Dominic West tells PEOPLE what he thinks 'The Crown' is ultimately all about
West, 54, has portrayed Charles since season 5 of the drama inspired by the lives of the British royal family and hit the red carpet on Tuesday for The Crown Finale Celebration at The Royal Festival Hall in London with his costars. Before the big night out, West exclusively spoke to PEOPLE about how his role in the Netflix show changed his perception of the royal family.
“I suppose one’s perception is so dictated by what you read in the media and what you see in their public persona that working on trying to find out what’s going on privately and what’s going on their minds and what’s going on in their private conversations,” West says of the task as an actor. “Peter [Morgan] imagines them so brilliantly and base grounds them very firmly in whatever facts we have, that I suppose I came to emphasize much more, certainly, with Charles and feel a sympathy for him.”
The cast of The Crown famously changed every two seasons to reflect the royals aging through the decades of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and West closes the role of then-Prince Charles, which Josh O’Connor originated in season 3 and continued into season 4.
Raising anticipation around the sixth and final season of The Crown, producers split the royal drama into two installments for the first time. Told in four episodes, part 1 premiered on Nov. 14 and follows the relationship between Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) before their fatal car accident in Paris in August 1997. Part 2 will close the show with six episodes and take the monarchy into the new millennium — along with the challenges that come with it.
When asked what was hardest to film for season 6, West cites the “big emotional scenes” around Diana’s death.
“I think the big emotional scenes. In many ways, they’re wonderful for an actor. But Peter had written two scenes, one in the Scottish mountains and one in the hospital in Paris where Charles bawls, crying. He’s wailing,” West tells PEOPLE of what the showrunner envisioned in the script.
“I read that and thought, ‘How does a famously buttoned-up family, famously unemotional family, what are they like in times of high emotion when something deeply traumatic happens?' I was very worried about it, then, of course, comes the day you’re doing it and you’re acting, looking at the body of Diana and what you’ve got is a cross on a map box, that’s what you’ve got to look at. They’re difficult, those scenes,” he says. “And I suppose those are the ones I was most worried about.”
In a surprise revelation to the Radio Times, the BAFTA winner said he stopped his son Senan West from continuing in his role as Prince William in The Crown season 6 to avoid depicting the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death together. The teen made his television debut as a young William in season 5, and his father revealed that Senan was invited back for the final season.
“I didn’t really fancy doing the scene at Balmoral, telling a boy his mother has died,” West explained, The Times reported on Monday.
He carried on as Charles, however, and tells PEOPLE that he was most surprised to learn about the King’s intense energy while researching the role.
“When I first arrived, they gave me his watercolor equipment when he goes painting. Then I have a scene planting flowers, which he’s all about. And then he has a scene where he’s dry-stone walling or he’s laying hedges. Just the sheer activity of the guy!” West says.
“I think maybe Queen Camilla has commented on it, he never stops! We have a scene last season where he goes, ‘I can’t bear dissipation, I can’t bear laziness,’ and it’s true. He’s a man of intense action. He must be exhausted!” West says with a laugh. “He fits it all in. I think that’s what impressed me most, or certainly struck me most, just how much he fits in.”
The Crown's timeline is set to conclude around 2005 — the wedding year of Charles and Camilla. Though the show will not catch up to the present, Morgan told Variety in the fall that Queen Elizabeth’s death in September 2022 drove him to change the show’s ending.
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While the countdown continues to the part 2 premiere on Dec. 14, and Morgan told Variety that the Queen's funeral is not seen, West hints that the final episode honors the late sovereign on screen.
“Peter must have been very affected, I think, by her death, and her funeral. And I think elements of that that we saw at her funeral come into the last episode, and it’s then that you realize that The Crown is about people who will wear The Crown, or are wearing the crown. Ultimately it’s about the person who is wearing the crown,” West says.
“It’s a show about Queen Elizabeth II. And I think that’s why they’ve split this season in two — because the story of Diana is so big and dominant that what we come back to is Elizabeth, and it ends with her. You realize it’s the story of her reign, this extraordinary length of reign, and this extraordinary life,” the actor adds. “I suppose, ultimately, that’s what The Crown is about.”
The Crown season 6, part 1, is now streaming, and part 2 hits queues on Dec. 14.
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