Shy Di's affair of the heart: Naomi Watts talks about her role as Princess Diana in hotly anticipated new film
00:56 GMT, 16 November 2012
Naomi Watts did her own sleuthing before agreeing to portray Diana in a film about the late Princess of Wales and her bid for happiness with a heart surgeon.
‘I did struggle with the idea of doing it,’ the Oscar-nominated actress confessed. The thought of signing on to star in a movie about a woman who, even 15 years after her tragic death, still polarises and provokes public opinion, made her hesitate.
‘It’s definitely risky. But having said that, it’s a story that had to be told. It’s a piece of history. We do like to look back on big stories, though it’s a little fresher, perhaps, than a film about Henry VIII,’ she said.
Lovers: Naveen Andrews plays heart surgeon Hasnat Khan in the film (pictured for the first time here in his doctor's whites). The movie concerns itself with the two-year, secretive relationship the princess had with him
Diana, as the picture is called,
concerns itself with the two-year, secretive relationship the princess
had with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, a man she desperately wanted to
marry. It was an affair often conducted with Diana’s butler Paul Burrell
(played by Douglas Hodge) acting as go-between.
Naomi was approached to star in the film, she went through Stephen
Jeffreys’ script line by line, asking for verification of what it
‘There is so much
information available, and one story conflicts with another, so you
don’t know what source to trust. It was important for me to know what
was true. I asked for proof, and wanted to know whether some things took
‘I went off and
did some of my own research, and spoke to people who knew Diana,’ Naomi,
44, told me during a break from shooting additional scenes in the
grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, which is standing in for the
gardens at Kensington Palace.
Tribute: Naomi Watts as Princess Diana. The actress hesitated about taking on the role at first
Dead ringer Naomi Watts has acknowledged that she and the princess are not at all alike
There’s no doubt that casting an
A-list star — Naomi starred in Mulholland Drive, The Ring and King Kong,
garnered an Academy Award nomination for 21 Grams, and could well be in
contention again for her powerful performance in new film The
Impossible — gives the movie class and stature.
Naveen Andrews is Mr Hasnat and he has some stellar credits, too — Lost and The English Patient among them.
a number of factors caused Naomi concern. ‘I was afraid of the
comparison that comes with playing any iconic figure — and because of
her memory . . . we’re fond of her memory.
the way she died . . .’ she added suddenly, almost shocking herself at
the memory of the princess’s death following a high-speed car crash in a
Paris underpass. ‘Is it going to open it all up again We’re certainly
not trying to upset the boys, though they’re men now,’ she said
referring to Princes William and Harry. ‘I hope they’re OK with it.’
Glamorous: Naomi Watts certainly looks the part as she acts out scenes dressed in a sequined dress
She also acknowledged that she and the princess are not at all alike. Though as she spoke she lowered her head, and gave me a flash of blue eyes under long lashes that was classic ‘Shy Di’. We both roared with laughter.
‘I’m not the same height. I don’t look
like her, though we’ve tried our best with hair, make-up and clothes.
It’s an interpretation,’ she stressed, adding that to do the whole
‘mimicry thing’ would be absurd.
scenes where director Oliver Hirschbiegel recreates the famous Panorama
interview, the actress strove to get the princess’s voice spot on,
because the TV footage is in the public domain.
Behind closed doors, though, ‘we have the freedom to create the character as it becomes my own’.
left the UK at 14 and moved with her mother to Australia. She watched
Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 on television, but lost track of the
soap opera the marriage turned into. But when the princess died, she
was ‘absolutely struck with emotion and grief. It was devastating, like
it was someone I knew. I think we all felt that.’ The more Naomi delved
into Diana’s life, the more impressed she was. ‘She was a remarkable
woman,’ she told me. ‘She was complicated, strong, intelligent and
Lights, camera, action: Naomi Watts is seen filming scenes from the film about the last two year of Princess Diana's life
Truthful: The film is an interpretation of the truth, based on a lot of research
Love affair: Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews share an embrace as Diana and Hasnat Khan
‘I grew up with a mother who is strong and opinionated, so I’ve always gravitated to women like that. What I loved learning about Diana was that she really fought for happiness. She didn’t cave in, though she may have had her moments.’
I watch as Naomi, dressed in khaki slacks, pink shirt and sleeveless sweater, keeps wicket as Naveen Andrews, as Mr Hasnat, bowls to Prince Harry (Harry Holland) while Prince William (Laurence Belcher) fields.
(Interestingly, Harry Holland’s
brother Tom plays Naomi and Ewan McGregor’s son in the scorching film
The Impossible, about the Boxing Day tsunami.)
such a cricketing moment really happen ‘They certainly spent time
together in the palace (Kensington) with the kids,’ said Robert
Bernstein, who is producing Diana with Ecosse Films partner Douglas Rae.
Diana reincarnated: Naomi Watts transformed into the late princess to shoot new scenes for the forthcoming royal biopic
Battle: The actress fought through a pack of paparazzi during adrenaline-fuelled scenes
Mobbed: Before her death, the princess was followed everywhere by adoring fans and photographers
‘The film is our interpretation of the truth, based on a lot of research. Many people close to Diana were interviewed,’ Bernstein added, though he refused to say who his team spoke to.
Kate Snell, who penned a book about Hasnat (Diana, Her Last Love), acted as a consultant.
And many of Diana’s friends confirmed individual incidents. For instance, the princess’s friend, the acupuncturist Oonagh Toffolo, was there when she met Mr Hasnat. He was treating Toffolo’s husband in hospital when Diana visited. ‘All I can say is that the facts of their meeting have been confirmed,’ Bernstein said.
He said the film is ‘essentially about a woman who is empowered. We focus a lot on the work she did with land mines,’ he said.
At its core, though, Diana is a love story, and the movie declares that the Princess and Hasnat had a full relationship. ‘They were together for nearly two years,’ Bernstein said. ‘It’s very delicately done, but the insinuation is that they have a physical relationship. But obviously we’re not voyeuristic or sensationalist in any way.’
It seemed clear from what he was trying to tell me that there are no explicit scenes that would embarrass the Queen, or any other members of the Royal Family.
‘No, no, no,’ Bernstein assured me. ‘We’re not here for sensationalism or titillation. We’re here to tell a love story.’
We shall find out if they succeed next autumn, when Momentum, the film’s UK distributor, releases Diana after it has done the film festival rounds.