Emma Corrin Is in a League of Their Own

Emma Corrin is scraping butter over a hot cross bun. It’s Monday afternoon outside a London bakery. “The most transgressive human desire is autonomy,” Corrin says levelly, their blue eyes clear and unblinking. “The ability to do what you want, have sex with who you want, dress how you want, say what you want.”

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

It’s a statement that makes me wonder how Corrin’s own desire for autonomy plays into their artistry and chimeric talent for embodying everything from British princesses to amateur sleuths. Now, they’re taking on Cassandra Nova in Marvel’s Deadpool & Wolverine, the evil twin sister of Professor X and the latest supervillain to face Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

“It felt like working with a skin-covered Swiss Army knife,” says Reynolds, a disturbing image I recall as I watch Corrin slice through a bun. “Emma brought a Gene Wilder energy to Deadpool & Wolverine. Mischief, danger, unpredictability—from their first scene onward, we understand the villain enough to know why she’s motivated to oppose our heroes. And that’s because Emma is so fucking excellent at humanizing even the most chaotic lines. The only thing we love more than hating a villain is loving one. And we love Emma’s Cassandra Nova from the jump.”


Reynolds is on to something here: Corrin’s ability to humanize. To play Cassandra Nova, Corrin observed Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the Nazi colonel assigned to hunt out the Jews hiding in occupied France. “Because he’s in that uniform, that says everything you need to know,” they explain. “He can sit down at the table and just chat like we’re doing now, be animated, very pleasant. It’s so unnerving because he’s as evil as they get, the worst person on the planet. … He is the opposite of a scary villain; he lets his physicality do the talking, and then he flips the other parts on their head.”

I observe Corrin taking a delicate bite out of their bun. “Emma has an ability to so subtly change—to turn on a dime,” says Jackman. “There was an effortlessness, a sense of danger.”

Reynolds calls them “one of the greatest partners I’ve ever had in the Deadpool sandbox,” adding, “You heard me, Jackman.”

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

Sam Rock
Balenciaga dress. Cartier Love earrings, Maillon Panthère ring, and Santos de Cartier bracelet.
emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

It’s quite an endorsement, considering this is Corrin’s first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the realm of endlessly iterative blockbusters and a significant departure from the kinds of roles they have previously inhabited. In addition to their breakout role as the young Princess Diana in The Crown in 2020, there was fake heiress Anna in the play Anna X; Marion confronting her husband’s sexuality in My Policeman; Constance, who begins an electrifying affair with a gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Orlando in the West End stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending novel of the same name; the pink-haired Darby in A Murder at the End of the World; and now Deadpool & Wolverine. Period characters, scammers, Gen Z sleuths, supervillains—Corrin’s boldness in their own journey of self-discovery (three years ago, the 28-year-old actor came out publicly as queer and nonbinary) has gifted them the empathy that unlocks a huge spectrum of characters.

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

When I first meet Corrin, it’s at the entrance of a Hampstead bookstore. They are wearing a black North Face puffer jacket over a red hoodie, jeans, and old trainers, a practical and unremarkable ensemble for unpredictable British weather. Around us, people stare, do double takes, but Corrin is well disguised. No one can quite match up their low-key outfit with Princess Diana.

I confess my disappointment that they’re wearing pants. They laugh. “Can you imagine? If I turned up in just tights?”

I think it’s fear. Absolute FEAR.”

I can, actually. Corrin is no stranger to the pantsless trend; they may have even ignited it. They closed Miu Miu’s Fall 2023 show in a pair of glittering sequin briefs worn over sheer black hose, and they wore an olive-green knitted riff on the same look to the Venice Film Festival later last year. They dominated the 2024 BAFTAs in black briefs and teal tights, with oversize bows on each hip and a delicate fishnet veil. But today, their hair is a velveteen buzz cut, all the angles of their face visible. They wear no makeup or jewelry apart from a pair of simple Cartier huggies.

Corrin is between projects. They’ve just finished filming Deadpool & Wolverine, but can’t disclose any details because “I’ll be hunted down in the night.” In a few days, they’re flying to Hong Kong for another movie. Which means they’re currently reading nonfiction: “When I’m working, I read fiction. It’s a form of escapism. When I’m not working, I want to feel like I’m learning something.”

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story
emma corrin for harpers bazaar june july 2024 issue cover story

Corrin is a quick study. Born in Kent, England, the eldest of three, they attended the posh Woldingham School before matriculating at Cambridge, where they became immersed in the theater scene, acting in 20 plays. After university, they got a day job at a fashion start-up in London to pay the bills while auditioning for roles, quickly landing parts in the TV dramas Grantchester and Pennyworth. How they got the part of The Crown’s young Diana is the stuff of acting legend. When they walked in, The Crown hadn’t even started casting for Diana; Corrin was assisting with chemistry readings for the Camilla auditions. But Corrin treated the opportunity as if it were an audition, preparing the shy tilts of Diana’s head and her slow, mannered intonation with their speech-therapist mother. Their hard work paid off. They ultimately won the role and, later, a Golden Globe.

We wind our way through the store, chatting about what we’ve read. Corrin’s interaction with books is physical, pressing hands to covers, trailing fingers down spines. I ask if they’ll recommend a book to me. (They started a Bookstagram account during lockdown.) “The Overstory,” Corrin says immediately, naming the Pulitzer Prize–winning 2018 novel by Richard Powers. “It’s about trees. An epic story that follows different people whose lives are all affected by nature.” They speak quickly, more Darby than Diana, their thoughts silvered, slipstream. “It sounds strange to get behind, but it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read.”

“By taking up SPACE, by being VISIBLE, that’s SOMETHING in itself.”

Corrin tells me they read it after losing a close friend to a brain tumor. “It was devastating,” they say, clutching a coffee cup that no longer has coffee in it. “But that book made me think about the cycle of life. It made me feel reassured. Because a big message of it is that trees have been here for so much longer and will be here for so much longer. There’s something comforting about that.”

Growth, cycles—these are themes Corrin is keenly aware of. “Self-discovery has been huge for me in terms of my identity and gender,” they say against the low hum of the bookstore. Outside, a circus truck goes by, music blaring. Corrin dances along, with the abandon of Diana in the “Fairytale” episode but none of the desperation, then seamlessly slips back into conversation. “People discovering different parts of themselves, which are awakened by people they meet or situations—the idea that no one is ever finished. People keep growing, keep evolving. It’s limitless; it’s cycles.”

I suggest Joelle Taylor’s stunning novel, The Night Alphabet, if they like nonlinear narratives, where the tattoos on a woman’s body are windows into different stories: a coal miner’s daughter, a trafficked girl. Corrin lights up. “I’m obsessed with tattoos.”

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

We cross the store in search of Taylor’s book. They tell me about the symbols on their body, the cherubs on their leg, the power of tattoos to capture time, write history onto skin. Corrin is drawn to the permanency of tattoos: “I like knowing I have something on my body that’s entirely me.” I wonder if it’s because they can feel anything but permanent. Corrin specializes in metamorphosis: Think of Diana’s transformation from pussy-bowed teenager to shoulder-padded celebrity, Constance’s move from duty to sexual liberation, Orlando’s gender-switching.

Corrin, however, gravitates to tattoos for reasons beyond costume changes: “I started getting tattoos when I started exploring my identity.” In front of the graphic art of Ela Lee’s Jaded, they push back their sleeve. Inked onto the soft of their arm is a solitary house on a ringed planet. “It’s the apartment on Uranus,” they say, almost breathless with the memory.

An Apartment on Uranus is a collection of beautiful, urgent essays by the Spanish trans philosopher Paul B. Preciado. In the titular essay, Preciado dreams about living in an apartment on Uranus, a place where the binaries of male and female don’t exist. “That book was fundamental to me,” Corrin says. They trace the circle of the planet so tenderly, I wonder what it’s like to never feel safe, to have to imagine another world to call home. This tattoo is precious to Corrin, at once identity, dissidence, wish, hope. It’s one of the ways they are reclaiming themselves from the violence of a gendered world.

Corrin buys The Night Alphabet and Taylor’s poetry collection C+nto & Othered Poems before declaring a craving for hot cross buns. Hampstead is Corrin’s neighborhood—they live in a flat close by with their dog, Spencer—so they take the lead, past an Italian ice cream parlor, a florist, and a side street where rolls of Turkish rugs, velvet chairs, and antique desks spill out onto the pavement. The air smells of cut stems and old wood.

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story
emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

We order the pastries and some juice and sit outside. I ask about the swell of homophobia and transphobia they’ve faced since coming out as queer and nonbinary. They first identified as LGBTQ+ in April 2021, when they posted a photo of themselves in a wedding dress with the caption “ur fave queer bride.” Later, in July 2021, they changed their pronouns on Instagram and posted photos of themselves wearing a chest binder.

“The vitriol is worse than I anticipated,” Corrin reflects, pulling the collar of their jacket up against the wind. “Even though we like to think we’re in a progressive society, a lot of what we’re seeing is increasingly a step back.”

This is a dignified understatement. Reading the comments on Corrin’s Instagram is a baptism in hate. Peel back the disturbing attitudes to body hair, the grammatical sniping, and the dogged insistence on the immutability of language and, post after post, they’re shamed and humiliated and told they’re dangerous, emotionally unstable. Their identity is always denied, always corrected.

“It’s QUITE HARD to feel like you have CONTROL over ANYTHING as an ACTOR.”

“People follow me because they’ve watched something I’m in. They think I’m one kind of person, and then they’ll see who I actually am and how I present and—” Corrin breaks off, gazing through the bakery windows at the shelves of raspberry jams. “I will never understand why. Who are you hurting by being yourself? Why am I controversial?” It is an astonishingly philosophical approach to backlash that could—if they were more fragile, less assured—break them. “I think it’s fear. Absolute fear.”

Corrin doesn’t read comments on social media. There’s steel behind this, a determination to carve out a space for themselves where they are safe. (Their polite refusal to discuss their relationship with Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek is part of this.) What about reviews? Corrin laughs. “I’m getting really good at not doing it. I’d be lying if I said I never read anything. Because sometimes you read one and think, ‘I’m never going to act again. I can’t do anything.’ You learn your lesson.”

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

The flip side to the hate Corrin experiences is the undeniable fact that they are touching people, changing minds, forming communities. They tell me about how people would hang back to speak to them after their performance as Orlando. “I remember this older man was waiting for me. His grandchild had come out as trans, and he was trying to understand it. Seeing Orlando shifted his whole perspective; he couldn’t thank me enough. It was wild. It was beautiful.”

Orlando’s director, Michael Grandage, was deeply moved by the transformative quality of Corrin’s performance: “Very occasionally in the theater, something happens that makes you believe new ground is being broken,” he says. “One can read a lot about past performances onstage. Audiences always talk about some alchemy that happens. Well, for 12 weeks in the West End, I think audiences witnessed one of those moments.”

“No one is ever FINISHED. People keep growing, keep EVOLVING.

Theater is just one string in Corrin’s very full bow. They’ve also finished filming Robert Eggers’s Nosferatu, a remake of the 1922 movie, which was itself an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. They’re writing a children’s book, and they’ve already written a screenplay with a friend. “The subject matter’s maybe not so easily palatable,” Corrin says carefully. I take this to mean the screenplay is about themes Corrin associates with but that others might find hard: the overlooked and marginalized, people on the edge. “I’ve felt the pull to write more because it’s quite hard to feel like you have control over anything as an actor. The only thing you have autonomy over is your performance. Even then, that’s being honed or curated by someone else.”

Do they think change might be coming to the film industry? Corrin sighs. Other than when they spoke about their friend’s death, it is the only moment their mood dips. “It feels impossible to know where to start to enact the change that needs to be done. But by taking up space, by being visible, that’s something in itself.” They press their fingers to their lips. “I’m a tiny cog at the moment.”

emma corrin for harper's bazaar june july issue cover story

Corrin might feel like a tiny cog, but perhaps they will be one to change the machine. They’re on the selection committee for the Proof of Concept program. Supported by Netflix and led by Cate Blanchett, producer Coco Francini, and Stacy L. Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the program will offer support for eight filmmakers with the aim of highlighting the perspectives of women and trans and nonbinary individuals. “It’s a way of giving filmmakers a chance to write these stories into the industry, to lift them up. That’s the way you get it done.”

As I watch Corrin leave, books under their arm, I think of a line from An Apartment on Uranus: “To speak is to invent the language of the crossing.” That’s what makes Corrin so compelling: their endless invention of roles, their creation of spaces for themselves and others.

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Sam Rock
Miu Miu top and briefs. Cartier Juste un Clou earrings, Santos de Cartier bracelet, and Maillon Panthère ring.

This article appears in the June/July issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Hair: Mustafa Yanaz for Bumble and Bumble; makeup: Aaron de Mey for Sisley; manicure: Dawn Sterling for NailGlam; production: Day International; set design: Heath Mattioli.