Thanks to Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” Regé-Jean Page became an overnight sensation as a heartthrob, and his work as the irresistible Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, made him into a household name. Elsewhere on Netflix, another royal figure showed off a similar mix of smolder and quiet dignity: On Peter Morgan’s “The Crown,” Emma Corrin captured Princess Diana’s fragility and suffering. Corrin’s season-long arc depicted Diana’s early days as a royal, as she lost her privacy and anonymity — a familiar feeling for these two British actors whose careers have suddenly exploded.
Emma Corrin: The show “Bridgerton” was brilliant. I think I saw some mad statistic that an insane number of people watched it.
Regé-Jean Page: I’ve got it seared in my brain. Eighty-two million households is what Netflix put out watched “Bridgerton.” And I cannot hold 82 million in my head, because that doesn’t fit. It’s too big. I can’t imagine that a small number of people watch “The Crown.” What’s it like to hold that number in your head?
Corrin: I was thinking this the other day. Our job is the day to day, going in and acting. And then the weirdness is that eons later, this thing has to come out, and then suddenly people are watching it and asking you about it. It’s such a separate state of mind.
Page: I find that very disconcerting, the two different brains that you talk about. Almost like two different people. The guy who does the job and then —
Corrin: Everything that comes afterwards. I guess with “The Crown,” there have been previous seasons. But did you guys expect to be as much of a phenomenon as it was?
Page: Not even an expectation. You have a hope. How did you join the team? Tell us about the process.
Corrin: It was a mental process, but I’ll try to keep it short. I was sort of working, jobbing, trying to earn money in London. And also, manically running around auditioning for anything that I could. I got asked by Nina Gold and Rob Sterne, who cast “The Crown,” to come in and help for some of the chemistry reads they were doing between Camillas, who they were auditioning. Peter had written some preliminary scenes with Camilla and Diana, and so they needed someone to read for Diana.
So I was like, “OK.” And it wasn’t an audition. I was being paid to be there, and I wasn’t going to be on camera.
Page: You got a call from the casting director to come in and be a reader, essentially. Boom! Emma’s got Diana energy.
Corrin: It’s really weird to hear in retrospect everyone’s perspective on this. My agent was like, “It’s the perfect situation because it’s going to be a no-pressure audition.” We decided that I would just prepare as if it was an audition. And so I did, and I worked on the voice with my mum, who is a speech therapist. And then I learned the lines. And I just had fun, because I wasn’t really doing anything at the time.
Page: What’s the name of the house where Diana goes on the hunting trip to impress the family?
Page: Diana goes out there. It’s not an audition. It’s totally an audition. It’s, like, exactly the same thing.
Corrin: Oh, my God. You’re drawing parallels. I’d never thought of it like that, though. I’m having a mental breakdown.
Page: Ah, the lady doth protest too much.
Corrin: Christ. That’s so insane. I’m going to be thinking about that all day. What was your experience with “Bridgerton”?
Page: Similarly and not similarly, I’d been auditioning for it, just not auditioning. I was working with Shondaland on a show. It was kind of just good timing. We had finished on “For the People” as they were casting “Bridgerton.” I was walking out the door, and they kind of grabbed me by the collar, like, “Come back here. We have this thing, and it’s British.”
Corrin: Do you remember what your first thoughts were when you read the “Bridgerton” scripts?
Page: I was like, OK, cool. It’s a period drama. It’s Jane Austen-esque. Why are we doing this now? What does it have to contribute? We have a couple hundred years between Jane Austen and where we’re at now, which means we’ve got like five or six waves of feminism since. And so, in carrying the torch, we need to make some ground with it.
Because Simon’s an archetype that already exists. He’s Darcy. He’s Heathcliff. He’s a tall, dark, brooding, emotionally stunted man.
Corrin: I think Simon’s journey was so interesting in terms of unpacking masculinity.
Page: Yeah, and the idea of romantic heroes. When you say the word “hero,” it implies it’s someone you look up to. We talk a lot with “Bridgerton” about it being female-centric, but also, what are men looking up to? What am I doing with this icon of masculinity?
What’s making this meal actually worth eating? I think of “Bridgerton” as a Happy Meal but with secret vitamins put in there. It’s like a secretly healthy, organic burger.
Corrin: Amazing. You also know that it’s nourishing you in some way. I’m fascinated by how people’s relationships with their parents reflect on how they are as adults. I know that’s part of Simon’s storyline with this relationship with his father, right?
Page: Yes. I think that will tie into masculinity as well. The relationship to your dad. How you inherit responsibility? What do you do with that power?
Corrin: I think, by virtue of my curiosity about that in general, I watched a documentary called “In Her Own Words,” where Diana narrates along to different clips of her story. And it was based on the tapes that went along with the Andrew Morton biography of her. She speaks for about the first quarter of the documentary about her relationship with her family, and she says, “I just remember the main thing from my childhood of always feeling the loneliness.” That really interested me.
I think that her parents had a fraught marriage, and her mum left when she was quite young. For the purposes of the character we were creating, I thought it was really interesting that maybe she experienced a sort of abandonment. So when she met Charles and fell in love with him, she wanted that sort of place of stability and family so much because it was filling this hole that had been left.
Page: I see that 100%.
Corrin: It helped me, jumping into something very quickly, like she did with Charles. And then expecting to be welcomed into this family. It’s the royal family. She must’ve thought, “Fuck this!” And hugging the queen, and she says, “All I want is to be part of the team,” and the way she calls the queen “Mama.” It made a lot of sense to be like, OK, this is her motivation.
Page: You have a lot of source material to work from, and you’re kind of navigating this world buried in living memory about real people.
Corrin: The bridge between the two things for me was the script. I know that sounds really weirdly obvious, but I had three or four months when I got the role and started doing the research when I hadn’t yet got the script. And it was a bit like I was falling into this dark hole of research. I mean, God! If you Google Diana, there’s like new articles every day.
Corrin: And you can read limitless biographies and newspaper articles and speculation. I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new about her that would actually help me artistically when I turn up set to do this job. But then I got the script, and I sort of had this mad realization that as much as this is Diana, this character is almost fictional. And you should treat it as such.
When I got the scripts, I could really just work off what was on the page. It’s sort of a love story. It’s a marriage. It’s two humans navigating extraordinary circumstances by virtue of their position in society. As soon as I narrowed it down to that, I could make any research much more specific.
Page: I think there’s an element of poetry to what we do. You can put things in prose and understand them one way, and then there’s understanding it by knowing how it feels. Things aren’t real until you can feel that, until you can empathize with them. That’s what protagonists do in books. Our job is like a bridge for that.
Corrin: We’re sort of the midway point between people feeling something and the words on the page.
Page: Exactly. We’re just basically a delivery service, you know?