Kristen Stewart ‘encompassing’ the skin of Princess Diana in new film Spencer
It only received its world premiere yesterday in Venice and the trailer is barely a week old and yet Spencer is quickly emerging as a key film this autumn, both in terms of box office takings and for awards consideration – particularly for Kristen Stewart, around whom there is a buzz of excitement that she might win an Oscar for her portrayal of Princess Diana.
Certainly, one of her co-stars, Timothy Spall, is a fan and described Kristen’s performance in a recent interview as “superb”.
Kristen herself could not be more gushing, describing landing the role as the most excited she’s been about a part in “so long”. Some praise from an actress who has worked more or less non-stop since she was eight and, as a teenager, played the all-American high school girl Bella in the hugely popular Twilight Saga film series.
Now in one of her most challenging roles yet, Kristen is set to join the ranks of high-profile actresses depicting Diana, the most famous woman in the world and now rapidly becoming the most portrayed on screen.
She follows hot on the heels of Emma Corrin, who played Diana in the most recent series of The Crown, Naomi Watts, Serena Scott Thomas and Emma’s successor in season five of The Crown Elizabeth Debicki, who have played her in films and other TV dramas.
The Crown’s Emma Corrin has served Kristen for inspiration to the point of becoming an ‘obsession’
Judging by the trailer, not only does Kristen look like Diana, she appears to have mastered her distinctive voice.
Kristen says: “It’s one of the saddest stories to exist ever, and I don’t want to just play Diana – I want to know her implicitly.”
Kristen — born and raised in Los Angeles — admits that to channel Diana’s presence, she became “obsessed” with watching Emma as her in The Crown.
“It’s so brilliant!” Kristen sighs admiringly and says that she replayed interviews with Diana while she was falling asleep at night.
“I just wanted to have her voice in my head so I didn’t feel like I’m just doing an impression of her.
“The people you know best in your life — the ones where when you tell stories about them you immediately drop into their voice — I wanted that feeling.
“I wanted to encompass her and jump into her skin – not just feel like I’m putting on a costume or a wig, but that I was walking in her shoes.”
Yet Kristen admits she was initially terrified at the prospect. “I thought, ‘Oh, ****, this is a big deal – I don’t want to mess it up’,” she says now, laughing.
“But I guess the only thing that alleviates that tension is that I can only do the best I can. Besides, there’s really no one way to do this. If you read every memoir or biography about Diana, you see that everyone feels differently about her.
“Every photographer sees her in a different light and she herself felt different every day. So there’s no way to get it right or wrong, you just have to work on feeling honest and present.”
A true challenge… The role is a big step in Kristen’s acting career
In the trailer, with a montage of shots from the film, which takes place across Christmas 1991 as Charles and Diana’s marriage is crumbling, Kristen is seen in an array of very familiar outfits.
In one, she wears a bright yellow blazer and matching hat. In another, she is in a shimmering white strapless evening dress, while in a third she dons a broad-brimmed black hat and red coat similar to that once worn by the princess at Sandringham.
The trailer hints at the emotional turmoil that Diana was going through during the breakdown of her marriage to Charles, who is played by Poldark actor Jack Farthing, but does not cover Diana’s death in August 1997.
The film focuses on the emotional rollercoaster the couple’s relationship put Diana through
Instead, Spencer will concentrate on the events of that key weekend in Sandringham that marked the moment Diana decided her marriage was over. It will also focus on her relationship with sons William and Harry.
“It’s this really poetic internal imagining of a three-day period when it all became most heavy on her,” says Kristen. “It’s more about her internal experience than anything else.
“It doesn’t go into any salacious details. There’s no new information coming out.”
Princess Diana on Christmas Day 1991, in Norfolk – a key moment in the film
Directed by Chilean Pablo Larrain and written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, with a score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Spencer hones in on a disastrous festive weekend with the Royal Family in Norfolk, with the winter mists and the rigid formality of the occasion adding to Diana’s sense of claustrophobia and loneliness.
Kristen says that the only disappointment in her research was that, because of Covid, she was unable to visit Britain before the film started shooting.
She says: “I wanted to go in advance to Sandringham and London, to see the places where she lived, those monumental spaces you can feel so small in. As it was, I had to tell myself, ‘OK, I can’t go to London in real life until later, but I’m going there through The Crown!'”
In Diana’s deceptively demure way, the late princess was a trailblazer through many of society’s taboos, most notably by being among the first to visit and hold hands with AIDS victims.
Kristen too, in her own fashion, is quietly helping to build public visibility for gender fluid people. Comfortably bisexual, she has had romances with several men, including her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, but in the last few years has been turning more and more to women and since 2019 has been most happily involved with actress and screenwriter Dylan Meyer.
“But I haven’t managed to skirt all discomfort in terms of sexuality,” she points out quickly. “I think you’d have to be only about 15 years old and living in New York or Los Angeles or another big city to have felt truly untouched by judgement about that.
“I know that I grew up thinking it would not be what I would have chosen, to be lesbian, that it was gross and weird – and definitely people at school thought it was weird, there was no way around that. So I can relate to the feeling of being different and other in those terms.”
I wanted to encompass her [Diana] and jump into her skin – not just feel like I’m putting on a costume or a wig, but that I was walking in her shoes
She says her awakening, when it did come, was surprisingly easy. “I never had a moment when I ‘came out’ as such,” she shrugs. “I just fell in love with a girl and felt my life was opening up in a way I had never realistically considered before.
“And so, rather than, for instance, saying to my parents, ‘Hey, I hate to break it to you, guys, but there’s something I want to tell you…’ it was just, like, ‘OK, there’s this new person in my life’.
“I told them I had a girlfriend, that it was a new thing and I was in love with her, and it really felt like a very cool next step.”
She says that, once she had realised her preference for women, she felt immediately comfortable with it. “I’ve never really lived in the closet,” Kristen says. “I’ve always held hands with my girlfriends in public. I’m obviously gay and it feels great.”
After an early fling with visual effects producer Alicia Cargile and an on-off affair with model Stella Maxwell, she now lives happily in Los Angeles with Dylan.
Kristen with girlfriend Dylan Meyer out in LA – doing normal-people stuff
Ask her about marriage, and Kristen thinks for a moment. “I like traditions,” she says. “I guess I like declarations of any kind. I love a grand statement and I am inspired by the commitment of being sure enough about something that you’d stick a stake in the ground on that level.
“Having said that, I do have complicated feelings about the sanctimonious nature of it all. I would say I would get married in my own way, but I wouldn’t necessarily do it in front of a bunch of other people in the way it’s been presented to me my whole life. But I do want a home, definitely. Four walls, a strong door, a fireplace to keep warm – and of course I want a family, absolutely. I want all the things that normal people want!”
At 31, she says she feels more comfortable in her skin than she ever has.
“I’m older,” she says, laughing. “I had much more anxiety when I was younger – I didn’t sleep very well then but these days, I’ve been sleeping really well.
Teenage Kristen with Robert Pattinson in Twilight… Much has happened since then, including growth
“And, I’ve grown up, you know? I know a lot of girls who went through that stage, ‘Oh, man when I was younger, I really wanted to look like everybody else and I really wanted to assume this placating position because I wanted everything to be all right and smooth’.
“But I’m not sure that that’s the truest impulse. And, yeah, if you look back at some interviews I did when I was in my teens, I was doing that too. I had long blonde hair and I definitely wanted to be pretty because I do have that in me. But now I’ve moved away from it, although I’ll probably go back to it at some point.
“My life will be, like, ‘God, I want long hair again!’ I hate thinking there’s only one way for you to be because there are a million versions of yourself that don’t conflict and can all live together quite easily.”
Comfortable with who she is, Kristen attributes her wellbeing to age… ‘I’m older,’ she says
She says she keeps herself healthy by kickboxing and happy by hanging out with her dog, Cole, saying: “She’s my best friend and my life support system and we do everything together.”
Kristen keeps herself sane, she adds, by being meticulously careful with what she chooses to read on the internet. “You’re always responsible for what you look at,” she says. “There will always be a plethora of stupid things that you can look at but you can also redirect your attention and not focus on the ********, which I try to do daily.
“I’m a pretty optimistic person and I feel great personally. In such a horrifically intense time in the world right now, I feel very lucky for that.”
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