Erin Doherty believes she has already peaked in terms of embarrassing paparazzi photos. At the height of the second lockdown in 2020, the actor, who played Princess Anne in The crown, was styled with his girlfriend in a supermarket parking lot wearing a khaki fleece, tracksuit bottoms and three pairs of socks. “What was that?” she said laughing. “That freaked me out a bit. Why does anyone care what I get at Lidl? Odd. And it looks like I have gigantic feet. I feel like this is one of the trickiest situations to be in and it happened, so now i just have to move on.
The actor had captured the attention of the tabloids – and the rest of the country – with his prickly pear performance as the Queen’s outspoken daughter in Netflix’s hit royal drama. Hard and prickly on the outside but soft and gentle on the inside, Princess Anne of Doherty was kissing her brother Charles on the cheek one minute and punching him in the stomach the next. She sang David Bowie songs in the car and answered her parents. Doherty made the royal, well, almost cool. Google searches for Princess Anne have exploded and she is now one of the most popular figures in the royal family. “It blows my mind,” Doherty says. “I feel really shocked for her. She’s damn amazing.
But we’re on the phone, the day Storm Eunice tears the country apart, to talk about Chloe, the mystery thriller that ended this week on BBC One. “Hello !” chirped the 29-year-old woman with her accent from the estuary. “This storm is crazy, huh?” She is in her new flat in Peckham, where she lives with her girlfriend, actress Sophie Melville. “There’s one of those weird rooms that keeps making noise, so we blasted the music to recover from that.” Prior to the move, Doherty and Melville lived in a roommate with six other actors. Fun but exhausting. “It felt like a rite of passage, but I’m so glad it happened,” she says. “Now it’s just us, which is so nice.”
In Chloe, Doherty stars as Becky, a social media-addicted temp worker who lives with her sick mother. Becky seems to be obsessed with her childhood best friend (Chloe, played by Poppy Gilbert), who abandoned her when she moved out as a teenager. When Chloe is found dead, Becky infiltrates her group of friends – a posh, high-performing set from Bristol – and begins sleeping with Chloe’s widow, Elliot (Billy Howle). She’s on a mission to find out why Chloe died. To transform into a yuppy Bristolian with the fake name of Sasha, she listens to podcasts on how to make unagi sauce and takes out loans to buy mohair sweaters and embroidered dresses.
Doherty’s range is amazing. Becky is many things – a master manipulator, a dull loner, a dynamic socialite, an anxious carer – and Doherty plays them all to sublime, excruciating effect. Every flicker of an eyelid is meticulously timed. The way her fake smile drops as soon as the person she’s cheating on looks away is a thrilling display of duplicity. Her understated performance is reminiscent of queen of tricksters Rosamund Pike.
Doherty had a lot of fun with the accents. As Becky, she has a rhotic West Country cadence, but as Sasha, her vowels stretch lazily. “It’s so rare to be able to walk in and out directly,” she says. “That’s when you force people to overtake. Luckily, I spent three years training in Bristol, so I knew the accent pretty well.
The actor – who was educated at Bristol Old Vic, a school which has also produced his co-stars in The crown Olivia Colman and Josh O’Connor – love to double things up. Most people know her for her cut-glass PR voice as Princess Anne, but she grew up in Crawley (“Whenever someone asks me, I say Gatwick airport, because that’s all what is there”). On the contrary, her accent is closer to Becky’s than royal. “I love taking people by surprise,” she says. “When someone recognizes me and I start talking, I can tell on their face that they’re analyzing what’s going on, because of the sound coming out of my mouth versus the sound in their head. You can see they change their whole view of me.
Doherty, whose parents separated when she was four, spent her childhood being transported between her parents’ homes, acting class and soccer practice. She was scouted for Chelsea but gave up football for playing aged 13 ‘because my dad kept me coming and going for a long time, bless him’. After sixth grade—she’d slept a lot because she “hated” school and wasn’t “massively social”—she kept applying to acting schools and kept getting rejected. Eventually Doherty joined Bristol Old Vic at the age of 20 and, after graduating, worked in theatre. Her first screen role was as a struggling mother in Call the midwife. “Then it all flowed from there,” she says.
Her childhood was very different from that of Becky, whose mother Pam, brilliantly played by Lisa Palfrey, has early dementia. The strained relationship between parent and child oscillates between love and hostility. “The fact that Becky is in this strange nomadic land, figuring out if she’s her caregiver,” Doherty says, “is all so important in our society and we don’t really put it on screen. The main little nugget about Becky that I clung to throughout filming was this deep loneliness. I realized that once her mother forgot about her, she had no one in her life. It’s basically waiting to fall off the surface of the earth. She has no relationships, connections, friendships, nothing. This desire to put herself in another person’s shoes is her way of finding some sense of community. She almost vibrates with loneliness. That’s what pushed her into this manic state.
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The series masterfully portrays how social media has consumed us. Becky scrolls almost desperately, from the moment she’s bent over her cereal in the morning to the moment she lies blind-eyed in her bed at night. Doherty says his own relationship with her is “a constant battle.” “It’s so easy to spend hours looking at nonsensical cat stuff,” she says. “And as soon as you log on and see all these amazing things that people do – which, by the way, is not an accurate representation of their lives – I find it impossible not to question my own happiness.”
In a chilling twist, Chloe slowly turns into a domestic drama about coercive control. Elliot becomes increasingly possessive, eventually locking Becky in his house and wringing her neck. “You’re the first person I talk to about this aspect of the script!” Doherty cries. “Nobody brought it up. I haven’t experienced it firsthand, but it seeps into people’s relationships. It’s so cancerous in a way; people don’t realize what happens until it’s three stages later. I hope that on some level some people were like, ‘Ah, I never realized that maybe this was something that happened to me.” I’ve been dying to tell people about this part of the show. I pray that over time people will actually have this conversation.”
Doherty was relieved when she received the script for Chloe. She felt like she had been “put on hold” after The crown and was determined to show people that she could play something other than classy or regal. “I knew I had to work double hard,” she says. “It’s so strange – you fight and fight and fight just to get any job at first, and once you break through, the second fight has to start, to show people that I can do anything other than Princess Anne. Becky was so opposed to her. That’s why I jumped on it. »
But she learned a lot from Princess Anne. “I try to be as honest as possible now,” she says. “For so long I grew up thinking about accommodating the people around me. While this is very important, it has stunted my ability to feel what I was feeling in these situations and to express my emotions.
The role has changed her life – in addition to being drunk while shopping, she is part of a WhatsApp group with Olivia Colman. Did the group chat explode every time a Prince Andrew or Megxit story broke? “Honestly,” she says, “no one was talking about it because when you’re promoting with Netflix, there’s a whole list of all these things you can’t talk about.” But what about private conversations? “I can’t remember a time when anyone had a conversation about the real royal family. Nobody talked about it because that’s what we’ve been doing all day. When you’re actually sitting in the green room, all you want to do is chat about everyone’s dogs.
Get texts from the distribution of The crown always feels “crazy”. “Every time that happens, I’m like, ‘Like that’s even a thing!'” she said. “So weird. So weird. When my phone turns on and it’s their name, it’s like ‘What is my life, man?’
‘Chloe’ is available for full streaming on BBC iPlayer, ‘The Crown’ is available on Netflix
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