Spencer Director Pablo Larraín Wants To Knock Down The Castle Around The Fantasy Of Diana [Interview]

Diana Spencer was the perfect fairy tale princess ... until she wasn't. The "People's Princess" is the ultimate tragic figure of recent historical memory; a victim of the parasitic '90s tabloid culture, of the antiquated royal institution that raised her up and threatened to break her down, and of course, of the "fairy tale" fantasy that turned out to be so poisonous and ghastly that any illusions about the nobility of the crown died with Diana.

But so much attention has been lavished on Diana's death (to the point of ghoulishness) that it's easy to forget that beneath the glamor and the salaciousness and the tragedy, there's a flesh and blood human being. That's what Pablo Larraín's latest haunting, devastatingly gorgeous fable of a film, "Spencer," seeks to find.

"I think a lot of people can relate and see themselves in someone like Diana," Larraín told me in an interview ahead of the release of "Spencer" (out in theaters today). "How was she able to build such amount of empathy? Why, it is a very interesting question, and that's part of the question that we [asked] when we made ['Spencer']."

But Larraín rejected the idea of making a straightforward "biopic" about Diana Spencer. Like his 2016 masterwork "Jackie," "Spencer" only covers a key handful of days — in this case, the holiday weekend at Sandringham House when Diana decides to divorce Princes Charles — in which the tragic historical heroine undergoes a crisis, and "through that crisis, you get to understand that person."

"I don't think biopics are actually possible. I think they are really of a fantasy," Larraín said.

So it's fitting that the Kristen Stewart-starring "Spencer" plays out like a fantasy, a fairy tale writ as a ghost story, in which the beautiful castle comes crumbling down around the princess and all that's left is a ruined dress and bloody shoes.

I spoke with Larraín about what drew him to Diana, why "Spencer" is really a horror film, and whether he would like to complete his informal trilogy about tragical historical women walking around in fog.

"There's a lot around Diana."

First of all, what is it about Diana — as a historical figure, as cultural figure, as a woman who was so central to tabloid culture in the '90s — that appealed to you, that you decided to make "Spencer" in the first place?

Look, I think she's a very relevant figure for a number of reasons. In my personal case, I grew up looking at my mother, being very interested in her, so I was curious to know why someone like her was so interested and then I realized that she was one among millions around the world. Then I had the chance to do "Jackie," and then maybe thought that there was like interesting and beautiful opportunity to make a movie looking at someone that shaped the second half of the last century. So yeah, here we go. Here we are.

And what was your first exposure to Diana? Was it through just the media coverage of her at the height, or was it something that kind of came around later as you were looking for something to follow up "Jackie" with?

Well, no, but my first sort of approach and interaction with her was as I grew up, she was someone that I didn't really understand well and I was curious. I was raised and born in a republic, so I didn't understand why someone was a princess. You know, it looked like from another era. Then I looked up, and as I grew up and I became more ... I was able to educate myself and understood that there was a big tradition and structure and institution and that she was part of it. And I don't know, it just made me feel that there was an opportunity there.

There's a lot around Diana. There are countless books and documentaries and articles and there's movies and of course TV shows. But it seems to be that there are so many angles and so many different things that can be said from her experience, and I think a lot of people can relate and see themselves in someone like Diana. How was she able to build such amount of empathy? Why, it is a very interesting question, and that's part of the question that we [asked] when we made ["Spencer."]

"I don't think biopics are actually possible."

So "Spencer" is described as a fable and an "imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days that Diana spends at Sandringham House over Christmas." Why did you choose to make this film with this more sort of mythic approach as opposed to a more straightforward biopic?

Well, I don't think biopics are actually possible. I think they are really of a fantasy. I don't think it's possible to actually portray someone on screen, and I think it's just better to look for a very contained amount of days or a very small period that of person's life. So with that in mind, you could probably try to elevate it into a different and more human problem, and it's about finding a small crisis that then can become a bigger crisis. And then throughout that crisis, you get to understand that person. I think every one of us would be defined with more precision when we are going through a crisis than in good times, and that's something think that I think is relevant for the process.

Yes. Much like "Jackie," "Spencer" also takes place over just a handful of days. I mean, I guess you already answered that it's about that crisis that you get to see this person at their truest, but what was it about this particular weekend, this Christmas weekend at Sandringham House that made it that time that you wanted to focus on for "Spencer"?

Well, it's a very specific moment of her life, where she decides to leave the family and sort of conclude that marriage, and that is a very relevant moment for her life and it somehow defines her. It just breaks the logic of the fairytale, breaks the logic of what is expected from someone like her. She does what she feels is right and she finds her own freedom and she sets free by herself. And she's the one who decides that. And that is ... it was a big moment of her life and it's very transcendent and it's also... She's very connected to her children and that is very relevant and it has a very big amount of intimacy and she's very protected to her children. So she gets to understand that she could have a life outside of that family that has meaning and that she doesn't need anyone to keep going.

"We all face different type of fears, depending on our situation."

So, in addition to a fable or fairytale, "Spencer" might otherwise be described as a horror film, thanks to the sense of dread that's conveyed in your direction. Can you speak as to why those horror elements became so prominent throughout the film?

Well, I think that there's a point of the movie where we are very much into her POV, into her perspective. And once you do that, things that are part of the things that she's seeing, and when you put them on film, it creates a reality that can be scary, and I understand that. And I think everyone's reality and everyone's perception can eventually be scary. We all face different type of fears, depending on our situation, but once you put it in a movie, it becomes like a psychological terror thing, which I understand and I think what's necessary for this movie. You know, this movie proposed a very specific crisis at the beginning, goes into some sort of like a psychological state of panic, and then it eventually becomes a healing process. That's what I was looking for.

With "Jackie" and "Spencer," you've made a sort of thematic series about how sad historical women are crumbling under the eyes of the public. Do you want to conclude a trilogy of sorts with a third film about another tragic historical female figure?

It's possible. It's possible. I'm not sure yet... I've been busy this day. So I don't know, but it might happen. It's not something that I am specifically thinking right now, but we are discussing and reading and just thinking. Let's see.

Might I make a suggestion for Britney Spears for the next one?

You want me to do a movie with Britney Spears? Yes. But it would be like a documentary, she's alive.

Yeah, that's true.

How do you do that? You have an actress playing her, or it would be her playing her?

I was thinking it would be an actress playing her.

Yeah, I don't think I'm the person to [do] that movie, I think.

"Spencer" is playing in theaters now.