Kristen Stewart said she had steeled herself for the ‘daunting and exceptionally harrowing experience’ of portraying Princess Diana in her new movie Spencer, which focuses on one of the lowest points in the late Royal’s life. But what she hadn’t expected, as a ‘takeaway’ from getting under Diana’s skin, was ‘joy’.
‘She just really did have this overriding, disarming, beautiful energy,’ Stewart marvelled of the woman she brings bewitchingly to life in Pablo Larrain’s film. Spencer, which goes on general release here in the UK on November 5, imagines three days Diana spent at Sandringham at Christmas in the run-up to her separation and eventual divorce from Prince Charles.
And Stewart’s portrait of the complex character who is still transfixing us 24 years after her death is scorchingly compelling — right down to the accent, which she nails completely.
New film: Kristen Stewart said she had steeled herself for the ‘daunting and exceptionally harrowing experience’ of portraying Princess Diana in her new movie Spencer (pictured)
One thing was missing, though. Unlike Diana, ‘I’m not a mum yet’. Stewart said she felt the Princess was at her most ‘untouchable’ when she was with her sons, William and Harry. ‘She’s like this feral animal you wouldn’t dare accost!’
It was a recurring theme during our phone interview (she was speaking from her home in Los Angeles). Which gave me an opening (or so I thought) to ask her about her own views on motherhood. At which point, she stunned me by saying that she was…pregnant! Before laughing uproariously at my reaction.
‘No! I’m not…I’m really not!!’ she insisted quickly, clearly relishing my discomfort (‘You were like: “Oh, my God!”). And just in case I’d missed the fact that this was a JOKE, and not a news flash, she continued: ‘I’m not pregnant, yet. But one day…absolutely! One day I would absolutely love to have a family.’
Acclaimed: ‘She just really did have this overriding, disarming, beautiful energy,’ Stewart marvelled of the woman she brings bewitchingly to life in Pablo Larrain’s film (pictured at the London BFI premiere last week)
Stewart and I go way back. I first met her years ago, at the Sundance Film Festival. I interviewed her — or tried to — but she was so sulky and monosyllabic that I gave up, and said we should resume our conversation in a decade or so, once she’d grown up. Which, I’m glad to note, she has. She’s also turned into a heck of an actress.
Just last month, I watched her disembark gracefully from a water taxi at the Venice Film Festival, where Spencer had its world premiere. Was that new-found poise a legacy of the coaching she’d received from dialect and etiquette director William Conacher, who worked with her on the picture, I wondered?
She agreed that Conacher was a ‘transcendently talented artist’. Over the years, ‘the Diana authority’, as she called him, has worked with all the screen versions, including Naomi Watts in the feature film Diana, and Emma Corrin in The Crown (she ‘loves’ Corrin’s work, she added).
On screen: And Stewart’s portrait of the complex character who is still transfixing us 24 years after her death is scorchingly compelling — right down to the accent, which she nails completely
Spencer played well in Venice, though there were a few dissenting voices. ‘I definitely knew that the chances of “mucking this up”, as a Brit might say, were far greater than doing a “good job”,’ she conceded. ‘But I thought it was worth it. I’ve been working as an actor for a long time [since she was nine], and it’s really rare to find things that make you feel this way.’
Getting inside ‘that head’ had filled her with a ‘spooky kind of power’, she said. And it’s true that when I saw her in Venice she seemed happier, and more relaxed, than I could recall; with no sign of the twitchiness that five years ago, in a New York Times profile, she attributed to ‘debilitating physical anxiety’.
The decisions Diana must grapple with, during the course of Spencer, are ‘earth-shattering’. And yet ‘inhabiting her made me feel taller, and made me feel I could dance. I felt her power in a f***ing beautiful way.’
The scenes with the princes (Jack Nielen as William, and Freddie Spry as Harry) are tender, and very moving.
Stewart said director Larrain wanted the trio to be like ‘a three-headed animal in a bubble’. And to that end she spent time with her young co-stars, so she could at least pretend to be their mother for a few days on set.
Late royal: The decisions Diana must grapple with, during the course of Spencer, are ‘earth-shattering’. And yet ‘inhabiting her made me feel taller, and made me feel I could dance. I felt her power in a f***ing beautiful way (Princess Diana is pictured above)
Stewart also spent six months doing research for the role. ‘I read every memoir. I watched every video. I spoke to people who worked in the houses she was living in. And then you hope it’s somehow found its way into your body.’
Getting the accent right was crucial. Her own speaking voice is ‘a little bit tight’, she told me. ‘I barely open my mouth, and everything comes to an end fairly abruptly.’
But the Princess’s accent was ‘bouyant’. And then, down the phone, she switched to ‘breathy’ Diana, and it was remarkable, actually.
Occasionally on set, if she was feeling ‘self-protective or tight or emotional’, she would sometimes lose that voice. And then, she said, she’d walk around going ‘Argh! Argh!’, startling cast and crew, in order to get Diana back.
She told me saw no likeness between her celebrity — even during the Twilight Saga years, when she would regularly be pursued by fans — and that of the tragic Princess. ‘I mean, her world opened up to the entire planet,’ she said.
Drama: The film’s logline reads: ‘The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumours of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate