Movies

Kristen Stewart On ‘Spencer,’ Fame, And Her Love For Jimmy Stewart

It was kind of a funny moment. In this interview, Kristen Stewart is explaining how she’s been watching so many older movies lately (which it seems a lot of us have been doing that), to the point she’d even watch movies on her Criterion app to decompress in-between shots while filming Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, even if she could only get in 10 minutes at a time. I, offhand, mention The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, to which Stewart says she just watched. Okay, fun coincidence. Then Stewart mentions her love for The Philadelphia Story, which, I swear, I had just watched the night before this interview. It’s at this point we both kind of realize we’ve been watching a lot of the same movies lately and there was a lot to talk about. (Which gets us to Stewart’s love for Jimmy Stewart, to the point she’s incorporated him as the archetype for one of the characters in a project she’s trying to get made.)

It makes sense that Stewart would use movies to decompress between scenes. Spencer, which shows us three fictionalized, surreal days in the life of Princess Diana, is an intense movie. Stewart’s portrayal of Diana is of a loving, protective mother who seems miserable as a part of the royal family and does everything within her power to protect her kids from the trappings that she feels. (Something we are seeing play out still today with her son, Harry.)

Ahead, Stewart gives us her thoughts about Diana and the royal family. And agrees, yes, Stewart herself has experienced public scrutiny but explains it’s not at all the same thing as what Diana went through. And then she extends this interview into her lunch time to tell us about all the movies she’s been watching recently.

You’ve said that in the past you were aware of Diana but didn’t really follow the stories, I think I feel the same way. And I know people love it, but I don’t watch The Crown

I love The Crown!

I know, I should watch it. Everyone tells me it’s amazing.

It’s good. It’s really good. I think it endeavors to do such a different thing and it lands so emotionally for me. I really do love the show. And I think that what we were doing was a very different, weird, shorter format. We were never able to go into anything. I don’t think it’s possible to tell… I don’t think it’s possible to communicate someone’s entire life, especially the breadth of her life. Even though we’ve had her for a short time, there’s no way to know her either. And so I think to kind of regurgitate what people already feel familiar with would just enable people to criticize it and it wouldn’t be inviting. It wouldn’t be a dreamy, curious experience. There aren’t many art forms that are able to crack that.

She seemed otherworldly. And you portraying her, it lets me into her psyche more. She seemed like this perfect person…

I mean, we think we know her because she’s very famous and she was around a lot. But we know her from pictures. And, of course, there are interviews that are seminal. Like really important ones that she orchestrated. And she provided herself with a mouthpiece towards the end of her life. But, primarily, we know her from an image. She’s the most highly photographed woman in history, I think. And therefore, there’s a lot of room to play in that ambiguity. She was always kind of communicating in a sideways way. She was not able to be upfront with how she felt. She was a princess, her job was to perpetuate an extremely defined ideal. You only really start to feel that shattering, unraveling thing after a couple of years. She can’t hide anything. It’s funny that you say that your perception of her was this kind of perfect person…

I think by design. At least the PR people who run the Royal family, that’s what they wanted you to feel in the earlier days.

Yeah, 100 percent. And it was so starkly wrong. I mean, it really is almost from the jump feel as though this person is being hidden. There’s this sort of muzzled, braced energy that she projects.

I’m curious, have you heard from anyone in that family? Or do you expect to? Or do you want to?

No. Pablo answers this question really beautifully because I think that all of our ambitions were to get close to this person from a creative standpoint, from a place of fiction and from a place of pure speculation. And luckily, this movie is not attempting to answer any questions or crack the code. Like whether or not the monarchy is obsolete? It raises a lot of questions and really kind of is confronting, but it never lands because that’s where we are. If any of these things were solvable sort of cases, we would all have all the answers and everything would be okay.

While watching this I thought a lot about how Harry talks about his mother in interviews. A lot of her relationship with her kids comes through in this movie.

Yeah, I think the sort of strongest trace of her legacy is, I mean, they’re walking and talking and really positively functioning in the world right now. As somebody who “plays pretend” for a living – and I put that in quotes because it really is sort of just my life. I don’t feel like I have a job. I feel like my job is so much more of a lifestyle. And this might sound insane, but I think she would be so proud. She also was this odd mix of things. She very much wanted to raise a beautiful and confident and embodied king. She couldn’t fulfill that role herself anymore, but she also was so supportive of him and really had beautiful ambitions. And you can see choice and agency being utilized freely in her two children, and we’ve never really seen that before. And I mean, we actually literally have not seen that before, so it’s quite clear that she’s their mother.

You’re probably going to poo-poo this, but I don’t know if you know this, but in the past the paparazzi have followed you around. I know it’s not on her level, but you have experienced stuff most people haven’t. Does that help you relate to what she went through? Public scrutiny? Or whatever you want to call it? That is something most people don’t have and you have experienced that.

It’s really hard to unpack and detangle the sort of spaghetti of what it is to be somebody who would like to engage with the public, but also not feel stolen from. And we are so completely different. I’m not a princess. I’m a creative person. I am fully allowed to flail.

Sure.

And, in fact, I hope to in a way that is public, because that’s only going to make me a better artist and making me a more sort of present and honest and believable person. Because I don’t ever feel like I’m playing a character. I think that there are always embedded aspects of yourself that are potentially accessible through art, and that’s what I’m doing. And she was asked to perpetuate something that felt really dishonest and not real. And so I think that it was killing her. And I don’t feel that way. We have a lot of people taking our pictures. The sort of motivation of that gaze could not be more different. So that’s the only reason I say I can’t relate to that. It’s not that it’s on a different level, it’s that it’s a completely… it’s apples and oranges. I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve never been asked to be someone that I’m not.

I saw you mention you’re a huge film fan, which isn’t surprising. What have you been watching? I ask because over the past year and a half I’ve been catching up on so much stuff I hadn’t seen…

Yeah, me too. In fact, I think, just to make this answer more interesting, I was using movies on Spencer to sort of decompress and also to take my mind off the project.

Oh yeah?

If I had like 10 minutes in between something I would be on Criterion, on my app on my phone…

What, really? Like get in 10 minutes of a movie at a time?

Yeah. And I know that’s a terrible way to consume. I don’t know.

I think it’s fine.

Yeah, exactly. I’ll give you a summary. Let’s see what I got.

Alright.

And I wrote them all down. And this was genuinely while making this movie. And if your interview time goes over five fucking minutes, it’s about to be my lunchtime and I’ll just tell you.

Okay.

I’ll tell them to just chill a little bit, but let’s see.

I went on a big Bogart run. Obviously, I had seen Casablanca. But until last year I had never seen stuff like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Sabrina.

I just watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Oh wow.

I’m on a Katharine Hepburn kick. I saw Bringing Up Baby for the first time. I was like, it’s the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. And then The Philadelphia Story

Oh my God. I watched that last night. I’m not kidding.

What?

Literally last night.

It’s so good.

It is. Though it’s funny Cary Grant is first billed but is barely in it compared to Jimmy Stewart.

It’s so good. And then in that same vein, I also watched… Goes to Washington. What is that? What’s his name?

Oh, Mr. Smith.

Yeah, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I’m such a Jimmy Stewart fan. I’m in love with him. I just made a look book for a project I’m trying to put together and a male character, every picture is Jimmy Stewart.

I watched that last year. I didn’t realize the movie literally ends with him collapsing and they’re like, “Well, that’s it.” And then the credits run.

Yeah these movies just end very abruptly, I find. You’re like, “and we’re done.”

Right!

Like, “oh.”

“All wrapped up.” I actually watched one of yours a couple days ago I hadn’t seen forever, Panic Room. That movie rules.

Oh yeah. I haven’t seen that in forever either. I just watched The Big Chill for the first time. And the first 30 minutes of that movie, which is the opening title sequence, the longest of I think any movie I’ve ever seen, it is its own piece.

It is.

Introducing 15 characters. You’re already crying by the time you get through the first 10 minutes into the movie. It’s masterful. Obviously, it’s a pretty seminal thing. I had never seen it before. I want to go home and watch that. I just want to watch it all the time.

It has this reputation for being a “boomer movie,” but it’s incredible.

Oh my God. It’s so good.

Alright, I don’t want to eat too much into your lunchtime. Is there one last one you watched recently? Because I find these conversations fascinating.

I just met a director, Rose Glass, who made a movie called Saint Maud. I think it’s her first movie. And it knocked my socks off. And this is contemporary, just came out like a year ago. That was my favorite movie of that year by far.

Oh. Wow. That’s high praise.

Definitely. Might as well just give her a little plug.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

×