Emmys: ‘Crown’ Researcher Uncovers Royal Gems for Netflix Drama

annie sulzberger The Crown TV Show
David Vintiner for Variety

Netflix’s “The Crown” deploys a small team to mine 20th century British history. Specialist researcher Annie Sulzberger has been among them since 2013, when Peter Morgan explored extending his play “The Audience” into an episodic series. The daughter of New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. studied art history at Brown and worked as a curator before switching to showbiz.

How would you describe your process of collaborating with the writers, directors and cast?
We spend time with Peter discussing everything from the macro to the micro. With the first season, we started with a master timeline covering 10 episodes. Churchill is a significant figure, so we said, “Let’s take our time with that.” We produced a 75-page document that gave a sense of everything in those years. Peter would say, “This is fascinating — get me more on this.” Through that process, we arrived at the details of the election, life inside 10 Downing Street and Churchill’s meetings with the queen and Elizabeth’s trip to Kenya, where she learns of the death of King George. It’s a process of filling in the areas he is interested in. There are a dozen books we read every season that everyone attempts to memorize. We visit the British Library or watch documentaries and see who is alive who may be interesting to talk to.

How many ideas in the final episodes came from the research team?
We find so much amazing stuff, but the idea is we don’t want to get too bogged down. Peter is able to stay slightly distant. We can get wedded to things — “Oh, it’s such a great detail!” He made a specific choice not to do a greatest-hits biopic of the queen, so he picks the lesser-known stories. The fog was one (episode 4, based on an actual 1952 event in London). He focuses on things that give us genuine insights into how these people lived. The episode about Churchill having his portrait painted. How often do you get an episode about Winston Churchill where it’s just an hour about a painting?

In season one, was there anything that didn’t make the cut that pains you?

Once you realize things are not going to make it, you have to put it out of your mind. It’s like losing a friend, but you have to move on. One I liked was about Prince Philip. When he was on tour in Australia, he would play this game during the long drives across the country. Men would be coming out of pubs wobbling because they had been drinking. They would prop themselves up against poles. Philip would wave to them, knowing they would have to wave back and fall over.

How far ahead do you work? Netflix says “The Crown” could go for six seasons.
We tend to go a bit ahead. Most of our work happens during pre-production and production, but things come up during post. For example, if there’s additional ADR — if there’s background noise needed and it’s a scene in Cabinet meetings, we want to know the agenda for the meeting, who said what. We want everything to be accurate.

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