The Crown creator Peter Morgan thought he’d found the right man to portray Prince Charles on seasons 5 and 6 of Netflix’s royal family show when he approached The Wire actor Dominic West about taking the role, which had been played on the previous two seasons by Josh O’Connor.
“He is one of the U.K.’s most versatile and brilliant actors,” Morgan says, explaining why he wanted West to play the role. “He’s a fabulous company actor, loved by everyone.”
West himself thought Morgan could not have been more wrong.
“Peter got in touch and I went to see him,” recalls the actor in EW’s latest cover story on the Emmy-winning series. “This was about a year before we started shooting. He said he’d be interested in me playing Charles and I was quite astonished. I said, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy, I don’t look anything like him.'” But there was another reason the actor demurred: “I’d been watching the show, I’d been a fan from the start. I was very conscious of Josh’s amazing performance, and his amazing success, and thought it was a bit of a hiding to nothing to try to follow that.”
So what made West change his mind? “I thought about it for several weeks, and it was one of those things you can’t really get out of your head. [I] realized that you’ve got to give it a go because you’ll regret it if you don’t. He’s a fascinating man, Charles, and it’s a fascinating life, and a fascinating role. I mean, apart from anything else, it’s a huge show, and I loved the first four seasons. I realized that I could very happily live with this character for two years.”
The Crown viewers will be able see West’s Charles when season 5 launches Nov. 9 on Netflix. The actor describes shooting his first season of the show as “like climbing into a big royal Rolls-Royce. It’s enormously comfortable. You’re aware of enormous resources available to you. You’re aware of absolutely no expense being spared. We started off on Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, the Christina O, in Mallorca, which was pretty cool. Then we went to Burley [Castle] for Windsor Castle, we went to Knebworth for Balmoral.”
The actor says he particularly enjoyed recreating Charles’ role in the 1997 ceremony, which saw Britain handing Hong Kong back to China, a sequence shot in London’s Docklands area: “I was dressed in Charles’ white tropical royal naval captain’s outfit — which is, I think, his best outfit — and I was taking a salute with these huge skyscrapers behind, a whole stands-full of Chinese dignitaries, and the Black Watch (a Scottish infantry battalion) marching past me. That was cool.”
In addition to West, the new cast of The Crown includes Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth, Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret, Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker-Bowles, and Jonny Lee Miller as British Prime Minister John Major. Season 5 of The Crown will be the first to premiere since the passing in September of the Queen. Peter Morgan has confirmed to EW that the show will conclude with season 6.