What You Should Know About Emma Corrin
Emma Corrin is free. Free from the gender binary, of course, but free also from the professional constraints and pressures of fame that plague so many of their peers. Corrin’s lack of inhibition has led them towards roles that consistently challenge not only themself, but their audience, playing characters that exist just outside the traditional bounds of society, who buck expectations and forge their own path. That’s included resisting the oppression of the royal family as Princess Diana on The Crown, rebuking the institution of marriage as the title character in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and embodying the titular role in the new West End production of Orlando—a story, at its core, about finding the courage to become your authentic self. Seeing Corrin onscreen can feel like watching a sleight of hand performed at incredibly close range. There’s an intimacy and vulnerability to their performance, underpinned by an enigmatic inscrutability that draws you in, like a book slammed shut just as you reach the denouement. Where does the real Emma end and the performance begin? Here, their friend, the actor Paul Mescal, tries to unpack that question. —EMILY KIRKPATRICK
PAUL MESCAL: Hello.
EMMA CORRIN: Morning.
MESCAL: How’s it going, buddy?
CORRIN: I’m good. How are you?
MESCAL: I’m good. It’s an early Zoom call. [Laughs]
CORRIN: It’s the earliest I’ve ever done an interview. What the hell?
MESCAL: I saw Lady Chatterley’s Lover yesterday.
CORRIN: Oh no.
MESCAL: You’re so good in it. Talk to me about—has the interview started?
CORRIN: I don’t know. [Laughs]
MESCAL: It’s started. Tell me how that came your way.
CORRIN: I got approached by the producers and then Laure [de Clermont-Tonnerre], who was attached—have you seen The Mustang, Laure’s other film?
CORRIN: So good. I was excited by the prospect of working with her and the fact that it was a female director, because I don’t think any adaptation of the book has had that before—it’s such a female-driven story. And then I read the script and I loved the dancing in the rain scene and I was just like, “Yeah, it’s cool.”
MESCAL: Totally. I’m actually not familiar with the book so it really felt like the antithesis of what I imagine period drama literature to be. It’s quite sexually liberating and amazing to watch in that context. And I think—me doing my homework and trying to draw a through-line through your work— that you have played these characters who have a really interesting way of finding moments of escape from social pressures. I’m thinking of Diana and the pressure of the royal family. I’m thinking of Lady Chatterley and the institution of marriage.
CORRIN: Yeah, totally. It was all about liberation. Laure puts it a really good way, where she says the story and the film that we were trying to make is very timely, but also timeless. It could speak to any time, given the female experience of it all. The discovery of sexuality and stuff, it’s very relatable.
MESCAL: Totally. You just assume that it’s only modern people who are having sex. [Laughs] The moment in the film that I thought was really, really well played was when you’re holding the little chick. Is that to do with nature or is it to do with Oliver Mellors [Lady Chatterley’s lover]? Or is it to do with many, many things?
CORRIN: You mean before I start having a bit of a panic attack?
CORRIN: I think it’s to do with holding something that’s so precious and vulnerable and seeing herself reflected like that. Because at that point she’s lost any sense of who she is in her relationship with Clifford and feels so belittled and so far from herself and so patronized, and she’s lacking any kind of intimacy, even emotional intimacy. She just wants to be loved and acknowledged and feel like she’s cared for or wanted. Holding something that sweet and fragile and new is incredibly emotive.
MESCAL: There’s something so interesting about your relationship with Mellors. Both of those central characters really surprise you. To see Mellors, this incredibly masculine man, looking after these little chicks and—
CORRIN: I know.
MESCAL: There’s something really delicate about it. Obviously, and I don’t want to be that person who’s like, “Oh and the intimacy,” but the intimacy in that film is so important. I don’t think it would have worked had you and Jack [O’Connell] not been so—I just felt like there was a really strong connection in how you performed together. Was that a chemistry situation? Did you audition for it?
CORRIN: I had been cast before, and then we had this long journey of trying to find the right person for Mellors. Jack was filming something in Morocco, so I met him over Zoom and it was just weirdly his Jack O’Connellness—he’s incredibly passionate about the role because he’s also from Derby, which is where Mellors is from. He neatly captured the social pressure side of Mellors’s story.
MESCAL: It’s so strong in the film. The scene when he’s like, “You’ve used me up.”
MESCAL: When you say, “You’re going to like it,” the class structure of it comes sharply into focus. It’s always there in the background, but that was played so well.
CORRIN: Totally, and he really got that. He spoke a lot about the tenderness in Oliver, which is something that was previously unexplored. We were like, “Wow, there’s a real depth here.” And then he was signed on and we had two weeks of rehearsals with [intimacy coordinator] Ita O’Brien.
MESCAL: Oh, nice. I know Ita well.
CORRIN: We love Ita.
MESCAL: Did she do the animal work with you?
CORRIN: Oh yeah. [Laughs] And then we also did—one of us was blindfolded and led the other outside and touched things and it was about trust and all that jazz.
MESCAL: I have an image of Emma Corrin leading Jack O’Connell blindfolded around the streets of London touching lampposts.
CORRIN: Pretty much. We had two weeks to basically chart the emotional journey for sex scenes, because we didn’t want any of them to be gratuitous.
MESCAL: Those sex scenes feel incredibly modern, and that’s what lasts with me. It’s aesthetically set in that period, but the relationship, if you took the costumes away and the way that they talk to each other sometimes—there are moments where it feels really modern. I don’t know if that dialogue is lifted from the novel.
CORRIN: It’s from the book. It’s wild.
MESCAL: Really? Wow.
CORRIN: Yeah. He uses the word “fuck” and I’m like, I didn’t even think that word existed in the ’20s. It’s an amazingly modern book. Especially the way it talks about sex. But what helped both of us with everything was that we did the dancing in the rain scene the first week of shooting.
MESCAL: Oh whoa, what was that experience like?
CORRIN: The most terrifying but exhilarating thing I’ve ever done in my life. There’s a lot of stuff that can be cushioned with the magic of filmmaking, but in that scene we were literally just running around naked in the rain.
MESCAL: I was like fair fucking play to you both because that’s really hard. How long did you shoot that scene for?
CORRIN: All day. The novelty really wore off by hour 11. It got really cold.
MESCAL: What are your pet peeves of other actors, and what are your favorite things that other actors do? My pet peeve for actors is when somebody is consistently five minutes late.
CORRIN: I find everyone’s different processes really interesting. We’ve got an amazing company for Orlando and everyone’s low-key and very chill. It’s the first time I’ve been with a group of people where there’s no big personalities. Everyone’s giving each other a lot of space to just do their own thing.
MESCAL: Hell yeah. I’ve probably been a culprit of that, being a big personality, but wanting everybody to be best friends. And I feel like the older I’m getting—
CORRIN: The older I’m getting the more tired I’m getting.
MESCAL: I’m like, I actually am not going to be best friends with absolutely everybody that I work with. But, on every job I’ve picked up one or two friends, which is a crazy rate of turnover if you think about it. I have to start kicking people off. [Laughs]
CORRIN: You haven’t made it to the next round.
MESCAL: You are the weakest, goodbye.
MESCAL: I’m looking through some of my notes here. So you’ve wrapped Retreat. What’s the craic [Irish slang for news or gossip] with that?
CORRIN: Did you ever watch The OA?
MESCAL: I actually haven’t watched that but I know it, obviously.
CORRIN: I haven’t watched it either. It’s by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling and they’ve written this eight-part series called Retreat about a young girl who’s an amateur sleuth and hacker and she gets invited to the equivalent of Davos. It’s like Elon Musk’s retreat where he brings people who are the greatest minds in their fields of work to this place in the desert, and they try to solve the world’s problems.
MESCAL: Sounds culty.
CORRIN: Very culty. She gets invited and doesn’t know why because she’s 20 and scruffy and hasn’t really done anything. She published a book about solving a series of murders but only like 11 copies have been bought. She goes to Iceland with this group of incredible people who are all her heroes and they get snowed in and then people start dying and she has to figure out why.
MESCAL: One thing that I was interested to talk to you about was, when The Crown was coming out I remember seeing this huge wave of media coverage about you and your performance and this attachment to Diana who I think you played fucking wonderfully. But I remember looking at how intense that must have been, and I know that you’ve probably talked about this so much, but I’m interested in how you feel now. That’s what, two years ago?
MESCAL: You’re the textbook example of how to navigate something that vast.
CORRIN: I would say exactly the same back to you. I feel grateful that the show came out during COVID because I was weirdly protected from what could have been a really overwhelming press tour. All of the flashiness and that side of our job, which you have to do, is something that you never really sign up for.
MESCAL: Yeah, it’s like doing it with stabilizers on.
CORRIN: I wasn’t being flown all over and there weren’t any red carpets. I did all my interviews on Zoom. I was sort of forcibly dissociated from the experience of my overnight fame because I was still in my flat with all my flatmates. [Laughs] Once life did get up and running my first experience was awards season.
MESCAL: Which was probably about a year after the show came out. Right?
CORRIN: Yeah. It was like, whoa, this is really intense. People see me in a very different way than I see myself. It’s very strange.
MESCAL: Yeah. There’s a perception of, “Well you’re famous now so you’ll have to be okay with it.” You have to handle the responsibility. Do you find that you have to consciously avoid that feeling to make the decisions that you want to make? Or are you going, “That’s one part of it, and then the career choices are another part of it.” Do you feel like they inform each other or do you keep them in separate folders?
CORRIN: Separate folders. Working with Josh [O’Connor] early on was really inspiring, because he makes such clever choices. There’s a real power in saying no and knowing what you want because when you’re catapulted to that kind of thing overnight, you get sudden opportunities and it can be very overwhelming and exciting. And he was like, “There is such power in waiting and figuring out what you want to do next, knowing that you don’t have to say yes to anything.” When it happens to you quite young, you feel like you have to be so grateful.
MESCAL: Right and you kind of just roll with everything.
CORRIN: “Thank you so much. This is so flattering.”
MESCAL: How long will you be in Orlando?
CORRIN: I go until the end of Feb. It’s going to be so fun.
MESCAL: How do you get yourself through an eight-show-a-week schedule?
CORRIN: Sleep, IV drips. [Laughs]
MESCAL: People swear by IV drips.
CORRIN: I have one on Friday. It seems insane but I’m really bad at being strict at taking supplements or whatever.
MESCAL: But it’s the needles thing. The needles.
CORRIN: You can’t do needles? Do you have to puke?
MESCAL: No. I had my appendix taken out recently. You know when they put that cannula thing in?
CORRIN: That’s what they put in.
ESCAL: Maybe an IV drip would be difficult for me but good to know. I do panic about the eight-shows-a-week thing.
CORRIN: It’s insane.
MESCAL: When you look at actors who have been around for years they are so good about managing their body and their energy. I think that’s just probably the experience.
CORRIN: It’s about pacing yourself. It’s nice because once the show starts, you get into a routine because it’s in the evening so you have the day free. But also if I have a day free I’m like, “Great, I have time to do things and see people.” And then it’s actually like, “No, you have torest.”
MESCAL: Absolutely. What do you do after Orlando?
CORRIN: I don’t know yet. I’m waiting to find the right thing. How about you?
MESCAL: I’ll do the play [A Streetcar Named Desire] and then the thing that—I don’t know if we should say it.
CORRIN: No. Yeah.
MESCAL: It’s looking likely that it’ll be that. I did this Interview magazine story with Dakota [Johnson] recently and I said I would call her after and we would talk about all the real stuff. So I’ll send you a text about the thing after this. [Laughs] It’s weird pressure being an interviewer.
CORRIN: You’ve done so well, Paul. Especially for 8:30 in the morning. You’re in London, right?
MESCAL: For the foreseeable. Yeah.
CORRIN: Gorge. I was going to see Phoebe [Bridgers] this week, so maybe if you’re around—
MESCAL: Yeah, absolutely. Sweet.
MESCAL: Alright, chat to you later.
Hair: Daniel Martin using Oribe
Makeup: Becca Wordingham using Dior Beauty at Bryant Artists
Manicure: Simone Cummings at Clm
Set Design: Andrew Lim Clarkson at Bryant Artists
Photography Assistant: Antonio Perrone
Fashion Assistant: Naomi Phillips
Makeup Assistant: Tamsin Ballingall
Set Assistant: Wing Lock
Processing: Labyrinth London
Post- Production: Jason Gilby
Location: Spring Studios