When season three of The Crown debuted in 2019, the historic drama added the esteemed credits of Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter to its royal cast. But the breakout star was Erin Doherty, whose Princess Anne was a bolshie teenager with a cut-glass accent and a precise way with tart rejoinders. A fast-rising stage actor who’d barely been sighted on television, Doherty revived the public’s interest in a forgotten Windsor woman, so much so that afterwards she was deluged with offers of posh but nonetheless lesser parts.
“I knew I wanted to try and hold out and see what kind of different stuff would come my way and luckily it didn’t take too long,” Doherty says. “When Chloe landed at my feet I jumped at it because Becky’s the polar opposite to Princess Anne. For me personally, as an actor, I love shape-shifting and surprising people. That’s what I consistently want to achieve.”
Doherty is jet-lagged for her promotional day in New York – “I’ve had lots of green juices and coffee,” she cheerfully notes – but she’s still feeding off the energy of Becky Green, her lead character in the British psychological thriller Chloe. The character is fiercely complicated, a 20-something struggling with her own life but in thrall to social media, who turns to deception when the subject of her online obsession – Chloe Fairbourne (Poppy Gilbert) – mysteriously dies and Becky infiltrates the woman’s grieving circle.
Becky is at ease in the roles she invents, but uncertain as herself. “I just like to decide how people see me,” she admits, which is both a truth and a lie since she’s posing as someone else – more confident, cultured, and cashed-up – when she says it. With a mother at home who has early onset dementia, Becky could be a sociopath or an intrepid detective, as Chloe refuses to offer an easy explanation. Her identity is so fluid and the situations so tense that the plot’s juicy excess proves to be gripping.
“Becky doesn’t even know who she is! How am I supposed to know?” the 29-year-old Doherty says with a laugh, when it’s noted that every interview asks her to succinctly define the role.
“For me, instinctively, the first thing I do is a timeline of everything that has happened to this person from the minute they’re born to the minute we meet them. From there it just gets deeper and deeper and deeper, and then you take what you can from the script and flesh it out until you feel like you know this person and can live and breathe as them.”
“The lightbulb moment was her relationship with her mum and the realisation that once her mum doesn’t remember who she is, Becky ceases to exist,” she adds. “The fear that comes with that meant the penny dropped about her level of desperation and why she’s able to completely submerge herself into Chloe’s life. She’s desperate not to face her own reality.”
Chloe was conceived by writer and director Alice Seabright, whose own break came via Netflix’s Sex Education. It’s attuned to the narcotic lure of social media, class barriers, and the anxiety of trying to adapt to a world that refuses to see you clearly. The emotional duress and sarcastic one-liners feel connected in an intuitive but contemporary way.
“The show’s strength is that you can completely jump in with this character and feel all the things she’s feeling and experience that panic and just want her to see it through,” Doherty says. “It’s finally starting to get exciting for young female actors because we’re being given so much more scope and opportunity to play with. It’s rare as a young female actor to play someone who is battling with this many intricacies.”
Doherty had her own reckoning with social media in 2019, when the first of her two seasons in The Crown debuted globally and her Instagram following vertiginously rose from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands.
“The Crown was definitely an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve never been too attached to social media, just through that fear of being consumed by people’s comment, but it made me reassess why I do this job and what I love about it,” Doherty says. “It’s important for people to feel the way they do about art, but it’s OK to say it’s not a comment on me if someone disagrees with the choices Princess Anne made. I’m just starting to be at peace with that.”
“I’ll never forget the minute when I found out I got the job. I just went purple! That was the pressure of being a Brit and knowing how enormous that show is. I had to put that to one side and treat it like any other role,” adds Doherty. “I had to forget that people had their opinions of the real Princess Anne and just do Erin’s version and that’s as good as I can give. Otherwise, that fear would consume me.”
If there’s a connection that unites Anne and Becky, between the unflinching royal and the young imposter, it’s that they’re both young women playing roles for those around them. As an actor, Doherty notes, there’s nothing like playing someone who is playing someone else.
“It’s the things that scare you that make you grow up, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to do Chloe,” Doherty says. “I was completely enthralled and fell in love with Becky, but she also terrified me and I didn’t quite understand how all this stuff would come out of me.”
Chloe is on Amazon Prime from Friday, June 24.
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