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Josh O'Connor On Playing Prince Charles In Season 4 Of 'The Crown'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales, gave one of the most spectacularly tin-eared replies in the history of romance when he and his fiancee, Diana Spencer, appeared at a press conference after their engagement.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And if I may say, you both look very much in love.

EMMA CORRIN: (As Princess Diana) Oh, yes, absolutely.

JOSH O'CONNOR: (As Prince Charles) Whatever in love means.

SIMON: What a royal ker-thunk (ph). That's Emma Corrin as the woman who would become Princess Diana to the world and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles. Season 4 of "The Crown" is on Netflix. And Josh O'Connor joins us from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

O'CONNOR: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You cad.

O'CONNOR: (Laughter) I know. It's not the best press conference, is it? I mean, it's a pretty bad show from Charles.

SIMON: I said tin-eared. Cruel might be another way of putting it. But, look; you're the man who tries to put his heart and soul on screens across the world. How do you explain that answer?

O'CONNOR: Well, obviously, that's one of the few moments in "The Crown" where we show something that actually factually happened. You know, most of "The Crown," of course, is fiction, and it's pure drama. And so every now and then, we punctuate the episodes in the series with factual events. And that press conference actually happened.

Why he said, whatever in love means, I mean, I think it's to do with a kind of English embarrassment, for one. But two, I think there is a complexity about the fact that he wasn't able to marry the woman he loves, and he was kind of pushed into this marriage with a girl who was much younger than him, wide-eyed, kind of new to the world. He was trying to sort of maybe guide her in this press conference. So I think there's a few things at play.

Again, that's in our world. I don't know - in reality, I can't speak for Charles. I have no idea what was going through his head, to be honest.

SIMON: It's interesting. You were born in 1990, so you did not grow up with Charles and Diana.

O'CONNOR: No, I missed them.

SIMON: I wonder if that let you stand apart from what everybody thinks they know and give a kind of fresh interpretation of this character who, you know, to this day stirs some very sharp emotions.

O'CONNOR: Maybe it's that. I've always had quite a strong feeling about any kind of biopic-style film or television. As an audience member, I'm not a big fan of them. They're very tricky, particularly if the person that you're portraying is very famous, like Charles or like Diana.

And a few years back, actually, there was an amazing film by Todd Haynes called "I'm Not There," which is about Bob Dylan. And I'm a huge Dylan fan. And I always thought that that was one of the most successful biopic-style films because no one was trying to portray Dylan as we know Dylan because none of us know Dylan.

And as always - I always find that's the kind of - that's the point of contention for me is that no one has any idea what Diana and Charles' marriage was like, least of all the general public and least of all me. So I think as soon as you kind of get past that, I think you sort of focus on what my job is, which is to be an actor and create a character. And that kind of takes you away from it. You don't have to worry about being accurate about what the public perception is because we don't really know.

SIMON: And do you find him interesting?

O'CONNOR: As in the real Prince Charles, I think he's very interesting. I should say that I had no interest in the royal family before doing "The Crown," and I don't have a huge amount of interest in them now. But I think in terms of Charles and playing him, I remember when I first met Peter Morgan, the writer of "The Crown" and creator. And we had a chat, and Peter said, you've got to remember that Prince Charles is a boy that's waiting for his mother to die for his life to take meaning. And suddenly, I was like, oh, my God, what a fascinating conundrum. So that, to me, is kind of philosophy and ethics enough to get into a role.

SIMON: I have to ask, have you ever met his royal highness, the Prince of Wales?

O'CONNOR: I haven't met his royal highness, although he did come to a play. I was doing a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company about six years ago. And I don't think he made it through the entire play. It wasn't the greatest piece of theatre.

SIMON: What was it? Do you remember?

O'CONNOR: "The Shoemaker's Holiday." It's an old Elizabethan comedy, which I love doing, and I loved it as a show. But I think maybe it was funnier in Elizabethan times. I don't know.

SIMON: Do you have any concern, Mr. O'Connor, brilliant actor that you are - you know, a lot of British actors get knighted - right? - get the Order of the British Empire.

O'CONNOR: Yeah.

SIMON: Any concern that years from now when somebody brings up your name, a King Charles will say, no bloody way?

O'CONNOR: Shouldn't think so, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

O'CONNOR: I don't have that - I mean, look; I wouldn't be surprised (laughter) if that was the case. I think - to be honest, I think, knowing the little I know about Charles, he's a great supporter of the arts. He's a big kind of fan of culture. And I'm sure that he understands this is pure drama and pure fiction. And no matter how much we kind of dress it up to make it feel like it's reality, it's just not. At times, that is tricky. But I actually think we show the predicament he's in. And there's a lot of sympathy shown in this - in the show for him. So I hope he won't hold it against me.

SIMON: Josh O'Connor, who may never be knighted. He plays or portrays Prince Charles in Season 4 of "The Crown." Rule, Britannia. Thanks so much for being with us.

O'CONNOR: Thank you so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 13, 2020 at 11:00 PM CST
The last name of actor Josh O'Connor was misspelled as O'Conner in a previous headline for this story.