In Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” Princess Diana is unraveling. As played by Kristen Stewart at first with a sort of skittishness encased in glass, she eventually starts to break apart — whether building a scarecrow shrine to her dead father in the middle of a barren field, nipping at herself with wire cutters or, in one scene, ripping the pearls off her necklace and eating them out of her soup bowl at a decorous Christmas Eve Royal dinner. That’s partly because her marriage to Prince Charles is slowly disintegrating, but also because increased attention on her each and every day inside and outside the household is crushing her.
During a recent panel with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, Stewart talked about building the crucial scene where, as she imagines she’s choking on her necklace, she’s met with blank stares by the rest of her family — and a hallucination of 16th-century English Queen Anne Boleyn.
“That scene is like an emotional Heimlich maneuver,” Stewart said. “It’s like literally she needed to go to the bathroom and cough out whatever blockage [she had]. That whole thing was Pablo placing these elements that were so opposed all around me; I was surrounded. As much as she’s a bit of an aggressor in this scene, it s embedded in her nightmarish fantasy. In reality, she’s receding. In every direction you look, there’s something to hide from. And then in this one moment, it shifts into, ‘Maybe this isn’t really happening, and this is something that is just totally subjective.'”
Stewart continued, “She doesn’t avert her gaze after a certain second. She really starts leaning into staring at Anne Boleyn and staring at the Queen and Charles. Are they going to start a food fight? Is somebody going to get hit right now? It just feels so aggressive. I was very surprised by how bold he was in leaning into the trip factor. It felt like a drug sequence, almost so lucid that you’re like, ‘Wake me up from this nightmare.'”
Stewart said that for this “psychotropic” sequence, the crew shot for so long that the tapes “ran out every single night, just pushing it as far as we could possibly push it.” She said, “I was really surprised that he was capable of pushing it as far as he did, and still kept it really emotional and tasteful.”
Larraín said, “What happens in that scene is very relevant for the whole overall operation of the movie. From then and on, we are inside of Diana’s perspective all the time. The movie is more observational up until then, so everyone is having pretty much the same value and distance, and then from then and on, whatever happens, we know that it’s only happening to her from her perspective. It’s just like a process of madness, I think, that eventually she sees someone that is not there, someone that was alive 500 years ago. That leads to a moment where she’s walking in the hallway, toward the bathroom.”
He added that on that day that she was doing “a little bit like Isabelle Adjani in ‘Possession.’ She’s really, really lost and it’s something that is going to a level of madness that’s quite intense, and it ends in the bathroom.”
Watch the full video above.