The Risk of Playing Diana: Naomi Watts
To portray Princess Diana, a woman whose image is among the most seen of any in the last
century, and whose personality has become the stuff of modern folklore, would take a fair amount of
guts for any actress. Certainly there were few actresses of the caliber required who closely
resembled Diana. But instead of searching for an exact facsimile, the filmmakers had in mind a British actress renown for her ability to bury herself deep under the skin of the characters she
portrays: Naomi Watts, a two-time Academy Award nominee for 21 GRAMS and THE
"I don't know who else could have pulled this off," says Oliver Hirschbiegel of Watts. "Naomi's
an exquisite actress with the ability to be a chameleon. Watching her, you know that it's her and at the
same time you feel that you're watching Diana. That's an exceptional gift."
Adds Robert Bernstein: "Naomi has always been a very brave actress -- and we knew she
had the real range of emotional ability and courage for the role. Then she came in and she just
Though she would come to relish playing Diana, at first Watts had understandable
reservations. "I struggled with the idea for some time, because obviously she is the most famous
woman of our time, and with that comes enormous pressure. Everyone feels they know her so I
questioned whether I could ever claim her as being my own character. But I was definitely fascinated
by the idea and especially by the love story. It was a love story I knew nothing about."
The filmmakers continued to pursue her and at the same time, Watts began her own research,
becoming increasingly captivated by Diana's inner character.
"I like to play women who are complicated and full of contradictions, and Diana was all this
and more. At times she was strong and rebellious: she could also be happy, giggly, flirty, mischievous
and incredibly wise. I'm interested in watching these kinds of women on screen. I'm also drawn to
these kinds of women in my friendships in life. So I was drawn to Diana."
As for what drew Diana to fall in love with Hasnat Khan, Watts developed her own intuitions.
"I think she probably fell in love with his mind. She found him to be a powerful man, not in the
traditional sense, but in the sense that he was an alpha male who had a great sense of himself and
who had a lot of integrity. And he in turn brought out a confidence and intelligence in her that she
wasn't always able to be so free with."
But taking on the role of Diana could not have been done without the right director, and a
major lure for Watts was the chance to work with Hirschbiegel. She was already an admirer of
DOWNFALL, which she describes as a masterpiece of storytelling. "When I met with Oliver, I realized
he had become completely obsessed with Diana and entrenched in her world. We sat together and
compared stories and I knew that taking on this character was about trusting him and the screenplay
Hirschbiegel won that trust, and several weeks later, Watts relocated to London to begin the
process of transforming herself into Diana.
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