LOS ANGELES — Kristen Stewart, who has branched out to other endeavors after she said goodbye to her Bella Swan character in "The Twilight Saga" film series, is enjoying critical acclaim after her portrayal of the beloved Princess Diana in the Pablo Larrain-helmed biographical psychological drama, "Spencer."
Written by Steven Knight, the film, which had its world premiere in-competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival, follows Diana's decision to end her marriage to Prince Charles (portrayed by Jack Farthing) and leave the British royal family. Also in the movie are Timothy Spall as Equerry Major Gregory, Sean Harris as Chef Darren, and Sally Hawkins as Maggie.
The 31-year-old Los Angeles-born and raised actress, who was named the world's highest-paid actress in 2012, received a five-minute standing ovation following the premiere of the movie at the film festival. Stewart and Larrain embraced at the end of the screening to rapturous applause from the audience inside the Sala Grande as they rose to their feet.
We were able to interview Stewart and Larrain at the Lido and below are excerpts from the press conference:
Why do you think Diana Spencer had this power on people's imaginations and hearts?
I think it's just something that she was born with. There are some people that are endowed with an undeniable penetrating energy. I think the really sad thing about her is that she, as normal and sort of casual and disarming her sort of air is immediately, she also felt so isolated and so lonely. She made everyone else feel accompanied and bolstered by this beautiful sort of light and all she wanted was to just have it back. It's like we are all mirrors of each other, what you give is what you get and I think that she was sort of just desperate to reveal some truth in an environment that is steeped in the energy of, as an outsider I can say that the Brits generally have the stiff upper lip mentality that is like, it is the go-to generalization.
And I think that for her, I look at pictures of her, anything, even just a fleeting little videoclip and I feel like the ground shakes and you don't know what's going to happen. And yeah, I think the idea of somebody being so desperate for connection and somebody who is able to make other people feel so good, feeling so bad on the inside and being so generous with her energy, I just think that we haven't had many of those people throughout history. I mean she really sticks out as a sparkly, just a house on fire.
Diana is an icon on many levels, in the fashion world as well. What do you like about her style and how do you think her style empowers and embodies women like us but especially a woman like her who has so many fragilities?
She is touchable. I think there's this really common thread in the fashion world which is elevation, it's unattainable, come on, let's give them a dream. I mean that is one, whatever, that is one way of being or one aspiration. But I think that even when she looked her most beautiful and her most substantial, she also felt like she could kick her shoes off and walk outside with you and ask you how you are and touch your face and be with you, and you would feel that honesty from her. It's hard to do that when you are teetering around on heels and kind of looking like nobody can come near you.
We do see that as beautiful, but she was really able to just be there, she was so present wherever she was, she was right there. I think that’s my favorite thing about her. In regard to what she wore, it didn't matter what she was wearing, even though she had incredible style sense, I think that she was somebody who knew how to use clothes as armor, but at the same time was so constantly available and visible, she couldn't hide, she wore her heart on her sleeve and that to me was the coolest thing that she did.
They can teach you how to cook. They can teach you how to drive. But nobody can teach you how to be famous. And as we see there is that heartbreaking moment where she talks about being under the microscope and almost having the wings pulled apart. How much did that resonate, because obviously no one taught you to be famous and it just happened. Did you understand it? Did you have a better empathy around what she was going through in some capacity?
I suppose so, yeah. I mean this is a tough one because I would never want to say, she is the most famous woman in the world, she is the most photographed woman in the world right, like that is something that is said about her. And I have tasted a high level of that, but really kind of nowhere near that monumental symbolic representation of an entire group of people, an entire country and then the world.
So my experience with just sort of feeling like you don't have control over a situation or when I say situation, like an impression of you, that's life, that’s normal, everyone experiences that, you can't control everyone's opinions of you. But I think when you know that the story on the street is just wrong and there's no way to correct it, I mean this is disparate, I am going to get back on track, but the idea that maybe you had five minutes where somebody thought that you hadn't connected with them and they have gotten this bad impression of you, I have wanted to run back a million times every day and be like, oh hey can we actually redo that interview? I just thought about something else for a second, I didn't say the right thing.
Imagine what that was like for her, imagine feeling backed into a corner to that extent, at some point you are going to bury your teeth because you are an animal. And it's natural and it's normal. And I feel like everyone feels like they know her, because that is her talent and that is what is beautiful about her is that she is accessible and you feel like you are friends with her, you feel like she is your mother. But ironically, she was the most unknowable person and somebody who really never wanted to be alone. Some people are good at it, some people hate it, she wanted the connection, she wanted people in her life and she was the most isolated human, at least over these three days, the imagining of these three days, it really sort of, we wanted that to come to a head.
So yeah, of course I can relate but it's tough, I don't think anyone can understand what that felt like. We tried, I mean we all dreamed and imagined, but I think the ironic part and the sort of the saddest part of the story is that we will never know her and that's all she wanted, was to just sort of tell the story herself.
This movie looks like a huge free jazz choreography, even if you remove the Johnny Greenwood soundtrack from it. There is still the syncopated dance between you and the camera and the Director of Photography, which gives the movie a very special rhythm. So have you ever thought about this performance in musical terms? Did you ever listen to any kind of music on set before shooting to get you into a particular mood for this role?
This movie, this experience, the three days before she decided to leave the Royal Family, we imagined it was probably very much fun. But I took more pleasure into my physicality making this movie than I ever had on anything, I felt freer and more alive and able to move and taller even, everything about it. And now put a leash on all of that.
But, the best days on set for me, which actually ended up being almost every day, we would shoot a little part of this montage that’s in the movie and it was very free form and the only plan we ever had was you pick the look, well Pablo picks everything, but it's the look and the room and the song. And the song sort of informed the energy and it was just about inhabiting the space and kind of taking your whole impression of her, of everything you have ever learned inside and outside of the script and just shoving it into one moment and just allowing it to become physical. And if that's not Jazz I don’t know what is. If I hit a mark, I would have missed it, if I were to try and do my perfect Princess Diana impression, you would start to lose the life that was so overwhelming in her personality.
Also whenever Pablo would choose a song and also, I was shaking before every single time I had to do this. I was like oh God, what's it going to be, I am over the stairs and I am going to fall down, what's the song, is it happy or is it sad? And he was like, just inhabit the space. But he chose songs that were eerily perfect for me, songs that I was like I almost put that on a playlist for you, really girly, he's like an angsty teenager.
We had Miles Davis, Talking Heads, some Lou Reed as well. But the best one, it's a Nirvana cover. I'm being such an idiot right now because it doesn't really matter. He also played Sinead O'Connor, "All Apologies." Yeah. And I had just discovered that song and it kind of blew my mind and I had never heard it and it's just such a different interpretation of that song energetically. And he put it on and I almost screamed.
Your performance is underpinned by the rules of British aristocracy and etiquette. What were the rules that you had to learn to key into your performance and have any of them stayed with you?
My curtsy just went out the window as soon as I walked off set. No, we had Royal advisors, we had people to tell us all the things that you couldn't know as an outsider. At this stage in the film, this woman is, the stage that we depict in the film is a true unraveling. So once I learned the curtsy and I learned that we are supposed to, I don't know, not go in the kitchen ourselves and steal food, no.
All of those details, I don't really remember them. But there was always someone around to make sure that if anything was out of line, that we were remaining authentic and we weren't undermining what we were trying to do. Because obviously I am American and not from that country and Pablo is from Chile. But yeah, specifically, I would say the only thing I can really remember is the curtsy. And you don't do it very low at all, or else you will fall over.
It's a wonderful film but it necessarily involves our voyeuristic obsession with the private life of a famous celebrity. Did that feel strange for you to feel on the other side of that? Did you have any misgivings about getting involved with that type of thing as someone who has obviously experienced intrusion in your own private life?
Yeah. I mean there is a difference between intruding and the sort of multiplicity that art brings to the world. We were inspired, I say we, I came into this at a later stage, but the movie doesn't offer any new information, it doesn't profess to know anything. It imagines a feeling. And I think my impression can only be my own. But Diana was a woman who wanted people to come together and I think that this movie's ambition is to bridge gaps.
I think if anyone ever made a movie about me, I would be like, I wouldn't feel like it was, I wouldn't feel stolen from or taken from, there's nothing salacious about our intention, I think that would probably be more embedded in interpretation.
Two years ago, I saw you in "Seberg," and thought you had captured the inner life brilliantly. I felt that you surpassed yourself in this movie. Both of them deal with others’ control of the central character and your fight for control yourself. How much do you identify with that and how important is control to you?
Yeah, I mean choice and agency and sometimes, well, it's weird. There are certain oppressive forces that sometimes feel so debilitating that they feel physical, that you feel like you can't make a choice, that you have been forced into this situation. And barring circumstances that actually do provide like horrific actual oppression, I am talking like things, ideas that hold you back, if you just change your perspective or look at it from a different angle or pretend that it's not there, you could get up and start running.
It is something that I think is a really important lesson to learn as you grow older is that you don't let things happen to you. Everything is not just coming at you, you are choosing every day which direction to walk in, every step you take you are like how big, how little, right, left. I know that that sounds kind of vague and silly, but sometimes it really just is like a dawning moment where you go wait a second, no! And yeah, that is something that happens all the time. But yeah, one of my friends was going through a terrible breakup recently and this is specific, but I did make this movie and look at her and go dude, you can just choose what you want to do, you are not like on some predestined path. And sometimes your life can feel like it's happening to you, but really you can just take the reins. It's hard to make choices like that though, and so it's scary so it takes balls.
Director Pablo Larrain
Why Diana Spencer?
Simple. Well there are many answers for that. But I wanted to make a movie that my mother could like. I have made so many movies that she doesn't like at all. And I also wanted to make a movie that could somehow relate to what I think someone like my mother saw or sees in Diana's figure.
Diana of course was a very famous beautiful icon on many, many levels, but she was a mother as well and more importantly was someone who created something incredibly beautiful which is the level of empathy that she was able to create. I was always very curious to know someone like her, born to such a privileged circumstance, being linked to the Royal aristocracy, was someone who was so normal at the same time and that could feel so ordinary and regular and build this bridge of empathy all around the world.
And again, my mother, I saw her having her hair like her and maybe she would try to dress like her. And then the more I looked into her, I realized that she carried an enormous amount of mystery. And that mystery combined with the magnetism that she had, creates the perfect elements for a movie. And you will never really completely understand and then we found this miracle here named Kristen that can carry that mystery and you would never really completely understand up until you get to see the movie. And right after you see it, maybe you tell me, you just saw it, I think it's interesting when cinema does that, it allows you to have the audience to complete the process.
Why did you give yourself three days to capture Diana?
Well I think it's interesting what could happen when you look at someone in a crisis instead of just going over a longer period of time of her life. If you choose a very specific moment where there is a huge crisis, then things can become very interesting, and you can get to know that person really well. Because I think the character starts broken in a big crisis, then becomes a ghost and then she is back again and healed and ready to move on.
In that sense, we felt with Steve Knight, who wrote this beautiful script, and along with my fellow producers here, that it was a great opportunity to create a fairy tale that had a different structure. We all know and tell fairy tales to our children and fables for them to go to bed and have a better understanding of life, an optimistic perspective, but then we grow up and we get to understand that that fairy tale is really difficult.
In this case, we have a Princess that is just going away from the idea of being a queen because what she wants is to be herself. And that identity, it's beautiful to see in a compressed amount of time and that also allowed us to use one single space, this palace, this castle, this house, they call it a house in England. But to use that physical space that could sort of be used as a metaphor of a bigger structure, that house, that palace, it's really an organization. So you have a character that is trapped in the wheels of tradition and history.
I would like to ask you about the Anne Boleyn scenes, which I thought were just extraordinary. What did you make of that historical parallel? What light did you think it shed on Diana's plight?
It's really in the heart of the movie. I wouldn't want to be the one that is here explaining it, that's exactly why we shot it. But what I will say is that it is a reflection on how history repeats itself. And even though that happened 500 years ago, there might be a way to look at it in a very similar way. And it also speaks about something, it's not only that, it’s also about Major Gregory, Tim Spall's character, because we know what he did related to this. And he is the one that represents the House of Windsor and he explains the magnitude and the relevance of that oath. So I think it's a friction between the new and the old reality and a friction that is fascinating for those who aren't British I guess, which is to see how they remain in the same circumstances.
Can you address the gothic element of the film? It's very interesting. At turns, it feels like a horror film and then it goes towards being light at the end.
Well I guess it goes to what I tried to express before, but I think that what it captures is the desire and the imagination of billions of people around the world around Diana is the possibility of the fairy tale that can actually work out. So there is a woman that is sort of chosen by the Prince and then she would eventually become the queen and then they will live forever. And that just doesn't happen.
I guess growing up, becoming older, becoming an adult, is the realization that life isn't like that. And I guess that is what makes people so interested, because when we all saw her in that wedding dress, we all wanted her to succeed. And we all had the idea and the illusion that that would eventually be real and that it was possible that this fairy tale would actually end well. And it just didn't happen.
—MGP, GMA News