The Sun ran a headline which made me laugh,” Tom Byrne grins. “It was ‘Worst part on TV?’ Good news, you’re in The Crown; bad news, you’re playing Prince Andrew.”
Well, quite. Landing a role in Netflix’s sumptuous royal saga, now in its fourth series, is surely a dream gig for any young actor – the show, after all, has become a finishing school for British screen talent, helping to launch alumni like Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby into Hollywood. But when that role is playing the 20-something incarnation of the Queen’s second son, now notorious for his friendship with the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and that car crash Newsnight interview, does it take some of the shine off?
26-year-old newcomer Byrne, a graduate of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School whose previous screen roles have been brief turns in Sky’s A Discovery of Witches and Netflix’s Black Mirror, originally auditioned to play Prince Charles, a part eventually taken by Josh O’Connor for series three and four. The show’s team then got back in touch when it came to casting the young Duke of York, and The Crown’s reputation as a definitively big deal loomed large. “I’d had about half a year of not much happening – it’d been quite a quiet time for me, and I’d built this thing up massively in my head,” he explains, speaking over Zoom from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, where he is currently filming. “And then I went in and I completely blew it, really f**ked it.”
He had already “chalked [the audition] up as the big professional failure of [his] life” when the good news finally rolled in a couple of months later – leaving him with just weeks to nail the young prince’s specific timbre of RP. “William, who’s our dialect coach, said: ‘You’re talking through a letterbox and you’ve got massive teeth,’” Byrne laughs. “So that was my mantra for getting into it.”
Season Four of The Crown. November 15.
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