Kristen Stewart to Receive American Riviera Award
A Conversation with Kristen Stewart, Star of ‘Spencer,’ at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
By Charles Donelan | March 3, 2022
One of the year’s most talked-about feature films, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, takes a psychologically demanding look at a crucial holiday weekend in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. Kristen Stewart stars as Diana in a performance that has earned her Best Actress nominations from the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and Critics’ Choice Awards.
Eschewing the depiction of familiar episodes from Diana’s life in favor of exploring an otherwise undocumented moment of crisis, Spencer reveals the agony Diana felt as she realized that Prince Charles would never be the partner she needed and that life as a member of the royal family was stifling her in a profoundly threatening way.
Throughout the Christmas holiday at the Queen’s Norfolk estate in Sandringham, Diana rebels against the elaborate protocols that govern her behavior and moves toward asking Charles for a divorce. The film tells a version of the story entirely from Diana’s perspective. It mixes surrealist fantasy sequences with deadly accurate depictions of the various ways in which the royal family and its servants attempt to at once hold her prisoner and support her.
The film relies on Stewart’s total commitment to the role. I spoke with Stewart following a screening of Spencer at the SBIFF Riviera Theater in February. The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
What was it about this script that made you want to play Diana Spencer? She’s an inspiration. She’s somebody who sat down and spoke about stigmatized, really difficult, very true things. And she made people feel less alone. But that was only because she felt so alone for so fucking long. This movie tries to peel that back instead of focusing on all the results. It asks what got her there. What must have happened? And then not to do it explicitly, but to just sort of have a shining feeling like this — that appealed to me. We didn’t have to say it, but we touched on the reasons why she needed to have found her voice.
Some scenes in the film feel like dreams. We had to do it in a way that felt like a dream because that’s how you remember your life. You don’t always remember your life in headlines. You remember it in these instances that you feel.
And these scenes are not taken from the official version of her life. No, because you don’t know they’re there. It’s a strange assembly of moments. And even though we only did three days, it still felt like a strange assembly of moments.
Prince Charles is entirely unsympathetic. Yes, but then when you think about it, that is because the movie is so embedded in her perspective. It’s so easy to hate him because, at this time, she fucking hated him. She hated him so, so passionately. But I felt really bad for him. The movie just zooms in, but if you zoom out….
You can see his perspective. Yes. In getting ready for the movie, I read his biography, and he’s locked in the same asylum. So to me, it definitely felt like he was trying to help her. Diana fucking hates him in this moment. That’s one thing. But he’s like, dude, I have figured something out that he thinks will help her to try and do this thing. And he’s offering this strategy, and she’s like, “That’s gonna kill me. Maybe you can do that, but that will be the death of me.” And he’s like, “I don’t care.” It’s because they’re just missing each other. I feel like there is a love story to be had here, and it’s him and Camilla.
Being a mother to her children saves Diana, at least temporarily. Right. I feel like if she didn’t have those guys, I don’t know what would have happened. That relationship was definitely what she was running toward.
And then there’s the media and the paparazzi constantly hovering around them. How did you approach that aspect of the story? Everyone always wants to ask about, like, the fact that I’ve had a lot of pictures taken of me, and I must be able to relate in some particular way. But we lead such different lives, and in the presence of those lenses, we’re motivated by such different things. So I can’t fully relate. What I can totally relate to is the idea that people have ownership over details of your life and a perception of you that is not necessarily your experience but is absolutely not wrong. And so I’m always giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m like, maybe we had no experience together, or we met, and maybe I was in a bad mood, and I was an asshole to you. You are not wrong. Do I think I’m fundamentally unethical? No. But, like, did you have an experience? Yes.
When you think about her sons, Harry and William, potentially seeing the film and how she is portrayed in it, what does that mean to you? I’m sure that those guys are like, “You don’t know my mom.” And they’re right. But I know my version of her.
And that matters because we all have our versions of her. It’s the reason we keep trying to bring her back. In a very untimely way, in a shocking way, we lost her. And now all we want to do is just keep bringing her back. That’s because she can’t leave us like this. So we make a good movie, a bad movie, a TV series, a play, whatever. She is somebody who is yearning to be revived. And we can’t stop doing it.
The weird shadows and light thrown around by her presence are still refracting off of every fucking mold. I can’t believe it. I had such a good time making this movie. I love making movies. It is my whole life. And yet this was different. It felt so spooky. It was like it’s her; that’s her.
The other day, Pablo [Larraín] put it into words for the first time, and we’ve been talking about this movie for months. He said, “It felt like you were playing a ghost.” We don’t know her. We can never know exactly everything that happened. Everyone has a different version of the story. You can read them all and accumulate some sort of truth to you. But there was also this feeling that we could taste the presence and feel the temperature that maybe she had instilled in those rooms. That was what we were chasing. We were not chasing anything other than that temperature.
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