'The Crown' Cast on Replacing Series' Past Stars, "Less Pretty" Season 3

Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Tobias Menzies take over royal duties from Claire Foy, Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby this season.
Charles Dance, Erin Doherty, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Morgan, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Josh O’Connor

As the Netflix hit The Crown returns for a third season, viewers will notice a new crop of actors is taking over Buckingham Palace. 

The drama — which follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II from the 1940s to, in the new episodes, her reign in the '60s and '70s — replaced its season one and two stars Claire Foy, Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby this season as the characters entered middle age, welcoming Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham Carter in their place. 

In looking for his new queen, creator Peter Morgan said Colman topped "a list of one," although she did present issues in having brown eyes rather than Foy's blue, which led the team to experiment with digitally replacing her eyes in order to match her predecessor.

"When we looked at it we didn't like it much, so in the end we decided against it," Morgan told The Hollywood Reporter at the show's premiere at Los Angeles' AFI Fest on Saturday. "We thought, 'Listen, let her just act, it'll be fine.'" As for Colman's own personal preparation in stepping into Foy's Emmy-winning shoes, Colman teased, "I basically copied Claire."

Another inconsistency were the actors' heights, with Bonham Carter several inches shorter than Kirby, though she used that to her advantage when taking over the role of Princess Margaret. 

"I thought one thing I was going to be better at was being short because I am shorter and she was only five-foot, and I'm closer to five-foot than Vanessa Kirby is," the star joked, adding that she was intimidated to replace Kirby following her BAFTA win for the season two performance. 

"It's a long way to fall. Vanessa was really helpful, she so loved playing her I felt like, and I knew she wanted to carry on but that was not going to happen — it was like me adopting her favorite child," Bonham Carter said. She also wanted to bring dimension to Elizabeth's frequently frowned-upon younger sister, portraying that she could be funny, serious, haughty and royal all at the same time, to "show people that behind her misbehavior is a lot of pain." 

While previous seasons have focused on Elizabeth and Philip's courtship and marriage, season three takes the show from "being a husband-and-wife drama to a full-blown family drama," Morgan said, with the royal children (Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles and Erin Doherty as Princess Anne) entering adulthood and getting their own stories. Things also get more complicated for the Queen, as she deals with the death of Winston Churchill and a rotating cast of political characters. 

"I think it's maybe a less pretty, less romantic period — the weight of the crown feels a bit heavier, a few more challenges from outside," Menzies said. 

Part of the AFI event, held at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre, also included a tribute to Morgan and a sit-down conversation between the showrunner and John Lithgow — who played Churchill all three seasons, and is the only castmember from season two to appear in season three. 

The two briefly went through Morgan's career, which has included multiple projects about the royal family and British government, leading him to deadpan, "If someone had told me eight or ten years ago that I'd be writing about these people for this long, I'd have blown my brains out." 

He did, however, talk about the appeal of showcasing the royals, particularly in The Crown, because for decades the family have been seen as objects of satire and ridicule. 

"If anything, I feel that people are responding to the fact that we're treating them as complex, three-dimensional human beings trapped behind this prison where we don't know what we want of them: we can't work out if we want them to be just like us or nothing like us, whether we want them to be mortal or immortal gods, imperfect or perfect," Morgan said.

The creator also opened up about almost singlehandedly writing the series — though he brought in a few writers this season to assist — in an accidental situation, as in a time of Peak TV, many of the writers that he wanted to collaborate with were "just completely overcommitted, and one or two would say, 'Yes I'd love to come and join you, I'll be free in 18 months.'"  

Season three of The Crown is streaming now on Netflix.