Watching Netflix’s The Crown can often feel like watching a documentary about the royal family. Known for its incredibly high production values and the superb acting quality, it can sometimes be hard to remember that the royals on our screens are just characters. We all know that the events of the show are dramatized to some degree. Nevertheless, the performances often feel unnervingly real.
One of the most startling things about watching The Crown is that many of the actors seem to literally transform into the real-life person they are portraying. In season 4, for instance, Gillian Anderson made headlines for her eerily canny portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, while newcomer Emma Corrin was praised for capturing Princess Diana. Want to find out more about how the actors managed to transform so convincingly for the show? Here’s what the characters from The Crown looked like in real life compared to the actors who portrayed them.
Olivia Coleman's wig had to be perfect for her character on The Crown
Queen Elizabeth II is the heart and soul of The Crown. In the first two seasons, she was portrayed by Claire Foy. Then in seasons 3 and 4, Olivia Colman took over to portray the Queen throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.
As Colman revealed to Harper’s Bazaar, her transformation wasn’t easy. One of the main things she worked on was nailing the voice. “I thought that general ‘posh’ would do it, but apparently not,” the actress said. “Really unusual vowel sounds. If you’re saying ‘yes,’ you said ‘ears.'” Apparently, the show’s extensive voice department helped her to master the iconic voice of the Queen.
Colman’s physical transformation was also pretty detailed. Cate Hall, the show’s makeup and hair designer, spoke to L’Officiel about creating the Queen’s look. “The most iconic element we know of the Queen is the shape of her hair, which hasn’t changed for sixty years,” Hall said. “So the most important thing was to establish the hair shape for the 1960s.” She added that the wig has three or four different colors of human hair, too. No wonder Colman was so convincing!
Tobias Menzies had to say goodbye to his dark locks for the role of Prince Philip in The Crown
In season 3 of The Crown, Tobias Menzies took over the role of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, from Matt Smith. With his long nose and square face, Menzies seemed to be a pretty good physical match for the prince. However, he did undergo a pretty extensive transformation for the role.
Menzies explained to Deadline that few people recognize him for his role in The Crown. “It’s partly because I look quite different with the hair, there’s the whole blonde wig thing going on, and my eyebrows are bleached when I’m filming,” Menzies revealed. Looking at him without his makeup and hair, it’s true that the dark-haired Menzies is almost unrecognizable!
Like many of the other actors on the show, Menzies’ physical transformation wasn’t the only thing the actor relied on. “There’s also the technicalities of how someone talks, and the intonation they use,” he said of his preparation process. We have to say, with the hair, the eyebrows, and the voice, it’s hard to believe that we aren’t watching the real Prince Philip!
Helena Bonham Carter's posh eccentricity made her perfect for Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret is Queen Elizabeth II’s sister. Originally played by Vanessa Kirby — who’s undergone a stunning transformation — Helena Bonham Carter took over the role in season 3. According to Craig Brown, author of 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, choosing Bonham Carter was wise move. “Helena can do posh people and she can do eccentric people, and in royal terms Margaret was eccentric,” he told Town & Country,
Cate Hall, The Crown‘s hair and makeup designer, told L’Officiel that creating Princess Margaret’s look was about showcasing the character’s interest in fashion. “She followed the arts and culture and changed her hairstyle and makeup regularly,” Hall said. Apparently, Bonham Carter was excited about that. “Helena was excited to transform, to test contact lenses, to test different wigs,” Hall added.
Despite Bonham Carter’s impressive physical transformation, capturing the essence of Princess Margaret proved to be tricky. “There’s very little footage of Margaret speaking as herself,” she explained. “You’ve got a lot of appearances and a few speeches, but you get very little sense of what she was like.” Nevertheless, Bonham Carter captured the princess’s sadness and eccentricity perfectly.
Erin Doherty looks just like Princess Anne in The Crown, but sounds totally different
In season 3 of The Crown, Erin Doherty was introduced as Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter. From the moment she was cast, people were quick to comment on the similarities between Doherty and the princess.
Nevertheless, Doherty did have to undergo a drastic transformation. As Town & Country pointed out, her natural voice is nothing like the royal’s — and the voice isn’t the only difference, says co-star Josh O’Connor. “Her physicality, her personality, she transforms and that’s the kind of actor that I love,” he gushed. Even Doherty herself acknowledged the startling differences between herself and the princess, saying, “I don’t think I’m similar to Anne at all.”
Apparently, Princess Anne is one of the few royals who has watched some of The Crown. She spoke about Doherty’s transformation in the ITV documentary Anne: The Princess Royal at 70 (via Independent). She explained that she’d read an interview with Doherty, who’d said that the princess’s hairstyle could take up to two hours. “I’m thinking, ‘How could you possibly take that long?’ I mean it takes me 10 to 15 minutes,” Princess Anne revealed.
Josh O'Connor nailed Prince Charles' mannerisms in The Crown
Josh O’Connor stars as Prince Charles in the third and fourth seasons of The Crown. As Drew Barrymore noted on The Drew Barrymore Show, O’Connor looks like a dead ringer for the prince on the show. “Everybody’s marveling at these side-by-sides of how impeccably right that you got it,” she said. Later in the interview, O’Connor explained how he worked hard nailing Prince Charles’ physicality. “We picked up on this stoop he has and the way he leans his neck out,” he explained.
In another interview, O’Connor explained how the show’s dialect coach helped him master Prince Charles’ voice. “When Charles speaks everything is through the teeth,” he told GQ. He also spoke about how he adopted some of Prince Charles’ mannerisms. For instance, whenever the royal gets out of a car, he apparently checks all of his pockets before waving to the crowd. It’s clear that O’Connor worked incredibly hard to master his incredible Prince Charles portrayal.
In The Crown, Angus Imrie's youthful rosy looks made him a great match for Prince Edward
Prince Edward is Queen Elizabeth’s youngest child, as noted by Town & Country. In The Crown, he appeared several times during season 4. The character was played by Angus Imrie, a young actor known for his work in Emma, The Spanish Princess, and The Kid Who Would Be King (via IMDb). His most memorable role was as Jake in Fleabag – you probably remember him as the creepy kid who kept trying to get into the bath with Claire (via Metro)!
As Prince Edward, Imrie portrayed a very different type of character. Based on photos of the young Prince Edward, it’s not hard to see why Imrie was a natural choice for the casting team. With his rosy, youthful looks and his floppy hair, Imrie is a perfect choice.
In terms of how Imrie got into character for The Crown, there isn’t a lot of information out there. However, like the rest of the cast, he likely trained with the show’s on-site vocal coach and hair and makeup department to get Prince Edward down to a tee.
Tom Byrne used old documentaries to research the young Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew is another of the Queen’s four children. In The Crown season 4, he is portrayed by newcomer Tom Byrne. For Byrne, playing Prince Andrew was fairly daunting. Of course, the Prince has led a pretty public life — in more recent years, he’s been at the center of a huge scandal. So, for Byrne, playing the younger version of Prince Andrew meant trying to discover what he might have been like in private at that age.
Byrne began his research with old documentaries. “There were some really, really cool tidbits of information that I picked up,” Byrne shared in a chat with Radio Times. “Because, of course, the public image of Prince Andrew as a young man — I didn’t want to go for that because that existed anyway, and also, I’m not playing him in a public context.”
Of course, we’ll never know how close Byrne’s portrayal was to the real deal — but based on what we’ve seen, we have to say it’s pretty believable!
Emma Corrin's perfect Princess Diana impression won her the role in The Crown
Princess Diana was the character that fans couldn’t wait to meet in The Crown. The production team cast Emma Corrin in the role, who’d been reading Princess Diana’s lines at the auditions for the character of Camilla, thanks to her vocal skills. “I got the voice mainly through watching Diana: In Her Own Words on repeat,” Corrin told Glamour. She went on to say that her mother, a speech therapist, and the show’s dialect coach were also helpful.
Corrin’s Princess Diana impression was so good that Josh O’Connor, who played Prince Charles, recalled thinking, “She literally is Diana,” at her audition. Since then, fans of the show have also been blown away by her performance. However, it’s Corrin’s physical resemblance to the princess that really got people talking. As Corrin explained to Vulture, she spent a lot of time practicing Princess Diana’s famous mannerisms, such as her “fidgety hands.” She also experimented with how Princess Diana’s iconic floppy hair could be used as a shield. She even worked with a movement coach to find Princess Diana’s physicality through animal work — apparently, Diana’s a total cat!
Emerald Fennell knows that her version of Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown is somewhat fictionalized
You probably know Camilla Parker-Bowles as Prince Charles’ current wife. Back in the ’70s, she was his first love, and in The Crown, she rounds out the love triangle with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. She is portrayed by Emerald Fennell, who has several impressive acting, writing, and directing credits under her belt (via IMDb).
Stepping into Parker-Bowles’ shoes was something that Fennell was interested in early on. As she told Town & Country, she even asked her agent to get her an audition. In order to approach the role, she looked more at the character in the script than the real person. “The thing about, certainly this Camilla, is she’s nosy, and she’s honest, and she’s very open about how deeply weird she finds the whole thing,” Fennell explained. She added that she thought the show’s creator, Peter Morgan, did good job of presenting her character in a fair way. However she added, “The thing is, I’m sure anyone watching a fictionalized version of themselves would be like, ‘That’s not right!'” Still, we think her portrayal is pretty impressive!
Gillian Anderson's Margaret Thatcher wig was the hardest to create
One of the most exciting and interesting characters to enter The Crown in season 4 was Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s formidable first female Prime Minister. She was played by the well-known actress Gillian Anderson. Her co-star Tobias Menzies said to Deadline of their scenes together, “She was looking remarkable, looking incredibly like Thatcher.”
It’s true — the makeup and hair department did an incredible job of bringing Thatcher to life for the show. As Cate Hall, the head of makeup and hair, told Vulture, Thatcher was “definitely the hardest.” As she explained, Thatcher’s hair changed over the years. So, the team had to do “a subtle transition of color throughout the series.” They also had to practically destroy the wig to get the right texture and silhouette.
Aside from the wig, Anderson’s performance is pretty impressive. As she told Harper’s Bazaar, she began her research early. “I just started reading as much as I could and watching as many videos of her,” she said. She also worked on creating a voice; she chose elements of Thatcher’s voice to blend with her own so that she could give a realistic performance.
Marion Bailey used the Queen Mother's favorite song to get in character for The Crown
Victoria Hamilton was the first actor to portray Queen Elizabeth II’s mother on The Crown. When Marion Bailey took over the role in season 3, she knew she had big shoes to fill — or as she put it, “A tough act to follow.” As she explained to Meaww, she did extensive research to prepare. “I read everything I could lay my hands on and tried to watch as much footage that I could find online,” she revealed. She then explained how she got into character each day on set by listening to one of the Queen Mother’s favorite songs: “Whispering Grass” by The Inkspots.
Bailey also shared some slightly surprising facts about how she managed her physical transformation for the role. Apparently, she wore a special bra made of “lentil and bird seed” for a natural-looking bust. “It gave quite a lumpy look to the breasts which worked a treat,” she told Spin1038. Wow, that’s definitely some detailed work from the costume department!
Freddie Fox wanted to give an honest portrayal of Mark Thatcher in The Crown
In season 4 of The Crown, Margaret Thatcher’s troubled son, Mark Thatcher, was played by Freddie Fox. As the Daily Mail noted, his transformation for the role was pretty striking. With Mark’s recognizable red floppy hairstyle, Fox looked perfect for the role.
Fox spoke to Town & Country about how he prepared to play Mark. “I think you have a sort of duty, whenever you play a real character, to make efforts to acquire understanding of who that person was and what was driving them at the time,” he explained. He added that even though he was doing a “sort of imitation” of Mark, he still felt compelled to do ample research. “In a way, it’s the easiest way to work because you don’t have to come up with nearly so much, all the little things are given to you by reality.” We’re impressed by the level of detail Fox dove into in order to get this character right!
Charles Dance played Lord Mountbatten on The Crown — but looks more like another character on the show
Lord Mountbatten is Prince Philip’s uncle in The Crown. Initially played by Greg Wise, Charles Dance took over the role in the third season. You probably remember him as Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. As Dance told The Cut, he was originally considered for the role of Prince Philip, a character “who I bear more than a passing resemblance to on a bad day.” However, he was too young.
Even though he may look more like Prince Philip, Dance certainly portrays Lord Mountbatten with the gravitas the role requires. In an interview with The Times, Dance mused that his face seems to fit many aristocratic roles. “They way my face is put together, I fit some people’s idea of aristocratic, and my face in repose tends to be quite severe,” he said.
Despite his aristocratic looks, Dance doesn’t naturally resemble Lord Mountbatten. “I look nothing like him,” he admitted. “But you know, with a wig and make-up, one goes for it,” he said. And we’re certainly glad he did!
Stephan Boxer is a total deadringer for Denis Thatcher in The Crown
Stephan Boxer took on the role of Denis Thatcher in The Crown, Margaret Thatcher’s husband. As he explained to The Times, his striking resemblance to Denis is what initially got the casting team interested in him for the role, and why they asked him to submit a self-tape. “I slicked my hair back, put on the glasses and I was rather shocked at what I saw,” Boxer shared, explaining how even he was surprised at the uncanny similarities.
Boxer, like many of his fellow actors on The Crown, dove into research for the character. The Denis Thatcher biography, Below the Parapet was “absolute gold dust,” according to the actor. As it was written by Denis’ daughter, it gave Boxer insights into his private life. For instance, he learned that he would sometimes hold his wife’s hand on important car journeys, even though the two weren’t strictly “in love.”
For Boxer taking on the role of Denis Thatcher came with a sense of duty. He felt compelled to change his caricature-like legacy.
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