Dissecting Diana: Naomi Watts on playing the people's princess
Diana star Naomi Watts is feeling the pressure like never before – even for a two-time Oscar nominee, the intensity of the response to the movie is something new. “There is a huge amount of responsibility,” she says. “I am a little bit scared by it”
“I’m interested in showing more than one colour with every character I take on,” she says. “I think there was a lot of room to move around with her. She was someone who did a lot of extraordinary things. But, in that process, she was trying to be as ordinary as possible. This film is focused on the love story in that two-year period, a time when she has broken away from the royal family.”
Is it Watts’s view that Diana was trying to reinvent herself? Was she trying to create a new personality for herself?
“Yes. That’s exactly what she did. But that was difficult because she was under constant scrutiny. Spontaneity required planning. She had to protect herself as much as possible.”
There is an undeniable spookiness to those scenes that touch on familiar footage and familiar snatches of (this is surely the right word) dialogue. The interview with Martin Bashir particularly stands out. “There were three of us in this marriage” is as familiar a phrase – if a little less weighty – than “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “One small step for man”.
“It was spooky,” Watts says. “Particularly that Bashir interview. That was one thing that I wanted to get exactly right. Not just what she said, but how she phrased her lines, when she took breaths, when she touched her face.”
So a lot of study went on? She looked closely at Diana the performer?
“Yes. There were moments when I was saturated in the material, saturated in study. The Bashir interview became like my favourite book on tape. I played it constantly. We remember all those details so well. I needed to be as accurate as possible.”
What a strange place Naomi Watts now finds herself in. Even for a two-time Oscar nominee, this is an entirely different class of attention. Maybe it helps that she took quite a while to achieve proper stardom. Following her dad’s death from a heroin overdose in 1976, she moved with her mother to Anglesea.
Eight years later, she was on the other side of the world. She did a bit of modelling in Australia. She appeared in the odd commercial and Home and Away. But it wasn’t until 2001, when she starred in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive that Hollywood really started to take notice. By that stage, Watts seemed to have turned herself into an undiluted Aussie.
“There’s a long and confusing answer to that,” she says. “I think I’m English. That’s probably because my mum and dad are English. My grandmother was Australian. The rest of the family were Welsh. And I lived in Wales for three years. That’s a third thing to add to the identity crisis. America is actually where I’ve spent most of my life at this point. So it’s such a long-winded story.”
At any rate, she soon made up for lost time. A slight woman with a surprising capacity for sudden intensity, she has managed to work with an impressive array of great directors: Woody Allen (on You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Michael Haneke (on Funny Games) and, of course, the impenetrable Mr Lynch himself.