Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on?

Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House

The actor’s ability to seamlessly shift between stage and screen suggests not – and has won them Soho House’s Theatre Performance Award

Friday 6 October 2023   By Hanna Flint   Photography by Buzz White at One Represents   Styling by Harry Lambert at Bryant Artists   Hair by Daniel Martin   Makeup by Gina Kane at Caren   Digi tech by Jack Snell   Photography assistants: Oscar Eckel, Freddie Hare   Styling assistants: Naomi Phillips, Ryan Wohlegmut   Additional photography by Alamy, Marc

For Emma Corrin, cinema is a sacred place. It’s a gateway to new worlds; a common
vehicle for fellow big-screen travellers. After visiting London’s Electric Cinema and Electric House for this shoot to celebrate their Soho House Theatre Performance Award, the Portobello Road venues have become exciting new destinations for them, too. ‘The idea of having a cinema, then a restaurant and also a library snug covered in vines; where you could see a film and go for dinner in the same place and talk to your friends about it… That’s not something I’ve ever done, but I like the possibility of it,’ the actor enthuses from their home in south London, which they share with their dog, Spencer, when we catch up a week later.

‘Possibility’ is a word that springs to mind when considering the landscape of Corrin’s future career. Over just a short period, their talent and choice timing has seen them rack up both distinctive and iconic roles. Following supporting but significant turns in the Batman prequel series Pennyworth and Miss World biographical comedy Misbehaviour, Corrin’s breakthrough performance came in 2020. Their portrayal of Diana, Princess of Wales in the fourth season of Peter Morgan’s acclaimed drama The Crown earnt them a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Television Award, plus a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. 

And rightly so. The actor’s intimate study of the People’s Princess, opposite Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles, is beyond surface imitation; it’s an unflinching embodiment that truly captures Diana’s kind but troubled soul. A year later, in 2021, Corrin switched gears, making their West End debut in Anna X, a satirical romantic sting of a two-hander. They played the eponymous role, a con artist inspired by Anna Sorokin – a notorious New York ‘socialite’ who was proven to be anything but and found guilty of grand larceny in 2019. Corrin’s portrayal of Anna saw the actor – known for mastering the demure countenance of Diana – being praised by critics for exuding ‘steely cynicism’ and ‘Villanelle-esque charm’, promptly earning them a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for the effort. 

Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House
Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House

Top and above: top, and skirt, both 16Arlington. Shirt, Bettter. Earrings, Corrin’s own

‘Stage is a bit of a reset because you are using every single muscle, every single faculty,’ Corrin says of the switch from screen acting. ‘All of you is active and responding live in that moment, and that’s why an audience loves it. Because it changes every night and the energy is dictated not only by you, it gets heated by the audience, [too].’

For Corrin, the stage was at its most electric during the three months they spent at the Garrick Theatre performing their most personal role to date: the titular character of Orlando in Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s queer feminist classic, directed by Tony and Olivier Award-winner Michael Grandage. 

‘I’ve never been more aware of my own fragility and my own limits as I have been when I was doing that run,’ Corrin admits. ‘But I just remember thinking every evening that I can’t believe [Woolf] wrote this when she did.’

The historical epic is a fictionalised biography about the Elizabethan nobleman Orlando, who travels through time and place, transforms from male to female and is forced to confront gender politics, evolving literary culture and social expectations over centuries. 

‘The story is mostly about freeing yourself from any constraints to live as who you are in this present moment, and that might change. It might be at odds with who you were yesterday, or with who you’ll be tomorrow,’ Corrin explains. ‘The last line that Neil Bartlett wrote is: “It’s now. It’s right now”, and I think that is beautiful and euphoric.’ 

Woolf’s exploration of gender fluidity (which she based on her lover and friend Vita Sackville-West) was ahead of its time. Orlando: A Biography was published in 1928, 10 years after women’s suffrage secured women the right to vote in the UK and nearly four decades before the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The character has since been played by some of culture’s most revered stars, including Miranda Richardson, Isabelle Huppert and Tilda Swinton’s defining performance in Sally Potter’s 1992 film adaptation. 

Comparisons between Swinton and Corrin can easily be made because of their androgynous blond looks, but as an openly queer and non-binary performer, the role was especially resonant for Corrin. ‘With my own journey, it was really special to be able to do something that’s in a different category from other parts that I do. Sometimes a job like Orlando will come along, where it will be intrinsically meaningful and personal to you,’ they explain. 

‘Orlando felt like an amazing chance to celebrate this thing that I feel passionately about and parts of myself that I’ve taken a long time to come to terms with’

Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House
Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House
Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House

Above, from left: shirt, Ernest W. Baker; jacket, shirt and skirt, all Emilia Wickstead; shoes, Church’s; socks, stylist’s own

‘It felt like an amazing chance to work through a lot of my own stuff every night on stage and celebrate this thing that I feel passionately about, and parts of myself that I’ve taken
a long time to come to terms with.’

In its truest form, art is a medium through which to better understand ourselves, each other and the world we live in, and Corrin is proving to be a formidable purveyor of what it means to be human. By adding films such as My Policeman and Lady Chatterley’s Lover to their name, plus eagerly anticipated roles in a new Nosferatu adaptation and Deadpool 3, there appear to be no limits to the stories the actor can tell, the worlds they can visit or people they can inhabit.

Yet that freedom hasn’t always been a given. ‘When I was younger, I don’t think I ever allowed myself to think about if I could become a working actor, whether I could support myself, or have a place within that industry or what my career would look like,’ they explain. ‘It always seemed so impossible and so unknown.’

Born on 13 December 1995 in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, to Chris and Juliette Corrin – an English businessman and a South African speech therapist – the performer was raised with their younger brothers, Richard and Jonty, to embrace their curiosity. As a child, Corrin would write plays and one of their favourite games was to people-watch. ‘Me and my mum loved it,’ the actor enthuses. ‘We used to go and sit outside coffee shops in our tiny little town where I grew up, and watch and try to guess people’s stories: their names, where they were going and who they were going to see.’

At the Roman Catholic Woldingham School in Surrey, where they boarded, Corrin was able to channel their keen imagination into acting and dance, before completing a Shakespeare course at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art during their gap year. Corrin wanted to get straight into acting after that, but their parents insisted on a further education safety net. So, after being rejected twice from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, they instead, briefly, attended the University of Bristol to study drama before dropping out to complete a degree in education at Cambridge. 

This three-year stint focused on child psychology, but together with some stirring performances in productions put on by the university’s historic ADC Theatre – including Coriolanus, Romeo And Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Philadelphia and The House Of Bernarda Alba – the actor was also building a toolkit for how they would approach future performances. 

‘My dissertation was in the architecture of children’s primary schools, so it was very different from anything that I’m doing now,’ Corrin notes. ‘But I have always enjoyed watching, learning and observing people, as well as applying what I’ve been through – my experiences, thoughts and feelings – to character.’

Corrin also loves to throw themself behind filmmakers with distinct, innovative visions, as reinforced by their recent experiences filming Robert Eggers’s Nosferatu and forthcoming neo-noir detective series A Murder At The End Of The World from Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. 

‘I enjoy being totally at the mercy of someone else’s vision and their plan, and figuring out how I fit in as part of that,’ Corrin explains. With Nosferatu, that may have literally been the case. The new adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film (an unofficial take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula), stars Bill Skarsgård as the eponymous bloodsucker Count Orlok, with Nicholas Hoult and Lily-Rose Depp playing couple Thomas and Ellen Hutter, and Corrin as Ellen’s friend Anna Harding. ‘Rob’s a total perfectionist,’ Corrin says, ‘and I think that comes from his career in costume and set. He has an eye for detail and precision, and is a real world builder.’ 

Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House

‘What matters is awareness, consciousness – and if there is an invitation for collaboration, that’s special’

Above: jacket, shirt, trousers and tie, all Ernest W. Baker

Indeed. Anna Harding isn’t typically a large role, but Eggers gave Corrin a two-page character background describing Anna’s favourite music, and even the song that she and her husband danced to when they met. ‘It’s that kind of detail that really gives you a solid foundation,’ enthuses Corrin. ‘I enjoy immersing myself in a character’s past.’ 

That extended to Corrin’s embracing of the physical demands of the role – they were not at all perturbed by the reputation of the visionary filmmaker behind The Witch, The Lighthouse and The Northman for putting his actors through the ringer. ‘[He] challenged me in many ways as an actor that I grew from; when you’re on set with him, you become part of that world and very much exist in it,’ Corrin explains.

‘The way that Rob and Jarin [Blaschke], his cinematographer, work is that they will do these continuous long shots where you almost rehearse it as a play.’ 

Sometimes the cast would be doing one scene for ‘three, four hours’ in order to find ‘the complete architecture to it,’ says Corrin, ‘which is beautiful, because it means you have a chance to act like you are onstage, uninterrupted.’

That artistic stamina is exactly why Corrin was cast. ‘Emma is a truly special actor,’ casting director and Eggers’s long-time collaborator Kharmel Cochrane tells me. ‘They embody
a natural instinct and charisma that is rare. Their performances are bold and compelling, which made them an easy choice when casting Nosferatu.’

But Corrin is also aware of not getting boxed into period roles, so spending a year making A Murder At The End Of The World with ‘two absolute geniuses’ was a no-brainer. ‘Brit and Zal exist in a completely different stratosphere of intellect,’ they say of the show’s
creators. ‘It’s like they’ve seen everything that’s happening with The White Lotus and they’ve been like, “We’re going to f**k with this”.’

In the upcoming series, Corrin plays Darby Hart, an amateur detective – or as they describe her, ‘an androgynous Gen Z hacker’ – whose dad is a coroner and who is invited by a reclusive billionaire (Clive Owen) to participate in a remote retreat along with eight others. When one of the guests is found dead, Darby sets out to prove it was a murder. 

At a time when whodunnits and detective mysteries are enjoying a comeback, Corrin was keen to be part of a new take that would subvert expectations. ‘They’ve taken a lot of the references of traditional detectives, especially male detectives that we know, like in True Detective, and done completely the opposite,’ the actor says. ‘Darby can be incredibly astute, is fiercely intelligent and can see through a lot of bullshit, but is also terrified most of the time and shows incredible weakness and humanity.’

It’s exactly the sort of complex character chosen by Corrin to ensure their body of work reflects the myriad ways in which we experience life and its evolving perspectives. The actor is aware that most of their parts are cis-female roles, and gender-fluid characters such as Orlando are rare. And as much as Corrin would one day like to play Hamlet, those offers aren’t on the table, either. The Soho House Theatre Performance Award recognises artistic contribution beyond gender – Corrin hopes that one day the industry will, in turn, reflect the fluidity of life and range of identities that make humans who they are. 

‘The industry is by no means in the place it should be,’ they reflect. ‘There needs to be a happy medium, where people feel seen and have their fair share of opportunity and representation, but you also need to maintain and uphold the integrity of storytelling. It’s finding the balance. What matters is awareness, consciousness and if there is an invitation for collaboration, that’s special.’

Corrin’s photoshoot and interview took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike. They were photographed at Electric House and Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, London. A Murder At The End Of The World is coming soon to Disney+. Corrin is a member of White City House.

Is there any role Emma Corrin can’t take on? | Soho House