Kristen Stewart (‘Spencer’) on why she wants to play Princess Diana again [Complete Interview Transcript]

Kristen Stewart is now an Oscar nominee thanks to her performance as Princess Diana in the unconventional biopic “Spencer.” The actress has earned dozens of notices from critics’ groups leading up to her nomination.

Stewart recently spoke with Gold Derby editor Rob Licuria about how she learned of her Oscar nomination, the difficulties in mastering Diana’s voice and mannerisms and her own admiration for the princess. Watch the full video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: First of all, Kristen, I’m so happy to be able to say congratulations on your Oscar nomination.

Kristen Stewart: Thank you so much. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that title. Now that’s like a part of your name. Yeah, thank you so much. 

GD: Yeah, forever, you will always be referred to as “Academy Award nominee” and perhaps even winner one day soon. Who knows? So tell us about the morning of the announcement. Where were you? What was your immediate reaction to finding out you were a nominee? 

KS: I really just didn’t think that I was going to receive a nomination. I don’t know. I didn’t set an alarm for it. I kind of just was like, at some point I will wake up, and then we will know. My phone exploded at some point and I looked at it and I just had like 50 messages and I was truly stunned by it. I have been doing this for a long time. I just never kind of imagined myself here. It’s blowing my mind, actually. So yeah, the morning was just incredibly surreal, and maybe what you would expect. I talked to my team. We all FaceTimed. I was in bed. I love them. We’ve worked together for a long time. This might be kind of boring, but my publicist is one of my very best friends and we’ve worked together since I was 13, 14, something like that. It’s the coolest thing when people look at you and go like, “I’m so happy for you!” It’s so unbelievably touching and moving. It’s crazy because I would love this movie anyway, and I’ve already gotten to push it so hard, so this is just unbelievable icing on the cake. 

GD: Yeah, absolutely, because this will get the movie out there. More people will want to go and see it now because they see that you’re an Oscar nominee, but also, as you say, you’ve been working for a very long time and total strangers, like I’ve heard people say, “Oh, isn’t it great that Kristen Stewart got nominated?” And I’m like, yes, it really is because it’s been a really intense Oscar season over the last few months and you’ve received so much praise and acclaim. But an Oscar nomination is not guaranteed, obviously. So what has been the most unexpected part of this journey from Venice last year, all the way up to now in the lead-up to the Oscars? 

KS: I guess as somebody who’s been watching the Oscars forever and also the sort of lead-up, it looks really intense, it looks like people have to do a lot of work and it seems like people campaign and rally for this stuff. It seems like a really involved, intense process, and I never saw myself in it. I was always like, “Oh, I’m not cut out for that. Even if I want to, I can’t do that.” It has been so fun. I’ve gotten to spend so much time with the filmmaker, who I find to just be bottomlessly inspiring in life, even not on set, and Diana is fun to talk about. She’s a really good person, to put it very plainly, and I guess what has surprised me is… I get nervous a lot, that’s not news to anyone, whatever, but I’ve really just been able to have a great time. It’s been really nice.

GD: That’s really cool. Have you thought about whether you’re attending the Oscars? Are you going to be presenting perhaps? What are your thoughts on that?

KS: I think I’ll go (laughs). I think I might go to the Oscars this year. I’m looking forward to it. Sitting in that seat, I’ve been once, I presented one year. Sitting in those seats, it’s mind-boggling. Even not as a presenter, if I was just there watching the show, what an insane room to be in. I’m just excited to share that space, even if it renders me completely speechless, whether I’m onstage or off. I am looking forward to that energy. It’s a room full of people that I have just revered my whole life. So it’s such a trip. 

GD: Yeah, it’s so cool and it’s great you’re there as a nominee. Let’s talk more about your performance, obviously. “Spencer” is introduced onscreen by visionary Pablo Larrain as a fable from a true tragedy, and it immediately puts us on notice that this is not a biopic. It’s a glimpse into this very private moment in her life when she decides to break away from the family and get her name back. So when you first signed on to the project, what were your initial thoughts on exploring this really transformative time in her life? 

KS: I was so impressed with how boldly committed the perspective of the script was because it’s such a rich and fascinating world, yet we really, really step into her shoes in a way that’s more intimate than I’ve seen. The way Pablo decided to shoot this movie, it feels like such a vicarious experience. The script was so precise but never particular. It didn’t try and dictate anything, it never tried to answer any questions. It was so well researched and so well dreamt of that when I kind of toured through all of my research, I found even though this is sort of imagined feeling, kind of a nightmare, kind of a dream, we don’t know her. We’ll never know her. The mystery of her is what makes you lean in. And ironically, she was a normal girl. She was a wonderful person. She just wanted so badly to touch people, and she did, but people couldn’t touch her. So the exchange isn’t there. It’s not reciprocal. It hurts.

So yeah, I loved learning about her. I really loved being affected by her. Her energy is stunning. Even if it was just something I had convinced myself of, when I was on set, I felt like I could bring people together. I was like, “Come on, guys.” That’s spooky. That’s a really particular thing that is her. Pablo and Steven [Knight] had this idea to tell a story about a woman who needed to break free, and it’s absolutely about Diana Spencer, but it’s also about us. It’s like, if you can’t speak, if you are muzzled, if you are not free to express yourself, you implode. This person’s story is actually super normal. So even though she’s uniquely having her very singular experience, it’s so universal. The most normal thing about her, the most moving thing about her is her motherhood. We all have one. We were all born. She was just so easy to get close to. 

GD: Yeah, I always say to people who are interested in seeing the film, this is not a biopic, this is not “The Crown.” This could be about anybody. It’s a fairy tale. It just happens to be a very public persona. But we’re in her mindset and we’re just glimpsing about what might have happened, and if you’re saying that there was a lot of scope for you to kind of get into the mind of Diana, I just wonder how difficult that was. I know you’ve mentioned it took you four months to get her accent right. So what were the most challenging aspects of mastering her voice, her mannerisms, her cadence? 

KS: Before you learn how to do something, you have to really trust process, because you can’t learn to play an instrument immediately. So it’s like, to say yes to Pablo, I definitely want to try to do this, I don’t know that I can do that. I’ve never done it. I can’t hear it. I can’t visualize it. I had a really beautiful dialect coach named William Conacher, who was an extra set of eyes in many ways and an acting coach, like really was so observant. We examined her together so fully and then kind of ascribed things to the movie that would serve us. The things that we fell in love with most, you can’t do it all. However things affect you, that’s kind of what you have to go on. So if there were certain things I couldn’t do, I just didn’t. But certain things that felt really true to me or certain things that she did that affected me, ways that she spoke, ways that she moved or undulated in a way, if I was watching an interview and she did something in it and it got me, I’d be like, “We need to find a moment for that and try and get that feeling.” And her voice is just so particular. She has such an incredible way of speaking and it’s always different. And if I played her at a different time in her life, it would be different. It was bottomlessly fascinating. I would be so into doing another one. I want to play her again. I mean, not really. Like, no one’s going to do that, but yeah. 

GD: Whenever I speak to actors, particularly actors who are playing real people, it just seems like an obvious question, how do you not veer into caricature? And it’s hard, right? Especially if you’re playing someone so well known, especially also someone who we the audience have really entrenched expectations about who she was. But your performance feels really lived-in and nuanced and it feels like it’s just your take on her. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly what we expected from her. I’m wondering, were you terrified about that prospect about trying to hit a certain mark? Or were you eventually just comfortable with just going with your own interpretation of who she was? 

KS: Yeah, I don’t like to hide behind characters. I really like to get so far in, that what ends up happening feels personally revealing. So I guess maybe when I first put on the clothes, put on the wig, because we didn’t rehearse a lot, because both Pablo and I have this kind of sacred approach to the moment that things happen and it’s hard to touch before it’s time, but I couldn’t do that here. I had to rehearse. I really learned the lines word for word. They were so beautiful and they spun such a web. Everything had echoes and I didn’t want to mess any of it up because I loved reading it, and making it my own was kind of the only way in. I guess, you know what? There’s no way to not be yourself, even if you’re playing somebody else and in terms of outside optical perception or something, because obviously everyone knows her very well and loves her, I had to just turn down the noise and go, “You could totally fail, but you can’t not try to do this. You have to just do your very best, get to the end of it.” It felt like a gauntlet race, like a crazy marathon. Me and Pablo were just trudging. It was exhausting and sometimes just humiliating and enlivening. Every single day, I was just, like, whiplashed. Whether or not I got her right, that wasn’t necessarily the goal. It was almost like Pablo kind of suspended that from my mind, and he’s a great director because having said that, I also have such respect for getting it right, like I really would love to get it right, I just don’t think that’s really possible. 

GD: Wow, I mean, that’s really hard for anybody doing any kind of work where you will have to suspend a lot of that self-doubt and feeling self-conscious. It brings me to this, given this film is so austere and has this dreamlike aesthetic, for me, I felt very uneasy and there was a sense of dread. One scene in particular that we always like to talk about is obviously the dining room where the pearls and the family glaring at each other robotically eating soup, Jonny Greenwood’s score is getting louder, it felt like a horror movie to me. So I just wonder, with all this stuff going on in your mind, trying to get the character right, trying to do the best, was that feeling of suffocation and feeling trapped difficult? Did it come naturally? What was that particular scene like to shoot? 

KS: So we’re having this glimpse into her psyche in this moment, because I don’t imagine that the royal family sits and eats Christmas dinner like that. I just think it felt like that for her at times. So the script is written in that way. It’s like an abstract kind of shrieking, long tone poem. But the way that Pablo pushed it and pushed it, how far he went, how long it is, we shot it and shot it and shot it, I was shocked by it. And I had little goals in my mind, and they were ambitious. He just took them and threw them so much further and I was like, “Whoa, I didn’t even know what I was up against necessarily when I read this last night and I prepared for it.” So that was a really, really enlightening moment to see how far he was pushing into surreality because I just didn’t know what the movie was yet. We were figuring it out. I hadn’t seen anything, and that made me understand completely. The way that he looks at women, he has such a tender perspective, and I felt that so much. The fact that he cares so much about how a woman might be feeling in a given tumultuous time, and he pays such credence to that in her life, it’s such an act of compassion. I just was so impressed with him. And any time was like, “Maybe this is indulgent. Maybe this is too much,” he was like, “No, it’s everything.” He cares about her. It was very contagious and yeah, I couldn’t speak more positively about that man as an artist. 

GD: Yeah, he did the same thing with “Jackie.” He’s a very empathetic, thoughtful director. When I spoke to him, I could just tell how much he was so passionate about not telling her story, but giving us a glimpse into how she was feeling. That dining room scene is all subjective. We’re put in her shoes, which then brings me to this. Obviously, art is subjective. We all watch “Spencer” through our own lens, and it really confirmed my unease with the royal family, the complex machinery that surrounds this kind of institution. I just wonder, did working on this film impact the way you feel about the monarchy, the royal family and perhaps even Diana herself? 

KS: Well, I will be totally honest and say I didn’t have much of a relationship. I didn’t have many thoughts on this before I made this movie, and I don’t have them now. I don’t know. It’s good for some people. There is so much positivity to be gleaned from some aspects of it. There are people that really love the royal family. They’re real people. This movie is, as you say, it was like a horror movie because there are ghosts in it, because Diana is a ghost and she feels so pummeled by this environment. But obviously, watching the movie, because it’s so subjective, it’s really easy to get angry, but she also wanted to be the mother of the King of England. She wanted to raise a really beautiful… she wanted to raise the king, and did. Maybe because I played her and I feel so close to it, that makes me emotional in some way, but politically speaking, who knows, man.

The other thing that I was actually just about to say about the ghost thing is Anne Boleyn as a character in the movie, really just confrontationally addresses how things have not changed for centuries, and Diana sort of making up friends to have because she doesn’t have them, and the fact that she goes to the Anne Boleyn thing, there’s such a violence there, but there’s something cool about Anne Boleyn. She got her head chopped off because she had so much power and they wanted to take it from her, and Diana, she was just this ground-shaking person. I don’t know, you asked about the royal family, I said other things. I don’t even know. There are lots of things that have been going on for a long time that probably should be rethought. And maybe that’s one of them. 

GD: You’re right. I mean, it’s been going on for centuries and it will probably continue for centuries, and hopefully, we don’t get more Dianas, I suppose, people who were treated in that way. But you know what, Kristen, before I let you go, to make things a bit light again, we talked about how you’ve been working since you were a kid and you’re finally an Oscar nominee. Do you remember the first major awards ceremony that you attended? And if you do, what was your highlight from that when you were just starting out in the business? 

KS: So I think the first gown I ever wore was to the SAG Awards years and years ago. I think I presented and I remember feeling like a dressed-up little kid. I remember being like, “This is crazy. This is silly.” And yeah, I haven’t been to very many awards ceremonies. That’s why I’m genuinely not saying like, (fake gestures) “Oh, I’m so shocked.” I’m, like, shocked. 

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