Naomi Watts On Breathing Like Princess Diana



naomi1Photo: Gregory Pace/BEImages.
Naomi Watts is used to a challenge. The British-Australian actress' breakthrough performance came by way of David Lynch, after all. After perfecting her starry-eyed American accent in Mulholland Drive, she went on to work with directors like Woody Allen and David Cronenberg and starred in a blockbuster horror movie franchise. She even acted with a CGI King Kong. But, Watts' latest role is unlike anything she's done before.

In the new biopic, Diana, Watts plays the late princess of Wales. The film follows the last two years in the life of Lady Di, from her romance with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (played by Naveen Andrews) to her famous interview with Martin Bashir, which later scandalized the royal palace. We sat down with Watts to find out how she prepared to play the people's princess.

You’re no stranger to the biopic genre, but what was different about playing Princess Diana?
“Yes, because she was so famous. People will automatically make a comparison, and right after that, they’ll say, ‘Oh, she’s not right.’ So, that was sort of daunting. It’s hard to take an ownership of a character when she is in the mind of so many people. You feel like, ‘Oh gosh, how can I live up to this?’ And, for all the reasons I hesitated, I ended up being kind of drawn in at the same time. I was intrigued by the fear I had. I like challenges.”

What do you remember personally about Princess Di?
“I remember the wedding. I watched that on TV. I also remember things happening on news and stuff, but I don’t remember everything because I left when I was 14. And, I wasn’t reading the newspapers at that age. We went to Australia where she was very popular, too, but the news of her death wasn’t obsessively covered every single day.”

So, you weren’t particularly a devout follower of her?
“She was an interesting person, that’s a given. She did a lot of great work as well, you know, the stuff she did for AIDS and land mines. She was and will always be impressive. I think it took a great deal of courage to speak out to do the Bashir interview. I thought it was very impressive that she decided to do that. So, to answer your question, no; I was definitely aware of her, but I learned a lot more in taking on this project.”

But, were you interested in her fashion at all? She was and still is a major style icon.
“At the time, I wasn’t so interested in fashion, but I do remember thinking she seemed to be unlike the other members of the royal family. She definitely had a fantastic figure and wore some striking dresses to complement it — exposing one shoulder for instance. She was more risqué. Now, in the film, those clothes sort of feel a bit dated — not really my thing. But, yeah, she was classic. She was always modern and classic, never over the top.”

What part of her personality did you identify with the most?
“I was just impressed by the way she grew up. There was sadness in her childhood. Her parents divorced, and she was separated from her mother, which instilled a fragility in her. I was and still am impressed by how she worked to heal that. She was determined and driven to not wallow. And, of course, when her marriage broke down, a lot of that came back again. I always empathized with her. My father passed away when I was young; they were divorced when I was four, you know.”

Do you believe she was a lonely person despite all of the fame?
“She definitely had friends, but she became more and more isolated because she found it hard to trust, and people behaved badly. So, in a way, yes, she isolated herself. But, I think there were great people in her life as well.”
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What was the hardest part of this project?
“Oh, working on the Bashir interview for sure. That might be one of the most ingrained memories for the audience. They’ll be studying it to make sure I did her justice. It’s not just about looking the part with all the hair and makeup, and even the phrasing, but it’s about how she held her face, her inhale and exhale of breath. I really wanted to get that scene down exactly how it happened.”

Why do you think people still love her?
“Because there was such a warmth about her. There was something about her we trusted and believed. Although she was a princess, she felt human and accessible, but still felt like she was a princess, too. And, she did a lot of great work. Her empathy was something we felt very, very real. Also, who she was as a mother, she was always holding those boys. It made her feel like the rest of us. But, at the same time, she still had this otherworldly charisma.”

How important was this love for Diana?
“I think love is a great thing. Having a sense of identification with someone else creates some intimate bonds. I think having come out of a marriage you obviously got room to heal. She was starting to get back on track and she meets this man who she respects for his mind, his value, his work ethic. And, they have the same interests, I think. I think it is very important, from what I put together all the information I researched. I feel like he inspired her in many ways, and probably she inspired him as well.”

Did he heal her?
“I think love heals. I definitely do. But, it doesn’t save you. You have to be your own savior.”