Netflix’s The Crown has won acclaim for its portrayal of the last century of history of the British Royal Family, and in addition for praise for its storytelling it has also received notice for its casting. Robert Sterne, the show’s lead casting director, talked with The New York Times about the formidable casting process and how his team discovers the right talent to portray members of the world’s most famous royal family.
Because of the time jumps in the series, which covers nearly the entirety of Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign, Sterne has had to recast many characters throughout the series to reflect their advancing ages. Sterne says, “Casting every actor every two years is not something I’ve ever had to do before. You’re always keeping your antennae open for who might be good for something down the line. There are breaks every two seasons, but I suppose I’ve probably spent about five months of each year working on this show alone.”
In addition to the challenge of casting actors portraying famous figures, Sterne also has to consider the continuity from one actor to the next playing the same role to ensure the transition is as seamless as possible. He explains, “You want a certain visual similarity because these are real people, and that’s fun for the audience. But there’s also this idea of the baton being passed from actor to actor, which I think has been an interesting creative challenge for them, trying to rise to that bar.”
Despite all that work, Sterne notes that it is easy to see when they have found the right actor for the role. He says, “You can just see that they’ve made a connection with the writing and the character, and something just clicks. Quite often, it’s not necessarily what you imagined, but there can be a kind of joy in that discovery. Then you go and talk to everyone about whether this version is the right version.”
“You’re looking for actors who you think can inhabit a character in all its complexity as written. People who can transform, who have the technical skill and talent to do a really detailed version of the character.”
While casting for physicality is important finding the right actor to inhabit the part is paramount (for example, Elizabeth Debicki, who portrays Princess Diana in season 5, is about half a foot taller than Diana was). Sterne explains that finding that balance can be challenging. He explains, “It can be quite complicated. The scripts are the starting point. You’re looking for actors who you think can inhabit a character in all its complexity as written. People who can transform, who have the technical skill and talent to do a really detailed version of the character. Peter [Morgan, show creator and prinicpal writer] never writes in simplistic terms, so you want somebody who’s going to rise to that and enjoy it.”
The show has helped launch the careers of several actors, such as Emma Corrin, which is something that Sterne is happy to see after they complete their roles on The Crown. He shares, “I’m just focused on what needs to be achieved in the particular situation. But when people do get an opportunity and are able to move on and develop their careers and their creativity, it’s a huge pleasure to watch. Total delight, joy and pride.”