Kristen Stewart has said she was so anxious about portraying Princess Diana in the film Spencer that she “couldn’t open my mouth for two weeks before we started shooting”.
The actress portrays the late Princess Diana as she spends three days with the Royal Family before her divorce from Prince Charles during Christmas 1991.
“I had TMJ [her jaw stayed shut] to the point where I was like, completely locked up,” Stewart told BBC News.
‘Huh, I guess I’m really nervous – I was really tripping out until we started,’ I thought.
The film is directed by Chilean-born Pablo Larrain, who previously directed Natalie Portman to a 2017 Oscar nomination for Jackie, about another highly scrutinised female public figure, Jacqueline Kennedy.
Stewart was told to “relax and trust the process,” and to rely on her extensive preparation for the role.
The Los Angeles-based actress, who previously starred in Twilight, stated that she did not begin with a broad knowledge base.
“In general, I didn’t have the most developed or defined relationship with the Royal Family,” she admitted. “I didn’t grow up watching that kind of saga.”
“Obviously, I do live on planet Earth,” she added, “and her impact was so immense and emotional, even for someone who was seven when she died.”
Stewart, who has received critical acclaim for her performance, says she did extensive research to immerse herself in Diana’s life.
“I read everything, I wanted every photo… I watched every interview I could get my hands on,” she told Lizo Mzimba, the BBC’s entertainment correspondent.
“I watched The Crown and every interpretation that came out of it. I just tried to absorb her in an emotional and general sense, then trust the process and wait for her to appear.”
The weight of responsibility in playing such an emotive, well-known public figure meant Stewart had to anchor the portrayal by basing it on her own emotions, as there are so many different perspectives on the princess.
“I felt compelled to protect her,” she explained. “I had to stop focusing on other people’s perceptions of her and instead concentrate on my own. And that, in and of itself, was so distinct and unique to me.”
Stewart was determined not to sully Diana’s memory, stating, “I think to do her justice is to allow her to be impulsive.” Anything I’ve seen her in, whether an interview or a still photograph, has always felt unpredictable. “As if you’re not sure what’s going to happen.” And it’s because of her vulnerability and raw emotion, which she can’t hide. It’s impossible to do a perfect impression of that.
“You must feel it, and it must be yours. So I think I just needed to unwind.”
Stewart describes the film, which takes place over three intense days at the royal country residence Sandringham in Norfolk, as a “tumultuous tone poem that also felt really exuberant, wonderful, and joyous.”
It depicts the princess in great emotional distress at times, but the actress claims that it retains exuberance because “in an odd way… it is about her fight to embody her life and have some agency, and get away from the weight that the Royal Family obviously brought to her life.”
Stewart admits that the film is a “imagining of what it might have felt like, over the course of this decision to leave the family,” but she claims it is not a “betrayal” of the princess because it is “a poetic interpretation of everything that we absolutely know.”
The actress explained that her feelings for the princess grew as she played her, saying, “I felt such love for her and still do…” I wish I could ask her if she thinks I’m doing well.”
The film does not shy away from the princess’s eating disorder or mental health issues.
“The film is very surreal.” When you go through extreme trauma in your life, I believe you go insane at times. “I never felt the implication of Diana’s loss,” Stewart explained.
“There are times when you are at odds with communication and thus feel a little locked in your own head as a result of this muzzled energy.”
“And she mentioned it. That was something she talked about all the time, after all. To be honest, it felt truer than the truth to me.”
Stewart has already been talked about as a contender for next year’s Oscars – something she has embraced.
“It was fantastic. That’s something I’ve never had before “She stated.
“We make movies in order to have the most open and large-scale conversations as a culture and as a society. It’s nice to be a part of that for a brief moment – it’s enjoyable.”
Spencer had its UK premiere at London Film Festival on 7 October and is released in the UK on 5 November.