Imagine the pressure of casting the right person to play the most famous person in your country? We’ve been talking about the cast rotation of The Crown for years now, and there’s good reason. With a cast consisting of the royal family and the people who surround them, the stakes are sky high. That’s probably why Netflix hired Nina Gold for the job. With multiple Emmy Award wins, she’s the best in the business, and her casting of The Crown‘s third season is exquisite.
Claire Foy was a star on the rise when she was cast as a young Elizabeth for the freshman season of the royal saga, but Gold knew that Olivia Colman would be the person to wear the crown (or the various hats) next. She reminded me that we were watching the stories of a family not entirely in the spotlight, so she wasn’t exactly looking to cast a lookalike to play Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Princess Margaret. She had to look more inward to find the right actor for the job.
As soon as you heard that Colman and Helena Bonham Carter were going to play sisters, you knew you wanted to tune in. When Josh O’Connor was announced as a young Prince Charles, you were eager to see how he would play with this ensemble. The Crown is a drama where even the casting is delicious, and Nina Gold is truly the queen of casting.
Awards Daily: How far in advance did you have to start thinking about this first huge change?
Nina Gold: Really when we were doing Season 1.
AD: Oh, really?
NG: It’s impossible not to start. Well, maybe when we saw Season 1 come to life, it was really hard to not start wondering. We had been talking about it for a very long time. We really made a decision about Olivia [Colman] pretty early on.
AD: Since everyone is so obsessed with the royal family and there have been so many versions of their stories, do you have to put those iterations out of your mind?
NG: Yes. Our approach was all about not trying to cast the sort of the external version of the Queen. We want to try and cast someone who can embody the private version of her. It’s kind of a fictionalized version of her. That was the mindset we had when we cast Claire [Foy] originally and we thought the same thing with Olivia.
AD: In certain scenes, the shape of Tobias Menzies’ face reminded me of James Cromwell and he’s played Philip before. I kept thinking, ‘Nina Gold predicted what Philip is going to look like!’
NG: (Laughs) There is something in the jaw—the way he holds his mouth, perhaps?
AD: Yeah, it’s that stoic clench, I think?
AD: On a research standpoint, what did you look at? Or are you so familiar with the royal family that you don’t have to?
NG: For British people, certainly of my age, it’s part of our culture growing up. It can be so familiar just in a general way—maybe not personal details. It’s just part of your daily life somehow. They’re on TV and in the paper. On the first season, I did a lot of research because I didn’t know a lot about the young Elizabeth, but on entering Season 3, it was stuff of my childhood. I felt very at home with that. I think it also contributes to why the actors are so good in it. There’s something in the writing and something in the knowledge of these characters. It’s subliminal knowledge of these people, but then we can do the research on it.
AD: It’s already subconsciously ingrained in them.
NG: They can really find something to get a hold of and play with that.
AD: What was the most challenging role to nail down this season?
NG: Hmmm. Camila was the person I knew least about.
AD: I was thrilled to see more of that because I knew things about when she and Charles finally got together. I didn’t know it went that far back, though.
NG: Assuming it’s all true, of course.
AD: Olivia has been blowing up in the last few years and she has this quirky personality at awards shows. Helena has gotten the opportunity to play some really dark characters, so it feels like they are playing against type almost?
NG: Maybe. Whether this is what the Queen is like is anybody’s guess. She’s written as this stoic woman who doesn’t reveal her emotions, and that’s the complete opposite of what Olivia is. (Laughs)
AD: (Laughs) It really is!
NG: She’s crying and laughing at the drop of a hat. Helena is also very naturally hilarious.
AD: I love when Margaret lets loose—it’s one of the highlights of the season. Whether she’s running around the Caribbean or relaxing with the President of the United States.
NG: She’s really energetic and a truly natural comedian. Oh! I just remembered who was difficult to cast and that is [Lyndon B.] Johnson. In the way that, to you, you may have a lot of nuanced knowledge of what Johnson is like even if you don’t realize you do. I don’t have that.
AD: When he walked on screen, I knew exactly who he was.
NG: Robert [Sterne] and I had to do a lot of homework to just understand what we are trying to achieve there.
AD: You guys totally nailed that.
NG: He’s really good, isn’t he?
AD: When you said that one has subconscious knowledge of people they see in their everyday life, I wish I knew a lot less of the everyday figures from America.
NG: (Laughs) Yes, it’s quite alarming.
AD: I try not to think about it.
AD: You won multiple Emmy Awards for casting Game of Thrones, another huge ensemble. Obviously, the projects are very different, but what might be similar in casting two shows like this?
NG: It’s very much about feeling and instinct, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure how you figure out how you make the right choice, but you have to have the right vibe about the person. You can’t think about whether they look right or have the right color eyes. It’s about knowing who can create the essence of the character and that goes for if they are playing a real person or if it’s someone completely fictitious. It’s obviously different with real people because you have to make a nod to the person they’re playing. You can’t try to figure out who is going to be a good mimic. That’s not as interesting. You try and cast the right group that feels right together. With both Game of Thrones and The Crown, you have to start somewhere and expand from there.
AD: That makes sense. (Laughs)
NG: Yes, you have to fill it in after you get a move on.
AD: How long did it take you to cast this season?
NG: We cast the main core of it in about, apart from talking about Olivia for two years, four months probably. The later episodes weren’t quite ready, so when we got the actual details, we added smaller cast members after the scripts came to us. You’re constantly adding as you go along. It’s really funny you’re asking me that since I haven’t done any casting for about 10 weeks. I sort of can’t remember how to do any casting. (Laughs) I can’t remember how I got anything done.
AD: Do you find yourself watching television and thinking about how you would want to cast them in something?
NG: Yes, but I’m watching a lot of old stuff which I find really enjoyable.
AD: What do you wish people or actors knew about the casting process?
NG: It’s a culmination of years and years of work. It’s a decades-long process of getting to know people and figure out what to cast them in. It’s ever-evolving. The more you do it, the more it makes sense and the more you know what people can handle.
The Crown is streaming now on Netflix.