During her 16 years in the spotlight, Diana, Princess of Wales, was one of the most photographed women in the world. Part of what endeared her to the public and made her so irresistible to the press were her distinctive and unusually expressive mannerisms: the shy tilt of her head, the nervous lip biting, the tactile way she interacted with her children. her.
The challenge for any actor playing such a recognizable public figure is how to capture his essential movements without falling into caricature. For Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Diana in the last season of “The Crown”” movement coach and choreographer Polly Bennett made that task less intimidating.
Bennett has worked on “The Crown” since Season 3, helping the cast fine-tune their physical performances and understand the origins of each character’s unique gestures, postures and gaits.
“We find the reasons why the movements occur,” Bennett said in a recent video conference from London. Bennett, who originally trained as a dancer, encourages actors to be as aware of their bodies as they are of their lines and accents.
“Actors spend a lot of time alone, absorbing a lot of information and not being able to put into practice or materialize what they are doing,” he explained. “Especially on shows like ‘The Crown,’ I invite them in and say, ‘Tell me everything you’ve been watching.’ And then we figured out how to make that physical, so you’re not stuck in your head saying, ‘I have to act like I’m a famous person.'”
Most people, when asked to do a Diana impression, probably tilted their heads or tried to look sheepishly. Bennett’s job “is to look at that and say, ‘Well, which side does it usually happen on?’ What does she see when she moves her head? What changes in her breathing when she looks a certain way?’” she said. “It’s like being a private investigator of a lot of public material.”
In Bennett’s view, it’s useful to consider how being as famous as Diana might manifest physically. “Being seen by a lot of people all the time changes your body,” she said. “It changes the way we talk to people. “It changes where you sit in a restaurant and how you interact with the people you love.”
Bennett assumes that “everything psychological that happens to us exists in our body,” he said.
The way we behave is the result of countless factors, from the sports we played as children to the foods we eat. The goal of this method is to “create a complete, complete character,” Bennett explained. “It is not about imitating something that already exists. “You’re trying to find an authentic truth and a reason why people act the way they do.”
Debicki said that when he joined “The Crown” in season 5, taking over as Emma Corrinwhose representation of blushing teenager nicknamed “Shy Di” was so strange that sparked a meme —she felt nervous and vulnerable. “It was overwhelming,” said Debicki, who prepared by watching hours of archival footage of Diana.
“There was an incredible magnetism, an approachability, a very distinctive vulnerability that helped us empathize with her unlike other public figures,” Debicki said. “One of the things that frustrated me when I was trying to do my research was that I would sit with my notebook taking notes. “Then I ended up looking at the screen lovingly and was like, oh shit, I have to go back 20 minutes.”
Debicki compares this preparation period to standing on a threshold: “You haven’t started trying yet. [perform the character] out loud in front of people. “She understood how vulnerable that threshold was and just helped me get over it.” Debicki and Bennett would review images and photographs together and identify patterns in Diana’s behavior, observing, for example, that she “never gets out of a car without pressing the clutch against her chest. We break it down: Well, obviously that’s because she didn’t want to give the photographers an angle,” Debicki said.
For Debicki, who also had experience as a dancer, there was something liberating about collaborating with someone who was so body-focused and could help find what she called the “emotional logic” of her character’s movements, an “incredibly crucial step.” ” to make the show, he said.
The Australian actor is effusive in his praise of Bennett, saying that whenever he runs into Austin Butler at an event, “All we do is talk about Polly. “It’s a revolutionary thing to have someone say to you, ‘I want to help you do this work that you would otherwise have to do on your own.’” (Bennett worked with Butler on “Elvis,” helping him embody the rock ‘n’ roll mannerisms of the legend.)
On “The Crown,” Debicki played Diana from 1990 to 1997, a turbulent period that included the demise of her marriage and a series of very public scandals that tarnished the British monarchy. The first installment of the final season of “The Crown” follows the princess during the final weeks of her life, as she forged a new path outside the royal family, vacationed with her children in St-Tropez, and He was pursuing a whirlwind romance with Dodi Fayed.
“It is only seven years of his life, but a period of very intense changes. It really changes a lot physically,” Debicki said.
Bennett often works most intensely with the cast during pre-production, when they also meet with the hair and makeup teams, train with the show’s dialect coach, William Conacher, and rehearse with the directors. She tries to find evocative images or mantras that help them get in and out of character easily and give them “something practical to play with,” she said. She is also regularly available on set for the actors. “Being there is a reminder that you can think with your body as well as with words,” she said.
With Corrin as Diana, one visual that Bennett suggested was to imagine that lasers were being aimed at Diana’s head, and she was trying to avoid them, like Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Entrapment.” When Debicki took on the role, Bennett asked her to act out scripts from the previous season, “so that she would have the experience of being the younger Diana and could grow throughout the series like Emma had,” she said.
But they also focused on finding a new physical vocabulary for the character: They reviewed the footage together and noted, for example, how Diana worked with crowds. She approaches the people in the back, then those in the middle, and then usually she addresses a child: Back, middle, child. So she’s working in three planes of motion, which is probably why people felt so attached to her, because they didn’t feel isolated,” Bennett said. (Charles, on the other hand, was usually looking for a man of similar height.)
Debicki, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall, also understood what it was like for Diana to be tall. “I know what it means to feel like you want to be on the same level” as other people, she said. “Every time you walk into a room, you’re either the brightest, brightest thing possible walking into an auto parts factory opening, or you’re surrounded by people who are really suffering, for example. There is a sensation where you feel that the body is trying not to compensate for that.”
He was especially struck by a famous video of Diana conversing with a blind man, kneeling at his level and offering her face for him to feel. “It’s like, how can you not love that person so much with that degree of offering and vulnerability?” Debicki said.
In season five, they focused a lot on the “revenge dress” sequence from season five, noting the confidence with which Diana got out of the car. “She doesn’t stop. She doesn’t check her bag. She doesn’t look down. “It’s a really hard thing to do,” Bennett said. She encouraged Debicki to think like an owl, an animal that stays very still but needs to be able to dart quickly.
“Pictures like that, and investigations like that, mean Elizabeth doesn’t have to play ‘get out of the car and tell the world to take a look at this.’ She plays an owl, which is much more liberating as an actor,” Bennett said.
The sixth season presents an even more complicated Diana, freed from the confines of royal life but also besieged by the paparazzi. Her intense attachment to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, is evident through their physical connection: Bennett had Debicki imagine an electrical current linking them. But she’s also closing herself off, trying to get out of the sight of photographers, when she’s not posing for them.
Season 6 also offers an imagined version of the private Diana as she pursued a relationship with Dodi. We see the couple in cloistered, luxurious spaces: in a suite at the Ritz Hotel and aboard the Fayed family yacht. Debicki and Bennett talked about how Diana would be in contact with the ship’s furniture: touching the walls, playing the piano. “All of these things that she is in contact with root her to the earth, where she is in contrast to the public Diana’s feeling, that she is not rooted,” Bennett said.
They prepared for the scenes in which Dodi and Diana left the Ritz Hotel the night they died in a car accident by reviewing grainy security camera footage that captured some of their final moments. One detail that stood out: how Diana is in contact with Dodi and the objects that surround her. “That could have been incidental,” Bennett said, “but we can take it as the idea of her trying to hold on to anything tangible when things become ethereal and terrifying.”
They also took note of his clothing: a thin black jacket and white pants. “She’s confining herself,” Bennett said. “What she’s not doing is wearing a ball gown and greeting the press. So sometimes looking at what they’re not doing is more revealing than what they are doing.”
Bennett also works with the rest of the cast to identify and unravel signature moves. With Dominic West, who plays Prince Charles in seasons 5 and 6, they imagined a crown floating just above his head to explain the heir’s slightly hunched posture. “And that’s a very useful image psychologically for him, as someone who maybe becoming king, but it also gives a reason for that inclination that we can see in the body of Prince Charles,” Bennett explained. That way, he said, “he’s playing something active instead of just hunkering down for the sake of it.”
Bennett and Imelda Staunton, the third actor to play Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown,” decided that the queen should stand with her big toes firmly planted on the ground, which “gives her a little push toward forward to the column,” Bennett said. “She’s always ready to leave, because she doesn’t want to stay. “She has things to do.”
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