for you to kind of look into him and realize, as it always is with any breakdown of a relationship, it’s so much more complicated and nuanced than maybe the media and press would have you believe. I think the combination of that, but also I think, particularly in season three, regardless of whether my opinion of him or anyone else’s opinion of him, he’s a lost boy. He shares his mom with an entire kingdom. I think that must do an awful lot of damage to any child and young man, so suddenly it was, regardless of how I felt about him, I thought this is a really fascinating sort of character to play.
In one of your showcase episodes in the season, Prince Charles is sent to Wales where he has to learn a tremendous amount of Welsh. Did you speak Welsh before this and was it as difficult as someone might assume it was?
Yeah, I hadn’t spoken any Welsh before or known any Welsh before. It’s actually a very difficult language. There are lots of sounds that aren’t very English or familiar to us, but it’s a beautiful language. I was really glad to be able to, as I’m sure Charles was at the time, really glad to be able to showcase it for any Welsh-speaking people. I’d be doing the speech, acting in Welsh, all the cast, Helena and Olivia and everyone would come up and say, “Well done. Aren’t you brilliant. Amazing, amazing,” but then they’d say, “What were you saying?” And I’d have no idea. I sort of learned it phonetically rather than learn the language itself, but it certainly was a challenge and I was really pleased with the outcome.