In her 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir, Princess Diana famously remarked that her marriage to Prince Charles was “a bit crowded” due to his extramarital relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. In The Crown’s portrayal of her brief romance with Dodi Fayed, the creators depict another of Diana’s relationships that was never allowed to simply exist between two individuals.
Khalid Abdalla, who plays Fayed in the Netflix historical drama, explains, “One of the big things I did for season six is I gathered as many of the photos with the research team as I could of Dodi and Diana and I put them in chronological order. When you put them in chronological order, it tells a story, and you’re kind of like, ‘Ah, that’s the moment when things shifted.’ You begin to feel the hounding from the media and all of these things. But the real key is finding that soul energy. There’s a resonant frequency from which you can explore.” As the love story unfolds onscreen, Fayed’s relationship with Diana is as much about his desire to be with the recently divorced mother of Prince William and Prince Harry as it is to please his father, billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed. In the series, the Egyptian businessman, played by Salim Daw, encourages his son to woo Diana in the hope of expanding his financial empire and gaining acceptance from the royal family with her as an ally.
“The cruel irony of this is that his ambition, in many ways, inadvertently led to the tragic outcome,” executive producer Suzanne Mackie tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Despite Al-Fayed’s influence, there’s an undeniably organic connection that unfolds between Diana and Dodi. It’s a connection that Abdalla and screen partner Elizabeth Debicki discovered naturally on set.
“I remember us thinking, ‘We’re going to trust each other to find what it is in the moment,’ and what we found almost instantly was that there was this very easy chemistry between us,” says Debicki. “We really loved being near each other. He’s one of those people who makes me feel calmer. And I remember thinking, ‘Well, maybe Diana felt calmer around Dodi.’ He was fun and spontaneous. He loved being with kids. He had sort of this silliness and sense of joy about him. All these things we found with each other as actors, we let it be a part of their relationship.”
Research and archival footage also played a large part in how the couple’s relationship was portrayed, says Abdalla.
“One of the things that tethered me in relation to Diana was the CCTV footage at the back of The Ritz, where you see them holding each other in such a tender way for seven minutes. They’re holding hands behind their backs in a way that is so gentle, with some very soft caressing,” he says, describing some of Diana and Dodi’s final moments together before their fatal car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997. The scene is replicated in episode three of season six, “Dis-Moi Oui.”
“There was a tenderness,” Abdalla adds. “There was a falling in love of some kind.”
“There was also a real sense of someone who’s going to listen to you — and that, to me, felt absolutely crucial for the character at that point in her life,” Debicki notes regarding the nature of Diana and Dodi’s relationship. “That sense of support and being seen was key. And it was really important for us to create that sense for the audience, too, so that when they head into this pressure cooker of turmoil, you know that they’ve had this time together and they understand each other and care for each other.”
While Abdalla has taken great pride in the opportunity to portray Dodi Fayed, whose life and death was largely overlooked in the wake of the global mourning for Princess Diana, the chance to also tell the love story has broadened the British-Egyptian actor’s appreciation for the former member of the royal family.