NEWS

The Making Of A Princess: Elizabeth Debicki On Success, Privacy And Her Unexpected Next Move

"A job like playing Princess Diana in The Crown puts the rest of your life on pause”

Having run the gauntlet of press interviews and thrown her arms around multiple fellow actor friends, Elizabeth Debicki slid into her seat at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in late February and kicked her shoes off under the table. She had already bagged a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award in January for her extraordinary performance as Princess Diana in celebrated Netflix series The Crown, but this was the SAG Awards, where there’s no supporting actress category for a television show, just a single award for a female actor in a drama series.
Up against the likes of Sarah Snook (for Succession) and Jennifer Aniston (for Morning Wars), she figured there was no chance she’d win.

Elizabeth wears Christian Dior blouse, pants, shoes, and socks, Dior Fine Jewellery Bois de Rose earrings. Photographer: Regan Cameron. Stylist: Edmond Alison. Hair: Dj Quintero. Makeup: Kara Yoshimotobua. Manicure: @jolene Brodeur. Production: Robyn Fay-Perkins and Noted Collective.

When Debicki’s name was called out, not only was she in shock but she had to try to retrieve those pesky shoes. Having kissed her boyfriend, Kristian Rasmussen, she tottered across the ballroom, shoes half on, half off, before abandoning them. “I just kicked them off and dashed up on stage and did a speech that I really did pull from nowhere,” she recalls.

At 190cm tall and standing in front of her peers in an ice-blue Armani Privé gown embroidered with 145,000 rhinestones, she was no less commanding in bare feet. But as a friend later remarked, she’d given herself the ultimate acting challenge by fronting up to Hollywood’s finest actors and directors and improvising.

“It definitely wasn’t intentional and I probably won’t do that again because – while it wasn’t frightening – I was extremely present,” she says, wincing. “You look down and there’s Bradley Cooper and Meryl Streep and you’re like, ‘Whoa, OK.’”

Elizabeth wears Christian Dior trench coat, Dior Fine Jewellery Rose Dior Bagatelle earrings, Rose Dior Bagatelle necklace. Photographer: Regan Cameron. Stylist: Edmond Alison. Hair: Dj Quintero. Makeup: Kara Yoshimotobua. Manicure: @jolene Brodeur. Production: Robyn Fay-Perkins and Noted Collective.

Speaking from her home in London via Zoom, with a bunch of wattle blossom in the background, Debicki is finally back to being Elizabeth, not the iconic princess she captured so compellingly and with whom she will forever be associated. Gone is the cropped blonde hair, the doe eyes and the voice that made those who knew Diana do a double take. She’s wearing a pistachio mohair jumper and her hair in a bun – only the princess’ head tilt remains. As she’ll later explain, that was already hers.

Months on from her awards season hat-trick, Debicki, 33, is poised to gain a ton of street cred, not to mention respect for her versatility, by flipping from royal drama to an American horror film, MaXXXine, due for release in July. She calls it a “palate cleanser”.

But for now she is enjoying being at home, cleaning out cupboards, baking cakes and cuddling babies. Lots and lots of babies. “Since I started doing The Crown so many of my friends have had babies,” she says, laughing. “My phone is full of baby pictures. Every time I go to look for a photo, I’m like, ‘Whose baby is that?’ I haven’t met some of them yet but it’s the ordinary things
that really kind of restore you.”

Christian Dior coat, dress, Dior Fine Jewellery Bois de Rose earrings, and Gem Dior ring. Photographer: Regan Cameron. Stylist: Edmond Alison. Hair: Dj Quintero. Makeup: Kara Yoshimotobua. Manicure: @jolene Brodeur. Production: Robyn Fay-Perkins and Noted Collective.

After more than two years playing Princess Diana on a show that became a global phenomenon and catapulted her firmly into the A-list, Debicki is in the acting sweet spot. She’s not just earned herself a break but some relief from the anxiety that plagues many in her profession as to where the next paycheque is coming from.

“It’s been so long that I’ve been submerged in this one job,” she says, her voice detectably Australian but smoothed out by her European heritage (her father is Polish and her mother is Australian-Irish) and about eight years living in the UK. “The prep was so intensive and the actual shooting was like being on a wheel that just kept turning in the one direction. I feel very satiated by the challenge of it right now, I don’t really feel the need [to work]. That will come – the hunger to challenge myself again – but at the moment my cup is quite full. Doing a job like that puts the rest of your life on pause.”

Playing Diana, Debicki not only triumphed where others were savagely critiqued (notably Naomi Watts in 2013 and Kristen Stewart in 2021) but she showed confidence in waiting for a part that was uniquely suited to her. Late last year, The Crown casting director Robert Sterne divulged that Debicki had met with the team five years earlier for another role but he’d begged the director not to cast her because, looking ahead, he could see that she would be perfect to play Diana. Having accepted, the actor remembers standing over her kitchen sink saying to herself, “I can’t do this.”

Elizabeth wears Christian Dior dress, Dior Fine Jewellery Diorette ring. Photographer: Regan Cameron. Stylist: Edmond Alison. Hair: Dj Quintero. Makeup: Kara Yoshimotobua. Manicure: @jolene Brodeur. Production: Robyn Fay-Perkins and Noted Collective.

Was it inhibiting knowing other actors had found playing Diana challenging? “Definitely. I would be lying to say it wasn’t,” she replies. “It’s not that I felt I couldn’t do it because other people had tackled it.

I come from [a background in] theatre and it’s not uncommon to have played a part that so many have tried and done brilliantly before you. The most specific feeling I had was that I thought Emma [Corrin, who played a younger Diana in season four of The Crown] was so exquisite that I felt I had to keep that standard. I think a lot of The Crown’s actors feel like that. You are being handed it from someone who’s given it everything and done it so beautifully, and you are watching the polished version of their work as well.”

Debicki needn’t have worried. Having been handed the baton, she not only excelled in her performance but helped bring the controversial six-season series to a polished denouement. She
also gained a deep respect for the woman who died when Debicki was aged just seven.

Elizabeth wears Christian Dior jumper, skirt, shoes, and socks, Dior Fine Jewellery Rose Dior Bagatelle single earring, Bois de Rose bracelet, Rose Dior Bagatelle ring. Photographer: Regan Cameron. Stylist: Edmond Alison. Hair: Dj Quintero. Makeup: Kara Yoshimotobua. Manicure: @jolene Brodeur. Production: Robyn Fay-Perkins and Noted Collective.

“I was a kid in Australia and wasn’t old enough to be aware of her,” she says of Diana. “And because I’m not a Brit, I don’t have imprinted opinions or knowledge or generational access to the royal family like my co-stars inherently do.” However, coming to the character (as conceived by The Crown creator Peter Morgan) with a clean slate was useful, she observes, because it allowed her to view Diana with an open mind.

Indeed, her reflections have added resonance as we witnessed the intense speculation around Catherine, Princess of Wales, earlier this year. “The thing that surprised me was the degree of difficulty in being part of that family and the isolation that can happen to people inside [it] when you’re walled in because of the media attention on you,” says Debicki. “And then there’s a really understandable desire – when you’re being pummelled by the gaze of the media constantly – to control some part of that narrative.”

Read the full story in the July issue of marie claire, where Elizabeth opens up about how a lack of privacy impacts her health and wellbeing, why she never discusses her partner and what success really means to her.

Related stories