JERUSALEM — With two critically acclaimed seasons of “The Crown” behind them, the drama’s producers acknowledged that they face some hurdles for the third season.
“It’s called libel,” quipped Andy Harries, CEO of Left Bank, who was joined by Left Bank creative director Suzanne Mackie and production designer Martin Childs for a panel about the series at the INTV Conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
As the drama moves into modern times, crafting the narrative will become more challenging, they said. “As you get nearer to the present day, there are a lot more people who are alive and well,” said Harries.
The show is also facing recasting nearly its entire lineup of actors, something few series have done: Olivia Colman will step in as the Queen, replacing Emmy nominee Claire Foy; Helena Bonham-Carter will play Princess Margaret. They have yet to announce, though, who will step in for Matt Smith as Prince Philip. “Seasons 3 and 4 will be the test of whether the show really has the legs to survive,” said Harries. “I think we were the first television series ever to change cast and continue, and we will change cast twice. It’s daunting but exciting and I hope it’ll keep the series fresh and really of interest to people.”
The show, which already broke records as one of the most expensive series ever made, will also face budget hikes as they seek to negotiate new deals with actors. “We’re victims of our own success, but so is Netflix,” said Harries. “The Ryan Murphy deal is a problem for us all.”
Each episode of the first two seasons cost about 5 million pounds ($7 million), and shot for 22 days. “We put that money on the screen,” said Harries, adding that Claire Foy had 120 different costumes in the second season.
Asked whether Foy was paid the same as Smith, the producers acknowledged that he did make more due to his “Doctor Who” fame, but that they would rectify that for the future. “Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen,” said Mackie.
The third season, which starts filming in July, will move into the Camilla Parker Bowles years, and introduce a young Princess Diana. “Those are going to be extraordinary, those episodes,” said Mackie.
And yes, future episodes may see modern-day faces make an appearance. “I want to see an episode where Trump comes to Buckingham Palace,” said Mackie. And as for Meghan Markle, “She can play herself.”
The producers said they had shopped the show around to other premium networks before ultimately landing at Netflix. “No one turned down ‘The Crown,’ but they didn’t pick it up either,” said Harries. “Their reservation was that it was too British.”
BBC, too, had hoped to be able to air the series, but the producers said they ultimately landed in the best home creatively for the project. “I wouldn’t do anything differently. We were incredibly lucky to go to Netflix at the time they were thinking about going around the world,” said Morgan.
Given the intense pressure for the third season, they said they were that much more relieved that the show is on Netflix. “I don’t think Peter Morgan would have done it with anyone who would have given him notes,” said Harries.
The producers acknowledged the narrative challenges faced with a central character who’s reluctant to reveal her true feelings.
“[Creator] Peter Morgan would always describe her both as knowing and unknowable, and I think that she’s naturally a quite quiet, shy person that then had to adapt very quickly to being thrust in the most public of places,” Mackie told Variety ahead of the panel. “I think that was a great challenge for us to have somebody who is quite unreadable in some ways be as expressive and nuanced.”
But they’re proud to have been a part of the recent surge of female-led series. Mackie recalled watching “Prime Suspect” — which starred Helen Mirren as a detective navigating a male-centric environment. “I remember at the time it feeling very cutting edge and saying something quite provocative,” she said, “and that spoke to me as a young woman.”