ANDRin Doherty reckons she’s already peaked in terms of embarrassing paparazzi pictures. At the height of the second lockdown in 2020, the actor, who played Princess Anne in The Crown, was papped with her girlfriend in a supermarket car park wearing a khaki fleece, tracksuit bottoms and three pairs of socks. “What the hell was that about?” she says, laughing. “It freaked me out a bit. Why is anyone interested in what I’m getting at Lidl? Odd. And it looks like I have ginormous feet. I feel like that’s one of the most awkward situations to be papped in and it’s happened, so now I’ve just got to move on.”
The actor had caught the attention of the tabloids – and the rest of the country – with her prickly pear performance as the Queen’s forthright daughter in Netflix’s hit royal drama. Tough and thorny on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside, Doherty’s Princess Anne was kissing her ella brother Charles on the cheek one minute and punching him in the stomach the next. She belted out David Bowie songs in the car and talked back to her parents about her. Doherty made the royal, well, almost cool. Searches for Princess Anne on Google went through the roof and she is now one of the royal family’s most popular figures. “That blows my mind,” says Doherty. “I feel really chuffed for her. She is bloody amazing.”
But we’re on the phone, on the day Storm Eunice rips across the country, to talk about Chloé, the moreish mystery thriller that drew to a close this week on BBC One. “Ello!” the 29-year-old chirps in her Estuary accent. “This storm is crazy, huh?” She’s in her new flat in Peckham, where she lives with her girlfriend, the actor Sophie Melville. “It has one of them weird rooms that keeps making noises, so we’ve been playing music loudly to get over it.” Before the move, Doherty and Melville lived in a houseshare with six other actors. Fun but exhausting. “It was like a rite of passage but I’m just so glad it’s done,” she says. “Now it’s just us, which is so nice.”
In Chloé, Doherty stars as Becky, a social media-addicted temp worker who lives with her ailing mother. Becky appears to be obsessed with her childhood best friend de ella (Chloe, played by Poppy Gilbert), who abandoned her when she moved away as a teenager. When Chloe is found dead, Becky infiltrates her friendship group de ella – a posh, high-achieving Bristol set – and starts sleeping with Chloe’s widow Elliot (Billy Howle). She is on a mission to find out why Chloe died. To transform into a yuppy Bristolian with the fake name Sasha, she listens to podcasts about how to make unagi sauce and takes out loans to buy mohair jumpers and embroidered dresses.
Doherty’s range is astonishing. Becky is many things – a master manipulator, a drab loner, a vibrant socialite, an anxious carer – and Doherty plays them all to a sublime, excruciating effect. Every flicker of an eyelid is meticulously timed. The way her fake smile de ella drops as soon as the person she is tricking looks away is a thrilling display of duplicity. Her restrained performance by Ella brings to mind queen of the with artists Rosamund Pike.
Doherty had a lot of fun with the accents. As Becky, she has a rhotic West Country lilt, but as Sasha, her vowels stretch out lazily. “It’s so rare to be able to drop straight in and out,” she says. “That’s when you make people double-take. Luckily, I spent three years training in Bristol so I knew the accent well enough.”
The actor – who trained at Bristol Old Vic, a school that also produced her co-stars in The Crown Olivia Colman and Josh O’Connor – relishes making people double-take. Most people know her from her for her from her cut-glass RP voice from her as Princess Anne, but she grew up in Crawley (“Whenever anyone asks I say Gatwick airport, because that’s all there is”). If anything, her accent on her is closer to Becky’s than the royal. “I love taking people by surprise,” she says. “When someone recognizes me and I start talking, I can tell on their faces that they’re processing what’s going on, because of the sound that’s coming out of my mouth versus the sound they have in their head. You can see they’re shifting their whole perspective on me.”
Doherty, whose parents split up when she was four, spent her childhood being ferried between her parents’ houses, drama class and football training. She was scouted for Chelsea, but gave up football for acting at 13 “because my dad was driving me back and forth for a long time, bless him”. After sixth form – she had bunked off a lot because she “hated” school and wasn’t “massively social” – she kept applying for drama schools and kept getting rejected. Eventually, Doherty joined Bristol Old Vic aged 20 and, after graduating, worked in theater. Her first screen role of ella was as a struggling mother in Call the Midwife. “Then it all just sort of trickled on from there,” she says.
Her childhood was very different to Becky’s, whose mother Pam, played brilliantly by Lisa Palfrey, has early-onset dementia. The fraught relationship between parent and child oscillates between love and hostility. “The fact that Becky’s in this weird nomadland, figuring out if she’s her lack of her,” says Doherty, “all of that is so prominent in our society and we do n’t really put that on screen. The main little nugget about Becky that I held onto throughout the shoot was this deep loneliness. I realized that, once her mum forgets her, she does not have anyone in her life of her. She’s essentially waiting to fall off the face of the earth. She has no connections, ties, friendships, nothing. This desire to put herself in another person’s shoes is her way of finding some sense of community. She’s almost vibrating with loneliness. That’s what pushed her over that edge into that manic state.”
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The series masterfully depicts the way social media has consumed us. Becky scrolls almost desperately, from when she’s hunching over her cereal in the morning to when she’s lying dead-eyed in bed at night. Doherty says her own relationship with her is “a constant battle.” “It’s so easy to spend hours looking at mindless stuff about cats,” she says. “And as soon as you log in and see all these amazing things people are doing – which by the way isn’t a true representation of their lives – I find it impossible not to question my own happiness.”
In a chilling twist, Chloé slowly turns into a domestic drama about coercive control. Elliot becomes increasingly possessive, eventually locking Becky in her house and wringing her neck. “You’re the first person that I’ve spoken to about this aspect of the script!” Doherty cries. “No one has brought it up. I’ve not experienced it first-hand but it seeps into people’s relationships. It’s so cancerous in a way; people don’t realize it’s happening until it’s three stages down the line. I hope on some level some people have gone, ‘Ah, I’ve not ever realized that might be something that’s happening to me.’ I’ve been dying to speak to people about that part of the show. I pray that as time goes on people are actually having that conversation.”
Doherty was relieved when she got the script for Chloé. She felt like she had been “put in a bracket” after The Crown and was determined to show people she could play something other than posh or royal. “I knew I needed to work doubly hard,” she says. “It’s so strange – you fight and fight and fight just to get any job you can at the start, and once you break through, the second fight has to begin, to show people I can do something other than Princess Anne. Becky was so polar opposite to her. That’s why I jumped at it.”
But she did learn a lot from Princess Anne. “I strive to be as honest as possible now,” she says. “For so long I grew up thinking you have to accommodate the people around you. While that is very important, it stunted my ability to feel what I was feeling in those situations and express my emotions.”
The role changed her life – as well as being papped doing her grocery shopping, she’s in a WhatsApp group with Olivia Colman. Did the group chat explode every time a Prince Andrew or Megxit story broke? “Honestly,” she says, “no one was talking about it because, when you’re doing promotion with Netflix, there’s a whole list of all these things you can’t talk about.” But what about private conversations? “I can’t remember a time anyone had a conversation about the actual royal family. No one spoke about it because that’s what we did all day long. When you’re actually sat in the green room, all you want to do is chat about everyone’s dogs.”
Getting texts from the cast of The Crown still feels “insane”. “Whenever it happens I’m like, ‘As if that’s even a thing!’” she says. “So weird. I’m weird. When my phone lights up and it’s their name, it’s like, ‘What is my life, man?’”
‘Chloe’ is available to stream in full on BBC iPlayer, ‘The Crown’ is available on Netflix
Read more of The Independent‘s Rising Stars interviews here.