More than 24 years after her death, actor Kristen Stewart is stepping into the shoes, specifically Chanel shoes, of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in the film Spencer, part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
While many spend their time consuming all they can about Diana and the royal family, Stewart is quite the opposite.
“I always knew that she was different but I didn't know much about anything,” the actor said during a virtual TIFF discussion. “My initial feelings about her [were] that she was incredibly attractive, like cool, she just seemed like a lovely person.”
“She to me feels like such an odd mixture of things that don't necessarily go together at all, that are confusing and disparate, and I think that's why it made for such a compelling story.”
This film, directed by Pablo Larraín, shows Diana during a very specific period of time, over Christmas celebrations in 1991, following the news of Prince Charles’ infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles.
While navigating the intense media attention she’s receiving as her marriage crumbles, much of the film is spent showing Diana’s struggle to essentially keep herself together during this heartbreaking time.
When Larraín called Stewart about the role of Diana in Spencer, the actress revealed she “irresponsibly” said yes.
“What I mean is, I think my favourite kind of movies are explorations and cultivating this controlled chaos,” Stewart explained. “When you take a movie you have to say, ‘trust me, I know I can do this, give me the job.’”
“I did not have that for this, obviously, I could have totally f—ked up.”
Stewart’s impression of Diana, from what she knew, has been that the Princess of Wales was “disarming, casual, contagious, beautiful, empathetic” but was someone who was “protecting something.”
“You never know what's going to happen, like she walks into the room and the Earth starts shaking,” Stewart said.
“I knew that there was no way to play this part perfectly and therefore it was...easier to not be so intimidated and so daunted, because the only way to capture something f—king wild is to be that. I can only be my version of that and kind of hope that, if I learned everything I can learn about her and absorb her, and then meld and kind of be both me and her in some weird way, that it was going to be the best version.”
Kristen Stewart was 'scared' about portraying these aspects of Diana
The actor also feels that motherhood is the one thing in her life that Diana “felt sure” about.
“She wasn't very good at protecting herself but she was very, very good at protecting [her kids],” Stewart said. “I really wanted to protect [that] and [it] was a scarier aspect of making the movie because if you don't get that right, you do not get her right.”
“She's somebody who, to me, in interviews, feels exceptionally manipulative...but then also opening herself up completely, and she's so revealing and she's so vulnerable. She wears her heart on her sleeve like no other.”
There were some things that Stewart was scared to tackle when taking on this role. Firstly, the accent, but that’s something she was able to learn. Secondly, it was working with the two boys who play young William and Harry in the film.
“I can't make the kids like me, they just have to do it,” she explained. “I can't control them, I can control pretty much everything else.”
The actor also had to navigate Diana’s eating disorder, anxiety, emotional distress and feeling of isolation from the rest of the royal family during the film, which is the backbone of Stewart’s captivating performance.
“I think that her struggle with food and her relationship to her own body was really self-diminishing,” Stewart said. “But at the same time, when she needed to feel herself, she just felt so powerful.”
“She always said that the royal family doesn't hug, but to say that is a little on the nose and so there were times where I was like, 'just hold yourself,' and that kind of communicated...that aspect of the story.”
Larraín’s movie doesn’t explicitly dive into why the public felt such a kinship to Diana, dubbed the “people’s princess,” but rather, focuses on her personal demons and fragility, with sweeping shots of the princess running through the Queen’s Sandringham estate.
While the film may not be a more typical biopic in terms of the direction of the narrative, one thing you can count on is the focus on Diana’s enviable wardrobe, a signature for the late-princess, assisted by the uncanny resemblance Stewart has to Diana.
At one point in the film, the Queen tells Diana that people seem to be very interested in her portrait, but the only portrait that matters is when they take one for the "ten-pound note," because then you understand “you're just currency.”
It’s that concept of the royal family, primarily Diana, being “currency,” both within the confines of the royal estate and the world, that is at the heart of Spencer and this version of Diana’s life.