"Wow, Kate's hot!"
Such was Prince William's storied reaction when he saw Kate Middleton—till then just a good friend—wearing next-to-nothing at a charity fashion show in 2002, the future royal bride having taken it upon herself to turn a sheer black Charlotte Todd skirt into a dress before hitting the runway.
Meg Bellamy, who plays Kate on The Crown, hadn't been born yet when William realized he like-liked the athletic art history major from Bucklebury. But the 21-year-old British actress knew the significance of that moment even before she got deeply into the character research that came with the job.
"It was so exciting to wear an iconic outfit that I was aware of," Bellamy exclusively told E! News ahead of the Dec. 14 premiere of the Netflix series' final six episodes. "And preparing for the dress was really interesting, with the fittings, so many intricacies and different layers of mesh and ribbons."
The Crown's Emmy-winning costume designers Amy Roberts and Sidonie Roberts were sworn to secrecy about the latest season ("I don't think we can even talk about that," Sidonie told The Hollywood Reporter when asked if a certain Sarah Burton wedding gown would make an appearance), but Bellamy shouted out the "amazing" team that recreated the see-through look that quite possibly altered the course of Kate's life.
"I was nervous a bit before because it's a scene that I felt had a lot of gravitas in terms of historical significance," Bellamy said. "But the day of, the director [Erik Richter Strand] made us so comfortable and it was just loads of fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Bellamy scored an in-person read for the pivotal role after she saw a casting call on social media and sent in an audition tape. About halfway through the process, she explained, was when she met Ed McVey, the Drama Centre London graduate who's playing William as a young man.
"It was just very easy and fun straightaway," Bellamy said, "and we got along and clicked instantly, which helps. Then we did have another chemistry read and, with all the rehearsals and then just meeting up and getting to know each other, by the time we started filming we felt very safe with each other."
The series picks up with William enrolling at University of St. Andrews in Scotland after a year off that included his volunteer trip to Chile—a program Kate also coincidentally participated in during her gap year. (Or that was totally on purpose, depending on whether you're of the theory The Crown advances that her mum Carole Middleton was steering her daughter into the future king's path all along.)
Admittedly only "kind of aware of the royals and key events, like the royal wedding," Bellamy said she enjoyed researching Kate's early life, her "more normal and natural childhood."
And school-era Kate, however accomplished and fit, was still technically a regular person.
"It's quite nice to remove the layer of the complexities that come with being a royal," Bellamy noted, "and just play her as a girl that's going to university and falling in love."
While the chemistry between her and McVey, 22, was key, also essential to the believability of the portrayals was the brotherly bond between William and Prince Harry, played this season by Luther Ford.
He and McVey had chemistry reads, too, Ford told E! News, "and I think it was just evident that there was something there."
They also apparently have the same taste in accessories.
"We did our first audition," Ford continued, "we had the same earring, and Ed said to me that it was written in the stars. It was beautiful."
McVey concurred, remembering also how Ford made them all laugh right away. "The same with me and Meg," he said, "it was all just very easy, like you didn't really have to work that hard for anything—obviously we did work hard." The trio laughed. "But the relationships did feel very organic."
Like his co-stars, McVey "knew of" the royal family but wasn't particularly well-versed in the decades of drama. "But that really helped in terms of being removed from them," he said. "So I could look at what [series creator and writer Peter Morgan] wrote on the page and do your normal acting prep and not have these preconceptions of what this person is or what they should be. So, submerge yourself in the research, but fundamentally you're playing a character on a page."
And rest assured, there was plenty of homework for the young actors—all newcomers aside from shorts and school theater—between being cast in the summer of 2022 and when production got underway.
"The Crown has a very extensive research team that supply you with so much material," Ford noted. "Like, an overwhelming amount of material."
Plus, there was the master class he and McVey were immersed in every time they shared scenes with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Which was indeed what it felt like, making the job of playing a couple of "massive public figures" like Harry and William a lot easier.
"Everyone plays their part so incredibly," Ford explained, "that you're looking at Imelda [Staunton] and you're seeing the queen. And you're looking at Jonathan Pryce and that's Philip. You always get so much for free, because they are who they are from an acting perspective, but also you're looking at them and you're seeing your character. So in terms of needing to work really hard to make yourself believe who they are, you can just let them do their work and it reflects on you."
McVey said he expected a tenser atmosphere on set, "but it was so relaxed." Perhaps because most of the cast had already made season five together, he noted, "there was a chemistry and ease amongst the group. And they were very welcoming."
So he could save the stress for the scene where William makes his move after the fashion show and Kate, not wanting to make it too easy for him, pulls back as he leans in for a kiss. There are, naturally, some dueling narratives that have been told to royal biographers about that night, because it's not as if the couple themselves have ever revealed what exactly happened.
But at least the rest is history.
The final six episodes of The Crown premiere Dec. 14 on Netflix. Keep reading for more scenes from season six: