Elizabeth Debicki on the ‘Heaviness’ of Playing Princess Diana in ‘The Crown’: ‘It’s a Strange Place to Exist In’

Season 5 of Netflix’s historical drama “The Crown” covers Peter Morgan’s reimaginations of some of the most polarizing experiences endured by the royal family in the ‘90s. Elizabeth Debicki, who plays the beloved Princess Diana, tells Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast that she felt the “heaviness” and “weight” of playing the late icon.

“It’s a unique experience playing a character where this tragedy is looming,” says Debicki. “It’s a strange, heavy place to exist in.” On this episode of the podcast, “The Crown” star Elizabeth Debicki talks to Adam B. Vary about playing a tragic real-life figure like Princess Diana, including the research that went into the role, and how she captured the voice of the former Princess of Wales. But first, on the Awards Circuit Roundtable, we look at the race as Emmy phase 1 voting begins. What shows benefitted from the FYC campaigns? And so much more. Listen below:

The season highlights the inevitable downfall of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ (now King Charles) marriage, defined by a slew of alleged affairs and that infamous revenge dress heard around the world.

Working with the head of the research department on the series, Debicki received an “enormous amount of printed materials and books” to prepare to play Princess Diana ahead of Season 5. “If you read the archival documents, you get a sense of what Season 5 is going to cover,” Debicki explained.

Debicki reveals she went through a “psychological journey” to encapsulate the essence of Diana that Morgan intended to evoke in contrast to an exact replication of the former Princess of Wales.

“This was different, coming to understand that it’s Peter’s interpretation and that he is crafting the journey of the character,” Debicki explains. “When the script landed in my lap, I did feel a huge amount of relief, because it had been sculpted already —  all of that mass information, he’d carved through that and created this pathway.”

Capturing the voice of Diana was something Debicki found herself “really fixated and obsessive about” nailing in the series. Debicki worked with a dialect coach to perfect Diana’s “iconic” voice, an element of the character she felt was important to recreate for the audience.

“I felt like it was something I owed to the audience, that sonic accuracy,” Debicki says. “The voice of the character is so imprinted in our collective consciousness. There are a lot of iconic voices, and she had one of them and so I thought, ‘Well I have to do this justice.’”

The pressure of playing a fictionized version of the people’s princess was something that Debicki felt and hadn’t realized the weight of ahead of the project. “I never really understood what was lost because I hadn’t experienced the impact that she had on the public,” says Debicki. “She’s taught me a lot; I think she lived her life with an enormous amount of courage and with a strong love ethic. She really loved deeply and she needed to be loved in a way that I don’t know she ever really found.”

Morgan’s depiction of Diana is one that Debicki highlights as a very “organic” and “authentic” side of the late princess. “His Diana always seems to be a human being who’s trying to claw their way to something in a system that was allowing for authentic expression of who you are as an individual,” says Debicki.

“He always seems to write her as somebody who understood the duty that was involved once she had become ensconced in the family. I think that directness in the way Peter writes is constantly at odds with the way of the rest of the family.” 

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

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