Stewart’s stunning performance as Princess Diana is widely expected to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress
Following the Malibu Film Society screening of “Spencer” last Friday night, actress Kristen Stewart appeared in person for an audience Q&A and interview with Executive Director Scott Tallal. She plays the lead role in the film—Princess Diana—and is widely expected to receive an Oscar nomination for her performance.
Stewart, 31 and native to Los Angeles, already has 56 acting credits. Best known as the female lead in the Twilight five-movie saga; she’s also had major roles in films like “Charlie’s Angels (2019)” and “Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).” But the attention she’s been receiving for her performance as Princess Diana may eclipse all previous performances.
“Spencer,” released in November 2021, is a historical fiction/psychological drama directed by Pablo Larraín. It was inspired by Princess Diana’s 1992 decision to leave Prince Charles, take her children to London, and be free of the British royal family.
In describing how she felt about playing Princess Diana, Stewart said, “The energy she left behind [was amazing]. I felt like I was 10 feet tall and a superhero, and it was because of her. I imagine that’s how she made people feel because that’s how she makes me feel.”
In preparing to play Diana, Stewart said she was lucky to get the role a year and a half before the film started shooting, with time to do her own research. When first approached by Larrain about the role, she told him, “I don’t think I can do this at all.” He told her, “I do.”
“I think Pablo (director) had a little bit of reticence in terms of me consuming all of the information because he wanted the film to be about certain abstract ideas and feelings. If you’re too weighed down by facts, then you feel pressured to get it perfectly right,” Stewart said. “And there was no way to get this right. The movie was completely imagined but inspired by facts. What you see is not, not true; but neither is it true.”
After Tallal pointed out that both she and Princess Di had to deal with the issue of fame, Stewart said she recognized they had that in common but that her own experience with fame was still quite different from someone in the royal family.
“My mom warned me that fame was potentially painful, and I was a pretty shy kid, but I still wanted to try acting,” she continued. “My mom invested $2,000 in my headshots and said if I made it in acting, I’d have to pay her back. And I took it so literally!”
“[Being famous], you can’t live a ‘normal’ life, but [on the positive side] you get to feel all these things from hundreds of people,” she reflected. On the downside, “I think people reveal themselves to you in a different way [if you’re famous]. I can immediately tell if someone is ‘the worst’ or not.”
“I know what it feels like to be looking over my shoulder and to be continuously observed,” she commented, “But it’s for such a different reason [than Diana]. Like for her, those cameras were there, and she was not allowed to talk.”
“I can fall on my face or even leave the stage right now – I can do anything. I’m allowed to exist and be a whole person,” she continued. “Diana was asked to be not a person. Imagine being so backed into a corner.”
As far as having a career strategy, Stewart maintains she doesn’t have one. “I don’t have a grand plan as far as the roles I choose. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t,” she responded.
Stewart’s own favorite film is “Woman under the Influence,” a 1974 film starring Gena Rowlands. “I don’t know an actress that doesn’t hold this film in an almost religious way.”
Her performance in “Spencer” (Princess Di’s maiden name) was strongly influenced by the writer and director.
“The script was so beautiful and so precise and so sparse,” she noted. “We knew where we were going, what every scene was supposed to do, but not how we would get there.”
“Larrain allowed a lot of freedom, yet I never felt alone,” Stewart continued. “He felt it so strongly; he could’ve played Princess Diana himself. His commitment to his vision blew me away. I never looked up and went, ‘Where are you?’ His eyes were there for me every second.”
The film was often shot very close to Stewart’s face—so close that the camera sometimes bumped into her—which proved to be a new challenge. “When someone steps into our personal space, you can’t hide anything, so I had to make sure people saw something,” she explained. “It makes you stand at attention and really feel you’re the one in the fishbowl [as Diana was].”
Stewart doesn’t stay in character in the usual sense when not shooting a scene. “You can leave yourself behind but also find yourself in the process. You can straddle and have one foot in and one foot out [of the character], like concentric circles, and these become what the movie is. Because you can never not be you.”