Did anyone check that actor Josh O’Connor could ride a horse — or had ever even been on a horse — before he was cast as the polo-playing Prince Charles in season 3 of The Crown? Fortunately for O’Connor, perhaps, they did not.
“I got a phone call two weeks before we were going to start from someone saying, ‘You know the first day’s polo,’” says the actor. “I was like, ‘Sure, that sounds great.’ They were like, ‘And you can ride a horse.’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely not. Never been anywhere near a horse.’ There’s this assumption that every British actor, they can ride horses. Definitely not! So, ‘Okay, no problem, we’ll give you a lesson.’ I had one lesson with Devil’s Horsemen, who do a lot of the horse-riding stuff for films. They train actors to look reasonable on horses. They do Game of Thrones, everything. And they were great. But I’d never been on a horse. So, at the end of the session I knew how to get on a horse, and sort of wobble on it, while it slowly walked a couple of steps, and that was it. Then they said, ‘We’ll send [you to] the polo guy.’ The polo guy was this Irish coach, who’s now a really great friend. We met up at the polo pitch and I said to him, ‘Look, I’ve never been on a horse until yesterday,’ and he was like, ‘It’s no problem, Here’s your stick.’ [He] put me on the horse and I was off. I was sort of flailing around. But by the time we shot the thing I was hitting balls with the stick! I was going to carry on but then I looked at how expensive it is. It is the most expensive sport in the world. I was like, uh, maybe I can’t. But that was really fun. And actually I watched that [footage] back yesterday. It looks pretty amazing.”
O’Connor’s preparation was not limited to the equestrian arts.
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“I’ve never researched anything so much,” he says. “You’re so supported on this show. We’ve got teams of people. You go, ‘What was happening on this day in this year?’ And suddenly you’ve got the research. And then it’s working with the voice and also giving in to the fact that I’m not trying to play Prince Charles as we know him, I’m playing a character, and a creation that Peter [Morgan, The Crown showrunner] has come up with, and I’ve come up with. If anything, it’s taking as much research as you can, and then actually being able to throw it out the window at the end of it, so you take what you need essentially.”
“It’s really weird, really weird,” says O’Connor of working with such high wattage actors. “It doesn’t really get better than that. It’s just like going to school again, learning from them. You’re halfway through the scene and you’re like, I’m acting, acting, acting, and then I’m like, I’m acting with Olivia Colman! It’s just a dream come true really.”
The Crown season 3 premieres Sunday on Netflix.