Whether he is casting known actors, or searching the globe for undiscovered talent, Sterne’s rich history of plucking actors from obscurity into roles that transpose them into stars has been lauded since his first Emmy win for casting HBO’s hit fantasy series, Game of Thrones.
In The Crown’s fourth installment, the series turns its focus toward the tumultuous romance between Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), as their relationship is scrutinized both under the public eye, and within the royal family too. Newcomer Emma Corrin’s performance was instantly well-received, and Sterne was positive he had found Princess Diana during their audition.
“We had all sorts of people coming in and having a go at this pretty amazing role, and then we found Emma Corrin,” Sterne shares. “There was something incredible about the way that she connected with [Princess Diana] and with the complexities of her. It was pretty magical actually.”
Sterne spoke with Awards Focus about the challenges of casting in a series that continually changes cast members, how he casts young and unknown actors in lead roles, and discovering Emma Corrin.
Awards Focus: What are some of the challenges of recasting the main characters each season? Do you try to cast with fresh eyes, or is there an emphasis on continuity for the characters?
Robert Sterne: You have to have double vision with it. In one sense you have to think in terms of who the character is, but at the same time you do have to have some mindfulness of the fact that the role has been created in a particular way by a particular actor before. You have to have a sense that there is some continuity in the portrayal of the character or the flavor of the performer, in some shape or form, so that you don’t cause too much a bump in the road for the audience to adjust to.
I think it’s a very clever idea and (Creator) Peter Morgan always said from the very beginning that they wanted to be bold in that way, and change the cast every two years and not have Claire Foy in various degrees of makeup. I think it’s great because people do change as they get older and they are slightly different people at different stages of their life. It’s a slightly theatrical device and obviously we were very nervous at the beginning, but people seem to have gone with it which has been really exciting.
AF: Emma Corrin was quite a find! What was the process of casting Princess Diana, and did you go into the process with specific actors in mind?
Sterne: It was really terrific casting Diana, because we were given a complete carte blanche. I remember Peter Morgan saying that we had to find the best actor for it, and that there was no pressure to find a famous actor. The brief was that we had to remember that it was the teenage Diana we were looking for, so we weren’t looking for the iconic Mario Testino image of the woman in her thirties. We’re looking for the kindergarten teacher who then has to go on this massive journey. So we knew that it would be an incredible arc over ten years for a young actor to play.
I went out there and started to look at drama groups and sixth form colleges and we saw lots of people in America and Australia. We had all sorts of people coming in and having a go at a pretty amazing role, and then we found Emma Corrin. She walked in the room and she made a particular connection with the character, and she had such joy doing it. There was an incredible magic about the way that she connected with that woman and with the complexities of her. She shone so many lights into different corners of her and it was pretty magical actually.
We had to find someone who could play the bashful teenager with her head on one side, but in whom we could also see these splinters of determination, and the strength of spirit that helps her become the woman she ends up being.
AF: Have you ever cast anyone who you predicted would go onto to become a star, or is the industry unpredictable by nature?
Sterne: I don’t think you can ever completely know, especially when casting something like Game of Thrones where you’re casting a lot of very young kids. We knew that the storylines would be massive for them if the show went on and on, and we didn’t know how things were going to unfold, or that the show would go on for ten years!
So it is a roll of the dice every time you cast a role, but you also have to be really thorough and rigorous, and give them every opportunity to gain confidence in the audition process. Especially when casting young children; you see them lots of times and you give them lots of different scenes to do, so that they get a measure of what they are supposed to do, and they’re not going to freak out on set.
AF: I loved the casting choice of Emerald Fennell as Camilla. Can you tell me more about how that casting choice came about?
Sterne: We were just trying to find the wittiest and most wonderful actress we could think of to have fun with this character, and honestly who could be better than Emerald? We were just really lucky that she was around and available to do it!
AF: What’s been the most surprising aspects of this casting journey so far?
Sterne: Seeing what Josh O’Connor did with the role of Prince Charles was really fantastic. He had to play such a range from being squashed and sat upon as a young adult, to exploring his adult frustrations within his personal life. I think he has a real humanity to his acting, which takes it way beyond goodies and baddies, you just get to see the real humanity of Charles, which carries you through those two seasons with him. So seeing the actors develop their roles over that two year period, really is the most rewarding part of the journey.
AF: Do you frequently find yourself looking for and casting new faces?
Sterne: I seek out projects where I am able to do that, as part of the thrill of casting for me is giving someone a new opportunity, and seeing them fly with it. It’s the dream to find the right person for the right project, and it’s wonderful when they are associated with that character from the start and the audience is not thinking, “I remember them from A, B and C.”
They define the character because they’re new, which makes it quite interesting as a viewer. It’s a real buzz to be part of the process that gives new actors those opportunities.
It’s no surprise that four-time Emmy winning Casting Director Robert Sterne has once again been recognized for his guiding hand in Netflix’s prestige drama series The Crown.