Kristen Stewart on How Playing Princess Diana in 'Spencer' Made Her 'Feel So Strong'

CUL PS Kristen Stewart BANNER
Kristen Stewart attends the photocall of "Spencer" during the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 03, 2021 in Venice, Italy. Daniele Venturelli/Getty

"She was fighting for her life."

Portraying the beloved late Princess Diana would be a daunting task for any actor, but when director Pablo Larraín asked Kristen Stewart to take on the role in his new film Spencer (November 5th), she agreed immediately. "When I first started talking to Pablo, I didn't even know what the project was yet. I was like, 'I'll do it.'" She admits, "it felt a little bit reckless," but that spirit felt appropriate for Larraín's Diana. "There was something about this sort of psychotic confidence that he had. Something about him feels unstoppable." The film is a reimagining of a period of three days over Christmas shortly before Diana separates from Prince Charles. "She was fighting for her life and trying to get to the point where she could become herself and be embodied." Of course, a film like this has Oscar written all over it, something Stewart is fine with because of how proud she is of Larraín and ultimately how much she came to admire Diana. "I had so much fun playing her, even on days that were only the dark things."

Did you have any reservations about playing someone so iconic?

Yes. It was kind of a catch 22 in terms of how much time we had to get ready because I needed the solid six months of physical prep, but mentally a certain kind of hunger and desire starts and you want it now. So for six months, I woke up scared. You have no idea that you can actually do it. It definitely scared me leading right toward before we started shooting. I had the most gnarly TMJ [temporomandibular joint disorder] and I couldn't open my mouth for two weeks. But I was like, I'm fine, I'm not scared anymore, I've learned the accent, I've done the reading, it's time to just trust fall. Then luckily the day we started shooting, the TMJ just stops. It was absolutely a physical manifestation of deep fear.

How did you find her voice?

I just listened to it a lot. I did have a really incredible dialect coach who I want to continue working with even on movies that I don't have particular dialects. He's just so much fun to create a whole person with and so I had this extra set of eyes on her and on myself.

Kristen Stewart Portrays Diana in 'Spencer'
Princess Diana as portrayed by actress Kristen Stewart in Pablo Larraín biopic Spencer, which released in cinemas on Friday, November 5. The film depicts royal traditions including the royals being weighed before and after Christmas at Sandringham. Pablo Larraín/STX Films

What was it like working with Pablo Larraín, and why do you think he was uniquely qualified to tell this story?

I said yes before I was really acquainted myself with the full idea of doing it and what it would take. I wish I could figure out a great way of putting this, whatever it is, I couldn't be more effusive about my care for this person and my confidence in his art.

How did you find the balance between showing her anxiety while also not making her look like a caricature of someone breaking down?

Yeah, even when she was being disarmingly casual and beautiful and empathetic, all of the things we've seen of her, you just want to be near somebody like that. But there's also something right beneath the first layer of her skin that feels like she's going to explode or is delicate. I could be totally influenced by the saga of it all, because obviously it's interesting, we're human, but I think that my biggest takeaway from watching all this stuff was that she felt unpredictable in a way that felt dangerous. Even though it was just these three days and is a poetic imagining, it must have been f*cking awful and harrowing, scary and isolating. But if you don't show what she's fighting for then it wouldn't be true to who I feel she was. I still had so much fun playing her, even on days that were only the dark things. There was something about her that made me feel so strong. I felt protective of her.

One of the things that I found about your take on Diana was just how cool she was. Did that stand out to you?

I honestly think she was born that way. You can see it in pictures of her when she's like seven.

Kristen Stewart's Princess Diana With Harry, William
Kristen Stewart's Princess Diana with actors playing Prince William and Prince Harry in biopic 'Spencer,' which was released on November 5, 2021. Some scenes touch on sensitive aspects of Princess Diana's story. Pablo Larraín/STX Films

What would you say was the hardest part of your performance?

When acting is really hard it's because it's not working or you're having to force an emotion. And then it's really hard because you can't get out of it at that point because you're in the middle of the movie. I was so scared of that happening because that's the nightmare on a movie like this, it would obviously be very embarrassing. So when we got there it was hard to contain everything emotionally, but in a good way. I didn't have to dig very deep, everything was so apparent to me. I had to really push the idea of her passing out of my mind because she was so alive to me. Three or four times a week I would feel this grief because I couldn't f*cking believe she died in that car. She was fighting for her life and trying to get to the point where she could become herself and be embodied. But if you really zoom out and look at everything it's unbelievable. But really the hardest thing was that it was fucking freezing. I was just blue the entire time. It's funny, the hardest part was the best part; by the end of the day I was collapsing. I was so exhausted even though I never wanted to stop shooting.

You have such a close partnership with Chanel, including in the film. What is it about fashion that helped you find Diana?

I feel like there are two modes, times where Diana feels dressed up like a little doll, when she kind of juts out of her clothing, it's awkward. And then there are times she's really clearly feeling herself and loving something she's wearing. And all of the pieces that we incorporated into her wardrobe came from the Chanel house, those were when she was feeling good. She loved Chanel. She had a real relationship with them.

So obviously there's a lot of awards buzz. Does all the Oscar talk impact you, or do you tune it out?

No. It's not making me uncomfortable. I feel so grateful for how big this conversation has become. Why we do movies is to be able to be like, "Hey, what do you think? We thought this was really special and important." It's awesome. I've never been asked specifically what does it feel like to campaign for an Oscar. I have done a lot of Q&A's at this point, so it doesn't feel different. I just feel like I'm promoting a movie and I do like talking about this one. I love her [Diana]. And I love Pablo, and I definitely feel like championing them. We've just had the best time with it.