By Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
Kristen Stewart had a physical reaction to the prospect of playing Diana, Princess Of Wales. Just days before they started shooting Spencer, the highly anticipated film that finds Diana at breaking point in her marriage to Charles, but obliged to spend Christmas with the royal family at Sandringham, the actress found she could barely speak.
“I had this really intense TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder, a condition affecting the movement of the jaw), I couldn’t open my mouth,” the actress recalls. “And as we all know, when Diana speaks, it’s so open.
“So at this point I’d done all my research, I had prepped, prepped, prepped, and I wasn’t scared and it was totally worth doing this and I was totally ready, yet I can’t open my mouth.
“So I think I was kind of trying to tell myself that I wasn’t scared, but was clearly debilitatingly petrified. But then I woke up on the day first day of shooting and suddenly was just able to move.
“But I wasn’t sleeping. I knew about the film for almost actually two years before we started filming and I will tell you that there wasn’t one morning or one night where I went to sleep or woke up not going ‘At some point I’m going to have to actually do this.’ It’s all well and good to think about, it’s fun, and it’s cool, but it was one of those morning loomers for a really long time.”
Told over the period of a few days of Christmas festivities, Spencer imagines what happened as Diana and Charles’s marriage collapsed in the early 1990s, and depicts Diana as a woman desperate to be with her children and to return to her childhood home, which was on the Sandringham estate.
Los Angeles-born Stewart, 31, who rocketed to fame in the Twilight films and has since become an indie darling in movies such a Personal Shopper and Clouds Of Sils Maria, might seem like an unconventional choice to play the British royal but she fully immersed herself in the role. “I recorded some voice notes on my phone so I could quickly have her voice in my head just at an instant and there were a few things that I loved hearing her say that I would replay,” she says.
“But primarily it wasn’t a word or a sound that helped, it was a lightness. I’m from LA, I barely open my mouth, and there’s an openness and a sort of floating thing to Diana’s voice, her words kind of come out in bubbles. And so to get back into it, if I ever started to become tight, or emotional or self protective immediately, I just had to go away and sort of blow it out, just become buoyant again.”
Stewart was still a child when Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 and diving into the idea of who Diana was transformed how Stewart now thinks of her. “You can’t be affected by her vivacious energy and not remember that it’s not here anymore. She was so alive to me the whole time we were making this movie that there was a sort of weekly dawning, newly traumatic every single time, where I just remember that she died in a car accident and kind of lose it. I still simply can’t believe that that’s how it all shook out, it tinges everything.
“The film is her running home. The film is her running back to herself. And I imagine someone holding a candle and running through the wind.”
Stewart catches herself and laughs. “Wow, Elton John, that was not intentional,” she jokes, referring to the song the musician performed at Diana’s funeral. “But how did she keep that from not going out?” she adds thoughtfully.
The film has been eagerly awaited, with film fans and royal watchers alike eagerly poring over photos of Stewart in character, in which she bears a remarkable resemblance to the princess. Meanwhile speculation has continued over what the royal family will make of it, as has also happened with Netflix series The Crown.
But Stewart was most conscious of how acute the grief still is for Diana’s sons, the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, and was anxious to be respectful of that. “They’re in the movie, they’re the most important part of the movie, they are so character defining,” she says. “It’s funny to say character defining, she’s not a character, and I could never be her for real, we could never know her completely.
“Ironically she’s a very unknowable figure, which is her plight, it’s sad, she just wanted to be known and to be available and she was to a certain extent, but she’s in a uniquely singular position. It’s impossible to relate to.
“But her kids…” she trails off. “This is a movie. We’re so inspired by her. We genuinely love her so much. It’s the only reason this movie was made, to give the idea of her another platform and give her a voice, give her a mouthpiece that she wanted so bad and did ultimately have and create for herself.
“I think her legacy is so present in the way that those two men function in the world. They’ve both made very different choices. That’s her. She made mistakes, and she made choices.
“And the royals are not supposed to do either of those things. And you can see they function so positively in the world. I look at the both of them, and maybe I’m biased and sort of entrenched in this thing, but I look at them and I see her and that is a beautiful thing.”
Spencer is released in Irish cinemas on November 5th.