The Crown’s Dominic West Puts Charles in Charge: How the beloved British actor, who’ll play the series’ final Prince of Wales, found his way through drama, Diana, and the death of a monarch.
On how West’s admiration for Charles (now King Charles III) almost kept him from taking the part: When I ask West why he wanted the role, he says bluntly, “I didn’t,” saying he was “very apprehensive.” He has met the new monarch half a dozen or so times through his ongoing role as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, the charitable organization Charles started in 1976. West believes sincerely in its mission of helping disadvantaged youth. In one group photo from a red carpet in 2014, West appears just over Charles’s right shoulder, grinning from ear to ear. “I’m a big fan of Prince Charles, as he was,” West says. “I didn’t want to do anything to upset his mission.”
On how West found some similarities between himself and the man destined for the throne: “I have quite short legs and quite a big head and I’ve got a bit of a stoop, like him,” West says. The Crown’s team of experts helped him get further into character, with a voice coach telling him, “You mustn’t open your mouth, talk through clenched teeth the whole time.” West studied Charles’s body language, too, making note of how he tends to keep himself rather contained, elbows by his side. Throw in some pointing and fidgeting—“He’s got these big sausage fingers, and he’s always fiddling with them,” West says—and a few meticulously tailored double-breasted suits, and you’ve got yourself a future king.
On how his version of the prince is more confident and scheming: “This is a man, in the prime of his life, who cannot and has not been able to fulfill his destiny,” West says. “This is a man who, in his late forties, still has to obey his mother, not just as his mother but as his sovereign, his queen, his boss.”
On his stance in ‘the war of the Waleses’ and how he comes out clearly on Team Charles: “The trouble was Diana was such a superstar. She’s got such star quality that he doesn’t have, and thank God, because their job is quite boring.” West starts laughing, but his reflection continues to a more contemporary place. “We’re finding it now with our prime ministers, and you with your presidents: It’s exhausting having a high-octane leader who’s very media savvy,” he says. “We long for the rather boring, sensible ones who are functionaries who get on with the job.”
On the media portrayal of Charles and what he calls “relentless criticism”: In preparing for the role, West made note of the tone in which Charles has often been written about. “There’s a certain sort of sneering dismissal of him as a crank,” West says, “of someone who’s getting involved when he shouldn’t… He’s proved them all wrong,” West says of the new monarch, praising his work on the environment and focus on disadvantaged youth.
On the ways in which Charles is different from his history-making mother and how they are assets, in West’s estimation: “I love that since he became king, in contrast to his mother, he is totally heart-on-his-sleeve,” West says. “I mean, that thing he did about Liz Truss?” The actor slips back into his pitch-perfect Charles to mutter the king’s remark to the short-lived prime minister: “Back again, Dear, oh dear.” Then he adds, through clenched teeth for good measure, a “Bloody pen! Fucking pen!” roaring over the leaky pen incident. “The queen of 70 years was never that emotive, and he’s doing it every day,” West marvels. “I think people love it.”
On The Crown production pausing after the queen’s death, which meant West could hole up in his hotel room and watch the wall-to-wall television coverage from around the world: “It was poignant and, in some ways, sad. But in most ways, I think it was such an amazing life and such an amazing death, really, that it didn’t feel very sad.”
On the accessory that West had grown quite attached to one accessory in Charles’s wardrobe – his signature gold signet ring, which he wears on his pinkie: “That’s the last thing I put on, and that’s when I feel I’m him, I’m ready to go,” he says.
On having West’s actual son playing the role of William this season: Having his real-life son play his fictional offspring made West’s job a bit easier. “What was great,” he says, was the “shortcut to a sort of tactile intimacy that you have with your kids that no one else has.” Senan auditioned to continue the role into season six, when William and Charles begin to clash. “I felt a bit uncomfortable,” West says, and relieved when his son did not get the part.
On how fatherhood was one of the aspects of Charles that West felt most strongly about, lobbying series mastermind Peter Morgan for a more involved portrayal: “I was concerned about his relationship with his sons,” West says. “From what I’d heard, and from any research I was able to do, that was one area where I felt he’d been misrepresented. And Peter changed it…Everyone takes the responsibility very seriously and very respectfully,” he says. “There is very much a feeling, which Peter said repeatedly, that everyone gets a fair hearing.”
On his argument for why the series is compelling and the themes of the show: “Who wears the crown has been a legitimate subject for dramatization since well before Shakespeare,” he says. The monarch is not a private individual but a very public head of state. “Inquiry and scrutiny” of the sovereign and the powerful institution around the throne is entirely fair game, as he sees it. “It makes anything stronger to be tested,” he continues. “We’re bowing to these people—who are they? What are they doing? Do they deserve our reverence?” He ends his impassioned defense with a healthy dose of perspective. “Frankly, monarchs have been through wars,” West says with a hint of a grin. “If we can’t get through a TV show, then it’s not on a very firm foundation.”
[Photo Credit: Nick Thompson for Town & Country Magazine]
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