Cannes Film Fest 2021: Josh (The Crown) O’Connor Has Two Buzzy Films

A Golden Globe winner for his portrayal of Prince Charles on Netflix’s hit series, The Crown, O’Connor has two movies in this year’s Cannes Fest: Mothering Sunday, adapted from Graham Swift’s novella, and Aisha, which co-stars Letitia Wright.

“In some ways, The Crown has really been a deviation for me,” says Josh O’Connor. “I was doing the indie film thing before and having some success.”

While he’s had the all-important quarantine-dodging two vaccine jabs (Pfizer), he says he’s slightly worried about the press.

“I’m excited, but films go to Cannes and get panned,” he says. “I’ve heard they can be brutal.”

Playing in the Cannes Premiere section is Mothering Sunday, a British drama based on Graham Swift’s novella, set over the course of a single day in 1923.

The movie boasts an enviable ensemble of new and established talent.

Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun) directs from a script by Alice Birch (Normal PeopleSuccession), with Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley (Carol) producing,

O’Connor appears alongside rising Australian star Odessa Young (Shirley) and Colin Firth, Olivia Colman (reuniting after The Crown) and Glenda Jackson.

In the Cannes market, O’Connor has another buzzy title, Aisha, about Ireland’s controversial asylum system, from writer-director Frank Berry, that he recently wrapped filming with Letitia Wright.

O’Connor’s first projects coming out of his triumphant two-season reign as Charles (Dominic West takes over) take him back to the indie film world, where he was making a name for himself before The Crown creator Peter Morgan cast him in the big-budget TV series.

Whereas another royal breakout, Vanessa Kirby, made the leap from Buckingham Palace to blockbuster franchises (Mission: Impossible and Fast and Furious), O’Connor is very happy to return to the pre-Crown path.

“In some ways, The Crown has really been a sort of deviation for me,” he says. “I was doing the indie film thing before and having some success.”

He received notice for his flawless performances as an angry young farmer in the acclaimed LGBT drama God’s Own Country, the feature debut of Ammonite director and now close friend Francis Lee.

He then played one half of a childless couple in Harry Wootliff’s critically lauded modern romance Only You.

Both landed him British Independent Film Awards for best actor (one he has on display, the other is with his mother, while the Golden Globe statuette is “still in its box.”

“These were the kind of films I wanted to make,” he says. “The Crown wasn’t. But I’m so glad I did it — I loved it. But now I just feel like I’m carrying on as I was before, trying to find stuff that feels really challenging and interesting.”

An overriding theme linking the majority of his roles — particular those career-defining turns in God’s Own Country and The Crown — is one of sadness, loneliness, and, as he puts it, “the fragility of masculinity.”

This theme appears to be continuing, especially in Mothering Sunday, where he plays a young man saddled with grief and survivor’s guilt after his brothers were killed fighting in WWI.

“As men, I think we’re all having to question ourselves a little bit and ask, where do we sit in this world?,” he says of this more introspective moment for on-screen male performances. “We’ve been existing with an awful lot of privilege and are now having to reassess that, see where we place ourselves and how we can be better, softer and kinder.”

O’Connor points to Normal People star Paul Mescal (with whom he say he’s “recently become mates”) as an actor who also is becoming the cinematic face of XY sensitivity. “Normal People — especially that that therapy scene — just blew my mind. I remember thinking: that’s what I want to be doing.”

Like Mescal, O’Connor’s major global breakout — the reason for the increased volume of waitresses now breezing past our table to catch a glimpse — occurred almost entirely in lockdown. However, he acknowledges that his new friend’s rise to fame was slightly more dramatic.

“For him, it was overnight — in the space of two weeks he had like one million Instagram followers,” he says (adding that he was one of the many who signed up to a page dedicated to Mescal’s silver chain). “I’m really pleased for him, because he seems so grounded, but I feel like it doesn’t matter how grounded you are — success like that has got to be so intense.”

O’Connor’s streetside recognition may well ease off slightly during his next chapter as a New York resident. Once his Cannes duties are over, he’s planning on decamping to the Lower East Side to reunite with his girlfriend, marketing exec Margot Hauer-King, who’s been living there for the past six months.

With this American spell in mind, he’s booked up all of next year and 2023 with back-to-back projects, mostly film and mostly in the U.S. “It’s going to be a really crazy couple of years, but I’m very fortunate to know what that schedule is,” he says, adding that he’s also writing a feature film, being developed with producer Mary Burke (God’s Own CountrySaint Maud), which he may — eventually — direct.

But having gone from The Crown, to Mothering Sunday, to The Crown publicity work, to Romeo & Juliet, to Aisha, to The Crown’s Emmy campaign and now Cannes, O’Connor’s main aim is to take the rest of 2021 off.

“Basically, between now and Christmas, I’m really trying to protect some time so I can take stock.”