Original traveller: Emma Corrin
Emma Corrin shot to fame as one of the most recognisable people in public life but, post-Diana, the actor’s savvy selection of roles mean they’ve fast become recognisable in their own right. They talk avant-garde style, avoiding the fame game and unleashing their villainous side with Helen Whitaker, as High Life heads with Corrin to Iceland to take pictures
“It was such a beautiful experience,” says Emma Corrin of High Life’s cover shoot for the print edition, which involved driving around Iceland’s stunning Reykjanes Peninsula in a team minibus. “It really felt like we were on a school trip,” they add with a smile (Corrin’s pronouns are they/them). “But we got out of there in good time.”
Tremors had been detected in run-up to the shoot – not unusual on a volcanic island where there can be thousands of seismic occurrences per month – but shortly after High Life’s departure, an eruption on the slopes of the Litli Hrútur mountain sent lava flowing from a 200m fissure across the (uninhabited) region.
The phrase ‘seismic occurrences’ also aptly applies to Corrin’s career trajectory. After their 2020 turn as Princess Diana in The Crown, they found themselves in the surreal position of becoming incredibly famous. But due to lockdown restrictions, that fame existed primarily on the internet. Once life resumed, Corrin, now 27, had to recalibrate to real-life notoriety, which was, and remains, discombobulating. “I don’t know if it will ever feel like it’s a proper integrated part of my life,” they say from their home in London the week after the shoot. Today they’re dressed in an oversized white hoodie, and with their hair freshly cropped. “Apart from when I’m doing press and events and stuff, my life doesn’t interact with that [fame] world, so I’m just plodding around where I live with my dog, not in the public eye, and with my friends who I’ve known for over six years. It always takes me by surprise, especially if I’m suddenly photographed in the street. If you’re not exposed to it the entire time, you do sort of forget and then you realise, ‘Oh God, when I’m outside I’m always potentially on display’. It’s a weird, weird thing to make peace with.”
Following The Crown came an acclaimed role in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, as well as a riveting turn on the West End stage in an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Meanwhile, their style maven status was cemented by partnerships with the likes of Miu Miu – Corrin closed the brand’s A/W runway show in Paris in March 2023 – and an ongoing red carpet collaboration with uber-stylist Harry Lambert.
“I wasn’t dressing up in insane stuff when I was younger,” Corrin says of their experimental style. “But I’ve always enjoyed dressing up in costumes, and that’s what I’ve found I like about fashion, and Harry Lambert and I both really enjoy that. That’s where our shared mind meets – we like the idea of creating a character with a piece of clothing, which makes it more interesting for me, because it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘Emma’ doing it and it makes it more interesting for him, because the possibilities are limitless.”
“I’ve always enjoyed dressing up in costumes”
Corrin will soon appear on Disney+ in A Murder at the End of the World, filmed in part in Iceland, although in the north and east of the country – the Reykjanes Peninsula was new to Corrin. The cast spent a month there, and a further six in New Jersey. It’s a whodunit thriller set at an exclusive and remote retreat organised by a sinister billionaire, played by Clive Owen. He has gathered a group of brilliant and well-connected ‘minds’, and Corrin’s character, Darby, a hacker, author and amateur sleuth who helped to solve a serial killer cold case, is on first impression the odd person out. Neither rich, nor well known outside of true-crime circles, Darby’s next shock is her estranged ex-partner (in both senses of the word), turning up and then promptly being murdered on the first night.
The present-day storyline is interwoven with flashbacks to the murder Darby and her partner helped to solve, with Darby’s skillset and desire for justice reminiscent of another famous hacker, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander. Darby, however, is imbued with the vein of vulnerability Corrin is so proficient in bringing to roles.
“When I read the script for the first time, I was amazed by how refreshing I found it,” Corrin says. The show’s creators, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, “had written a murder mystery that completely reinvented the genre, and part of that is due to having a very young, modern female protagonist who is as strong as she is vulnerable. In all my work, that’s a complexity that I’m really interested in and really enjoy exploring.”
“It’s good to get completely out of your comfort zone”
Having become known for their period roles, a contemporary setting was also undoubtedly part of the appeal. “I don’t think I’d say no to another period piece if I fully believed in it and I thought it was the best thing ever. But I did want to do something different,” they admit.
Between Princess Diana, Lady Chatterley and Marion in My Policeman, Corrin has built up quite the back catalogue of characters defined by their unhappy relationships. “Yes, I love a terrible marriage,” Corrin jokes. Are those roles they are attracted to? “Not necessarily the terrible marriages side of it,” they say, “But I guess that is a common situation, especially for a female character in the world of film, where you find the roles with strength and vulnerability. Which is why I loved the A Murder at the End of the World script – because it’s the complexity and nuance that I really love exploring, and it’s not to do with marriage… It was really fun to play because of the split between present and past – these two murder mystery plots running in tandem.”
When we speak in July, it’s a few days before the acting industry’s largest union SAG-AFTRA goes on strike, and with the potential for strike in the air (and the Writers Guild of America already striking), we touch on the problematic area of AI usage for an actor’s image in film. Along with residual payments (the payments performers receive for repeats of TV shows and films), and a living wage, it’s one of the main touchpoints of strike action.
“It’s something that needs to be safeguarded to ensure that people still have their jobs and autonomy in their career,” Corrin says. “And we have control over our image and are able to do what we love and are not replaceable by technology, or by an image of ourselves. It’s a terrifying thought that that might be the future, because where does that leave the soul of anything that’s created? The only reason we have these industries in the first place is because of peoples’ passion to do what they want and what they love. You can’t ever replace that with AI. You want to protect jobs.”
At the time of talking, Corrin is due to begin shooting their part in Deadpool 3, playing a villain opposite Ryan Reynolds’ beloved wisecracking superhero, but once the strike is called production shuts down indefinitely. However, the role promises another new direction for the star, something they say they are “really nervous about, more than most things I’ve done.
“Deadpool has a very well-established beating heart to it,” they explain. “Ryan has created this incredible world and incredible humour that is so specific to that film and franchise. It relies a lot on humour, which I haven’t had a huge amount of experience in. I’m a bit scared about that, but I think that’s good. It’s good to get you completely out of your comfort zone.”
While they wait to start filming, though, they are right in their comfort zone. Having spent the majority of 2022 working and travelling “genuinely from January to November”, they have been enjoying time at home before entering the Marvel Universe.
“I finished shooting Nosferatu in May and then I’ve been home in London, with my flatmates and my dog for about two months,” they say. “It’s amazing, because I never get that time to properly feel like I have roots in a place. A lot of people say, ‘Emma you need a holiday, go somewhere nice’, but home is my holiday. And I love it, especially being in England in the summer. It’s really fun.” Along with napping, pottering and the odd solo lunch, Corrin has been taking advantage of the capital. They have been spotted everywhere from Wimbledon to BST (always in a very cool outfit, naturally). But no one is more surprised by their jet-set lifestyle than Corrin.
“I’ve never been a traveller,” they say with a laugh. “When I was younger, I used to have anxiety if I even had to go to a friend’s house for a sleepover because I’d be so uncomfortable. I need to be very comfortable in my environment to feel safe and so much travelling for work has been a real baptism of fire. I’ve been interested in how my brain has adapted very quickly to being able to throw things in a suitcase and leave and not feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. I’d be interested to know psychologically what that is.”
Aside from home itself, another place they feel more than comfortable is the stage. “It’s where I started, and I never feel happier, really, than on the stage. Or in a rehearsal room. Anything adjacent to theatre,” they say. Having applied unsuccessfully for drama school twice, Corrin landed at Cambridge where they “did so much theatre” alongside their degree in Education, English and Drama, compounding their love for the medium.
“The way Cambridge works with theatre is comparable to doing rep theatre. You’re constantly creating things with your peers, and it means you’re involved in every part of the process and you’re very much part of a team,” they say. “Everyone’s busy, everyone’s doing their degree at the same time, everyone’s managing everything life throws at you, but you’re also having to turn up and get this play made and contribute to every aspect of it, otherwise it won’t go ahead. It was a real learning curve in terms of pulling your weight, learning what it takes to get something made.” They’re passionate about keeping theatre, and access to theatre, alive.
“The future is in re-establishing intimate community spaces in terms of rehearsal rooms and writing together, creating together, improvising together with a group of people who you want to work with,” they say. It’s what made their run in Orlando such a positive experience. “There’s something very present about it and that’s the whole essence of Orlando. Now. Who do you want to be in this present moment?” So between film, TV and fashion, should we expect a return to the West End? “Try and stop me!” Corrin says with a grin. We wouldn’t dare.
A Murder at the End of the World is coming soon to Disney+. This shoot and interview were undertaken before union strikes
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