Kristen Stewart has been talking about playing Princess Diana in the new film Spencer almost daily for over two months. It’s a normal experience for a major star promoting a major film that’s expected to be a major awards contender and Stewart, who has been extremely famous for most of her life, is used to it all.
But on this night in New York, at the tail end of a day when she’s worn five different outfits for five different appearances, she’s allowing herself to admit that she is, “(expletive) exhausted.”
“To try and shove our entire experience into a few moments? It’s impossible,” Stewart, 31, said.
That’s because Spencer is not just an ordinary film with ready-made anecdotes about co-stars or preparation, although there was much of that to get the mannerisms and accent down. It is not a documentary, a biography or a fill-in-the-gaps exercise like The Crown either. Spencer is an evocative and artful “fable from a true tragedy ” about one of the most famous women who has ever lived over a Christmas weekend with the Royal family that preceded the divorce.
The film has made Stewart for the first time in her career a front-runner for a best actress Oscar nomination. But it has also invited many, many comparisons to Stewart’s own life and fame. She gets why, too, but she’s quick to point out the differences.
“Imagine at 19 years old like you’re already getting married and having a baby and being asked to fulfil a fantasy that everyone wants to be real, but you can see very clearly, is not real,” Stewart said. “It’s like going to summer camp and never being able to come home. But you’re like, actually, I hate summer camp.”
But the experience of talking about this experience, that of preparing for and making the movie and analysing the movie as it relates to her has been disorienting in a way. Answers that she once had evaporate, certainty becomes ambiguity and truths morph into something else. Sometimes, she said, it feels as though she’s being dragged through “the moral conundrums” of her life.
“It’s weird because my job is to open myself up in a way that feels generous because what you get in return is usually equal to what you put out,” she said. “Who I’m talking to right now is not just you, it’s your readers of course, and I want them to focus on what I primarily prioritize, which is the movie and my life. And if I start sort of victimizing myself, it’s just so unrelatable.”
The film is directed by Pablo Larraín, the man behind Natalie Portman’s artful turn as Jackie Kennedy in 2016, and has been likened to a gothic ghost story and a psychological horror. Diana, who is both obsessively monitored and achingly isolated, has visions of Anne Boleyn. There is real and imagined body horror, unsettling flashbacks and a truly chilling dinner that they simply refer to as the “pearl soup scene.”
“I just think that it’s just an extension of her mental state and we are able to inhabit that,” Larraín said.
He wanted to create the experience of lucid dreaming, of seeing things that aren’t there and melding 500 years of history with a quick cut of the camera.
“This person, this character that we’re thinking about in her internal experience feels as though Anne Boleyn is sitting at that table and it’s so much more fun and honest to have her there,” Stewart said. “I just think it’s one thing that movies can do that not many other art forms can do.”
Being part of the “awards conversation” too has been an interesting experience for both, but mostly for its ability to extend the conversation about a film.
“As they say, you only care about awards when they give them to you,” Larraín laughed.
“I love being a part of a larger conversation,” Stewart said. “But some of my favourite movies of all time have like, very low Rotten Tomato percentages and didn’t get an Academy Award.”
And in the midst of all this reflection on fame and scrutiny and Diana and herself, Stewart last week revealed that she and her girlfriend of two years are engaged. It was a choice she made not in spite of, but because of her experiences.
“I’ve been famous for a long time. And when I was younger, I felt this overt control was actually taking away from my experience being a human. And so at the end of this day, it just feels better to not subject myself to militaristic hiding,” she said. “When I was younger, I really tried to protect what was precious to me. But actually, I found that in protecting those things, you give them away. They sort of become something that is not yours.
“To think that I could be stronger than this entity, which is the press and the media is psychotic,” she continued. “I would like to live a life because I’m going to be a better actor if I can live a real life, I’m going to be a better artist like who’s actually more present and capable of being real.”