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Olivia Colman plays Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown. The Netflix series tells the story of the queen’s reign and when it came to casting a new actor as the head of the British royal family the show’s creator knew it had to be Colman or no one. 

Olivia Colman at the EE British Academy Film Awards
Olivia Colman at the EE British Academy Film Awards | Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

‘The Crown’ cast doesn’t stay the same

Because of the nature of the show — documenting the events of the queen’s reign which spans decades — The Crown gets different actors as everyone ages. According to Robert Sterne, the program’s casting director, that wasn’t always a given. 

It was a choice “whether we aged-up actors across their life span or were bold and we cast each time,” he said in an interview, according to the Associated Press.

Ultimately the show made the decision to cast different actors as the same characters through the years. It involves “a lot of time looking at the pictures and images of people at particular stages of their life” to find the right actor for the job, he added. 

Olivia Colman began playing Queen Elizabeth II after Claire Foy

After Claire Foy’s award-winning performance as the queen in The Crown Seasons 1 and 2, the show needed someone to wear the crown literally and figuratively in future seasons.

Enter Olivia Colman who joined the cast as Queen Elizabeth in season 3. This wasn’t the first time she’d played royalty on screen. Colman gave an Oscar-winning performance in 2018’s The Favourite as Queen Anne. 

‘The Crown’ creator didn’t want any other actor for the role

Like Matt Smith playing Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, The Crown creator Peter Morgan wanted only one actor for the role of the queen: Colman.

“Olivia Colman was a list of one,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2019. “I think I wanted to know [she would play the part] even before negotiations were done for seasons 3 and 4.” 

Olivia Colman stands behind a desk as Queen Elizabeth II in 'The Crown' Season 3
Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown Season 3 | Sophie Mutevelian / Netflix

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“Obviously, I’d have preferred her not to be playing another queen before,” Morgan added, referring to her performance in The Favourite. “But it’s so different—such a different tone.”

Colman went on to win a Golden Globe Award for her lead role as the queen in The Crown Season 3. She will reprise her role in The Crown Season 4 when Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) join the show.

Imelda Staunton will succeed Olivia Colman on ‘The Crown’ 

Harry Potter fans remember Imelda Staunton as Professor Dolores Umbridge Now she’ll playing the queen after Colman’s time on The Crown ends. 

“Amazing” is what Colman called Staunton’s casting, according to the Associated Press. She even joked her performance may be forgotten because of her talented successor. “It’s almost, ‘wish she wasn’t quite good,’” the actor said. 

Her advice for Staunton on playing the queen: “Good luck. The wig’s itchy.”

The Crown Season 4 will debut on Nov. 15, 2020. It marks the end of Colman’s reign as the crown gets passed to Staunton for the show’s fifth and final season.