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Marie Claire
Marie Claire
Iris Goldsztajn

Rebel Royals: From the Crown to Bridgerton, meet TV's new regal stars

Ella-Rae Smith, Luther Ford, Charithra Chandran and Ed McVey.

There’s something mesmerising about real-life royals; aristocrats who, despite countless public appearances, remain a mystery to those of us outside of the inner circle. Perhaps this inability to ever really know who the smiling princess and eloquent duke are behind closed doors is the reason we’re so collectively taken with TV shows that purport to depict royals’ lives behind the scenes.

To find out more, we sat down with four young actors from across three leading series that paint a fascinating picture of upper-class life – from The Crown’s fictionalised take on historical events, to Bridgerton’s escapist, bodice-ripper iteration of the Regency period, and Foundation’s royal journey into outer space.

Bridgerton's breakthrough star:  Charithra Chandran 

Dress, Dior; Earrings, Frida & Florence; Ring, Smiling Rocks (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Bridgerton has such a huge global following – what reactions have you had from fans?

“The fans have always been really lovely and I’m very grateful for that, especially as a lot of the fans of my character are young POC women, so it’s wonderful to meet them when I do get to meet them in person. It’s always interesting to me when people think I’m like Edwina [though]. In some ways, it’s a compliment because I was convincing enough for you to think that I’m like my character when I’m really not!”

Tell us a bit about how you became Edwina Sharma in Bridgerton. 

“My agent got a request from the casting director for me to audition for Kate. And then after a while it became clear that I was just too young. Then I went on to be in another show. So I’m like, ‘Oh, well, you know, opportunity gone’. And then, in the middle of filming this other show, my agent comes back to me and says, ‘Hey, they would actually love you for Edwina. I was just like, ‘It feels like it’s meant to be; it feels like I’m meant to be in the show – what a wonderful second chance.’ 

Was there anything that helped you to step into the role?

“I really loved my first costume fitting because it doesn’t quite feel real until you’re in the outfit, right? It was this beautiful, bright white dress and it’s still one of my favourites.”

Dress, Longchamp; Shoes, Christian Louboutin; Earrings, Frida & Florence (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Have you learned any life lessons along the way?

“To be a successful actor – and I mean that from a mental-health perspective – you actually really need to focus on life outside of acting. That doesn’t mean you’re not working hard and you’re not focused towards your goals, but you need to live a rich life outside of your career to be able to do well in your job. I think that I’m still trying to figure out that balance. I also think that when you start to have people know who you are, they will impose opinions on you – both positive and negative – and you can’t buy into it either way. You can’t allow your head and your ego to get inflated, nor can you allow your spirit to be crushed. So, I say, don’t let the positive things get to you and don’t let the negative things get to you.”

What does rebellion look like to you?

“Oh, I’m probably not known for my rebellious nature – I’ve always been too scared to even take something from set! But I suppose what feels rebellious is doing roles that are not expected of me; being willing to take career risks, even if others don’t quite understand them. Also, no matter how big the opportunity, I won’t ever do a role that unfairly disparages or denigrates my community.”

What’s coming up next?

“I have two films that have been postponed because of the strike – hopefully they’ll come out in 2024. One of them is called How to Date Billy Walsh, for Prime Video, with Sebastian Croft and Tanner Buchanan, and the other one is called Fight or Flight, which is just a really fun action film with Josh Hartnett, from the makers of John Wick. That was fun because I really got to play a character that’s very different– it’s an action film, so I got to see stunts, and I never thought someone like me would ever get to play [a role] like that. I feel it’s a balance of feeling grateful, but also constantly like, ‘Why am I not doing enough? Am I doing OK?’ 

The King in waiting: Ed McVey 

Ed McVey - AKA Prince William - in shirt, trousers, tie, and shoes, Prada (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Playing Prince William in the Crown must be slightly surreal – how did you secure the role?

“It came through an open casting, which my agent sent me. I put in my first self-tape and I think the whole process lasted four or five months; I did about six or seven auditions. It was a long process, but a really rewarding one. Halfway through, I met Meg [Bellamy, who plays Kate Middleton] for the first time. It was very, very exciting; I was a big fan of the show anyway, so to work be a part of the show is very special.”

Did you tell anyone that you were going for it?

“When I initially went for the role, my friend – who had done a bunch of casting – I went to her and I said, ‘What do you think about this? I might go up for William.’ I had a picture of him when he was young and a picture of my headshot, and I was like, ‘You know, there’s a little bit of similarity,’ and she took my phone and said, ‘You’d be wasting their time and yours.’ That was quite intense.  So I didn’t go up for it. And then the casting breakdown came through my agent, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, well, it’s come through my agent now, so I suppose I should go up for it.' You can imagine how I laughed in that person’s face when I got my first recall. But, yeah, don’t trust your friends!”

What was your high point during filming?

“Getting to work with Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce and Dominic West, and just learning from them: how they work; how they are on set; the work that they do. I knew the show was going to be massive in terms of production – certain sets that we got to work on were built like private jets and I got to drive cars. But, fundamentally, it was the people I got to work with that was the biggest high point.”

Jacket, shirt, trousers, and shoes, Prada (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

How do you feel about the monarchy? Did your opinion influence how you approached the role?

“I didn’t really have a particular view, either way. I come from a family that’s fairly neutral on the subject, which I think was incredibly lucky because I didn’t have any intrinsic voice on what [the role] needed to be, or what the emotions needed to be. 

Has [the show] affected the way I think of them now? I think you definitely have a level of empathy. I think you have to, in any acting, in any character that you play. Obviously you research – there’s lots and lots of research – so I probably have a bit more of an understanding than your average person. 

Would you describe yourself as a rebel?

“I sort of rebelled against [putting] this pressure on myself to be entertaining, or to be engaging or fun to watch. You should never, when you’re acting, think about being entertaining or being funny or being charismatic because I don’t think real people think about that in their day-to-day life.

“With William, especially in the earlier episodes, I was really committed to the grief, and actually staying strong to be truthful to the pain. I guess that was more of an internalised rebellion. I was like, ‘ I’m not going to try to be anything. I’m just going be in pain; let that be the truth of the character, and just sit and be a 16-year-old kid who’s lost his mum, who doesn’t want to talk to people, who doesn’t want to be the centre of attention, who doesn’t want to have conversations with his family. I wanted to let the other characters work for it – ’cause when you’re in pain, you’re not a team player: you’re hard work to be around.

What projects have you got coming up?

“I’m currently in New York at the moment, doing press. So, I think just getting used to the places that I get to go and the people I get to talk to is enough, and also just savouring it because filming is such a whirlwind. I’m trying to smell the roses as much as possible and just enjoy it. If I was already working towards the next thing this would really pass me by and I really don’t want it to – I want to enjoy it as much as possible. .”

The young upstart: Luther Ford 

Shirt, trousers, and boots, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Let’s talk about playing Prince Harry in the Crown– how did you get the role?

“I was in my third year of film production, studying in Bournemouth with my friends. At the start of the academic year, my brother’s girlfriend sent this open casting call for Harry on our group chat and said, ‘Why don’t you have a go, you never know.’ I was extremely doubtful. One, I didn’t think I really looked like him – I know we’re both ginger, but, yeah. And also, I just thought this kind of thing doesn’t happen. I did end up giving it a go, on a whim, and I somehow wound up getting the role. We started filming a month later and the whole job has lasted about a year. So it changed things very quickly, and my mind was blown.”

Did you ever feel daunted by the enormity of it?

“Playing a person who’s so notorious was exciting and challenging. In some ways you  have to zone that out, because it was very easy for it all to be quite overwhelming. To be involved in the series and be heavily featured in the final-ever episode is pretty crazy. I’m really proud.”

Were you a royalist before joining the show?

“Prior to The Crown, I didn’t really feel much about [the Royal family]. I probably had a very shallow idea of who they were. And it was probably quite good, in terms of approaching these people as characters, because there was less pressure for me to… not get it righ. The fact that I was neutral meant that I could be quite open. But from being in the show and thinking about the royal family a lot, I feel a lot of empathy, and I guess your job, in a way, is to identify with them.”

Ed Mcvey - AKA Prince William - wears: shirt, trousers, and shoes, Dior Men; Luther Ford wears: jacket, trousers, and shoes, Dior Men (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Any BTS anecdotes from filming scenes we can look out for?

“It was our first time ever on camera; our first time ever on the set of The Crown – me and Ed McVey were shooting in Lancaster House, which is the most royal of all locations, as it’s a five minute walk from Buckingham Palace, so you’re right in the thick of it. It’s actually an ex-royal palace, so they’ve spent time there, which is pretty crazy. But the scene is quite a heated moment between William and Harry, and there were about 60 supporting artists, including all of the main cast – Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Dominic West, etc. Everyone in the room was miming, apart from me and Ed. They do that so that when they come back to do sound, they add in the chatter of a room. So, it was completely silent apart from us having this conversation – like an audience with all the cast. I remember the director coming up to me and saying, ‘You know you’re not breathing?’ I had no idea. I hadn’t quite worked out breathing. I’ve now learned that you breathe in between sentences, but at the time I just thought, ‘I’ll just get it out in one’. So, yeah, that was very scary. They really threw us in the deep end. Now having seen the scene, it’s not awful. I thought it was gonna be terrible, but actually it kinda works."

What’s the most rebellious thing you’ve ever done?

“ When I was six – and this is OK to say because of how young I was – me and my best friend would go camping in Cornwall and we had a bit of kleptomania. There was this little shop on the camping grounds and we just started stealing. I don’t think we really understood [what we were doing] – we thought it was a game. We’d steal 20p sweets; it was purely the thrill of stealing that we loved. But then our brothers told on us, and our mums took us to the shop and we paid for everything. That’s the height of my rebellion.”

Any exciting projects on the horizon?

“I’m gonna make bread. You know, when John Lennon left the Beatles, I think he had a period of time where he was just making bread. I’m not comparing myself in any way to John Lennon of the Beatles but I'll do that for a while!”

The Reckless Royal: Ella-Rae Smith 

Ella-Rae Smith - AKA - Queen Sareth in Foundation - wears dress and earrings, Schiaparelli (Image credit: Future)

Tell us a bit about how you got the role of Queen Sareth…

“My casting process for Foundation actually began in the summer of 2021, so as you can imagine, the world was still very much affected by Covid and my entire casting process was virtual. I had a Zoom call with our wonderful showrunner, David Goyer, who instilled so much confidence in me – it made me feel like he was really rooting for me throughout the entire casting process, which was just amazing. It all went well because I got the job.”

It sounds like the project was a really positive experience…

“Honestly, the whole process of making the second season of Foundation was a high point in my life. I had the best time. I think it’s because I’d been in lockdown – you know, everyone in the world had spent a year in isolation. So, to go from that to not only going back to work but working with loads of people who were around my age, we all became such great friends so quickly. We filmed in three different countries, so we got to travel with friends and have fun and really jump back out into the world after a very quiet, sad year for all of us. It was just a really joyous process; I had the best time making the show and I looked like a queen every single day. Wearing handmade silk gowns made me feel so special – I’ve never felt so glamorous.”

Did you take any inspiration from real-life monarchs when building your character?

“I personally love the history of the monarchy in the UK. I think it’s absolutely fascinating that we can track this family throughout time, and how different monarchs influenced different periods of time. I’m a bit of a history geek. I feel like, as a space queen, things were very different for Queen Sareth than they could ever be for any British royal. But perhaps that essence of having to keep things together and put on a brave face in public is the same. If I took anything from the real-life monarchy, it was the ability to project like everything is OK. And to understand that you are a symbol of something rather than an individual.”

Dress, Del Core; Earrings, Smiling Rocks; Ring: Frida & Florence (Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Filming on location must have been fun. What did you get up to when you weren’t on set?

“For the second leg of shooting, we were working in Tenerife, and, as you can imagine, going to Tenerife in January was an absolute joy, and as soon as we got there I found out that you can go on a boat to try to see dolphins. So, I basically persuaded the majority of the cast who were out there to travel to the other side of the island to go dolphin and whale watching. We saw dolphins and whales and it was absolutely magical. We also had lots of dinners and dancing on the streets – we had a lot of fun.”

Have you got a rebellious streak?

“I think that the way I began my acting career is very rebellious. I decided to quit school at 17 years old and move to London to pursue acting. I was just in a situation where everything had fallen into place: I had an agent, I was modelling as a way to earn money, and I just felt like if the opportunity was there, I should take it. But it was absolutely crazy, and the most rebellious thing I have ever done – to go from being an A-star student to just quitting school. I don’t even have A levels, so I’m very lucky that this has all worked out in my favour.”

Are you working on anything new?

“ Due to the SAG strikes, it’s been a much quieter year for everyone in the industry, but I’ve still managed to do some really interesting bits, including a couple of short films, which I’m really excited about. I’m not sure what more I can say, so I will keep my lips sealed.”

Photographer: Kyle Galvin
Stylist And Casting: Sarah-Rose Harrison
Creative Director: Craig Hemming
Editor In Chief: Andrea Thompson
Editor: Sunil Makan
Writer: Iris Goldsztajn
Chief Sub-Editor: Nicola Moyne
Producer: Sofia Piza
Grooming And Hair Stylist: Josh Knight At Caren Agency Using Oribe And Chanel
Make-Up Artists: Sara Hill At The Wall Group Using Prada Beauty; Louise Hall Using Charlotte Tilbury
Nail Artist: Alexandra Teleki Using Essie, Clé De Peau Beauté, And La Prairie
Lighting Technician: Sam Royston
Photography Assistant: Eili Jones
Styling Assistant: Marie Pair
Location: Gas Studios

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