Director Oliver Hirschbiegel had to delve deep into the world of Diana to make his film that carries “The People’s Princess’” name. The film stars Naomi Watts and, as shown in the Diana trailer, follows the final few years of her life. She was fresh from her divorce from Prince Charles and was a woman with so much love to give and no one to give it to, other than her beloved children. Then, she met Naveen Andrews' Dr. Hasnat Khan.
We caught up with Hirschbiegel for an exclusive interview where he gives us insight into the Diana he grew to know making his film, the extraordinary performance Watts gave as the princess who would leave us way too soon, and why after all these years, the world is still utterly fascinated with the entity that is… Princess Diana.
Movie Fanatic: We have to start with Naomi Watts and I thought she had a career best performance with The Impossible, and then I saw her as Diana in your movie (as I stated in my Diana review). When through the process did it hit you, “Oh my goodness, she is Diana?”
Oliver Hirschbiegel: I realized the second day of shooting in that scene where she is utterly surrounded by the paparazzi where she tried to play with it and got annoyed and scared by it and then ran. I realized that things with her and Diana would work out.
Movie Fanatic: When an actress is so that part, for you is it like watching magic at work and sometimes did you have to remind yourself you had to direct?
Oliver Hirschbiegel: [Laughs] Yes, yes, I did! Sometimes it was scary. My first approach was that this can’t be a look-alike contest. Nobody totally looks like Diana. Naomi, I knew from the first moment, didn’t really look like Diana. But, sometimes that happens. She went from outside in. She was an athlete and started to train on Diana’s mannerisms. The way Diana talked and doing that and doing her research, she became Diana. She breathed her. It was a scary thing to watch. It’s something they take from within, it’s like watching visions.
Movie Fanatic: Personally for you, were there any trepidations about tackling a subject that is as beloved as Diana, or were you more excited about exploring this particular story, or maybe it was a mix of both?
Oliver Hirschbiegel: It was more the excitement and whenever there was any doubt, I just kept telling myself it is a universal love story. If you take the name Diana away, it’s a tale about somebody’s searching for love and never finding it. Then, getting it with that man and using that energy of that person, sort of reinventing herself.
Movie Fanatic: Of course we all know what happened. But watching your movie, I found myself pulling for these two to work out. I think much of that has to do with the casting of Naveen. What most impressed you about him?
Oliver Hirschbiegel: He comes with something that is rare these days. He’s a very grounded, dignified man in real life. Actors often don’t have that. They’re fairy beings. Naveen is from an old-fashioned man that we would see on the big screen in the 1940s. I’ve never met Hasnat, but he reminded me of these men who are not about flexing muscles and it’s about being there and standing for something.
Movie Fanatic: Throughout the filming of Diana, was there one particular challenge you were proud of accomplishing?
Oliver Hirschbiegel: Technically, all the stuff with the yacht. It looks easy on the film. But, shooting on water with ships and the island and other boats, it’s highly complicated. I storyboarded my shots, but it was a day that seemed undoable. Everyone told me, “We’re not going to get all that in today.” It worked! I got it in and we’ve got even more shots than we even planned. [Laughs] That was a very fulfilling day.
Movie Fanatic: It might be hard to quantify, but what do you think it is about Diana that so many years after her death we are still so fascinated with her?
Oliver Hirschbiegel: The reason is very simple. There was nobody like her before. There has been nobody after. There are lots of people now who are as famous and are surrounded by paparazzi. But, they do not radiate that energy that she had. The only person before Diana I can think of was Gandhi. He had that. It has to do with spirituality. Diana was a spiritual person. People connected to that. It had nothing to do with being stunning or glamorous, but it was what Buddhists would call a divine innocence. It’s a deep humanity. Even people who don’t know the person, they connect to them. We will likely never see that again. I think that scares people, too. She’s dead now. I mean, imagine all the things she could have done.