FILM & TV
Josh O’Connor: destined for greatness
Words by Rob Chilton
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Josh O’Connor is an Emmy award winning actor on the fast track to A-list stardom
Josh O’Connor has just moved from London to New York City. He’s probably still settling in, figuring out where to put the sofa and whether he needs a lamp in the bedroom. Later this month, another home decorating conundrum may present itself to the red hot British actor: where to put his latest award.
O’Connor won a Primetime Emmy gong at the September 19 awards bash in Los Angeles for his splendid work as Prince Charles in Netflix runaway success The Crown.
O’Connor did “tons of research” to play the heir to the British throne in seasons three and four of the show, and the hard work paid off as he won a SAG award for ensemble cast in a drama series plus a Golden Globe, which he accepted while wearing a Bulgari watch and a Loewe suit, highlighting his eye for style.
But, with success, comes fame. “It’s definitely a different life now,” admits O’Connor, 31. “It’s overwhelming. It’s an unnatural phenomenon for me.” He’s found it hard to grasp that some people now feel they have a relationship with him. “Every now and then someone will stop me,” he says. “More often than not, it’s just really nice to hear someone has responded to something you’ve done. There is a strange thing when you walk down the street and someone feels like they know you because you’ve been in their sitting room or on their laptop in bed. There is a weird intimacy that people assume they know you, and that’s strange.”
Before The Crown, O’Connor had quietly gone about his business after graduating from drama school in Bristol, England and moving to London. A guest spot in the stylish British gangland thriller TV series Peaky Blinders, a regular stint in TV drama The Durrells and a breakout role in the 2017 movie God’s Own Country (for which he won awards) established O’Connor as one of the leading talents of his generation.
A role in an adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma in 2020, with Anya Taylor-Joy from The Queen’s Gambit further boosted O’Connor’s reputation. He followed that up with a critically-adored stint at London’s prestigious National Theatre in Romeo & Juliet opposite Jessie Buckley, which was adapted to a feature length film to make the story more accessible for audiences.
“In some ways, the stage is just the same as television or film, if you know the words and if you understand the character, if you've done the work, it's just a different venue, essentially,” says O’Connor. “I love it. I love the theatre, that was my first love, so I'll never stop loving the theatre.”
In late 2020 he wrapped on the movie Mothering Sunday, an adaptation of Graham Swift’s novel, starring Colin Firth and Olivia Colman, which will be released this November. In short, it’s all kicking off for O’Connor. The move to New York seems particularly timely.
He says he’s keen to pursue his interest in theatre and indie movies, rather than race to do a Marvel movie. But the transatlantic switch will inevitably raise O’Connor’s profile in the States and force Hollywood execs to sit up and take notice, which will surely lead to major movie roles.
The Crown’s appeal to British and American audiences – as well as the global fascination with the Royal family – has been O’Connor’s golden ticket to the big time. What’s remarkable now, after his two fruitful seasons in the drama, is that O’Connor was initially reluctant to play the role of Prince Charles and didn’t even want to do the audition because he couldn’t see a way into the Royal figure. However, after reading the script, O’Connor realised, with the help of the show’s writers including the highly respected Peter Morgan, that Charles’ aimlessness is the thrust of the dramatic tension and that he’s spent his life waiting to replace his mother and become King. That relationship with his mother is central to Charles’ sense of pointlessness.
“Any time that I struggled with a scene, I’d remember, he’s just a lost boy,” explains O’Connor of his motivation. “It doesn’t matter that he’s grown up, he’s still just a lost boy who desperately wants a hug from his mum.”
He continues, “Peter Morgan said this amazing thing to me very early on. He was like, ‘Just try to remember that this boy shares his mother with an entire nation of people.’ It’s a terrible affliction on some young kid. I think he’s going through the wringer.”
Away from acting, O’Connor has a huge appreciation of sculpture, ceramics and art. The love of form led him to Sicily with the director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria, A Bigger Splash) where they shot a short film for Aston Martin’s DBX. As well as what was probably a nice pay day, it feels like a sensible career move for O’Connor as Guadagnino is currently in much demand.
“The thing that appealed to me first was that Aston Martin is a true British institution, a company that has been ever-present throughout my upbringing,” says O’Connor. “I think the combination of the luxury of the brand, and the luxury of Luca’s vision is perfect and comes through in this very special film.”
Aston Martin’s luxury SUV might not be handy for navigating the streets of Manhattan where O’Connor now resides but, with his knack for smart choices and huge talent, O’Connor will no doubt find the right road to success.
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