London: Actress Naomi Watts believes Princess Diana gave her “permission” from beyond the grave to play her in a new film about her love life.
The British-Australian actress, 44, admits the claim will sound unusual, but says the experience left her feeling more comfortable in the title role of the movie ‘Diana’.
Playing the Princess was, says Watts, her hardest ever role.
“I kept wondering to myself: ‘Would she like it?’,” she reveals. “So, I found myself constantly asking for her permission to carry on. I had saturated myself with Diana and her life and I felt this enormous responsibility of playing this iconic woman.
“It felt like I was spending a lot of time with her. There was one particular moment when I felt her permission was granted. That won’t sound right in print, I know.”
The blonde actress, whose previous film roles have included ‘The Impossible’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’, feared that she was not physically similar enough to Diana, who died in 1997.
“There was a lot of hesitation on my part before I agreed to do it,” she says. “Obviously, I was taking on one of the most famous women of my time, and an awful lot of pressure comes with that. You want to get it right, and everybody is going to have an opinion on the film and how she should be portrayed. It’s very daunting.
“But then I also knew the best roles come with a risk. In the end, I decided that I couldn’t not do it. This was a story that had to be told — it’s an important story — but it was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s as close as I ever want to get to a character.”
The biopic, which opens next month, focuses on the final two years of Diana’s life and includes details of her relationships following her divorce from Prince Charles — notably with Dodi Fayed and with heart surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan.
Dr Khan, played by ‘Lost’ actor Naveen Andrews, met Diana in 1995 and their relationship is understood to have grown very intense — even talking of marriage together and starting a new life in Australia.
Producer Robert Bernstein has explained how the film makers approached the relationship sensitively after discussions with Khan and his family.
He said: “The way we are treating the relationship is one of a romantic and tender nature, in keeping with how we feel about Diana and her life. It’s a very aspirational, sympathetic portrait and not voyeuristic. Our sense of their relationship was that it was very spiritual and sensitive, as well as difficult, obviously. We are handling it very sensitively.”
Watts adds that her own approach involved a great deal of research, including meeting many of Diana’s friends. “It meant I could pick up little details and make sure I was doing it right,” she says. “People were unanimous in their praise of her extraordinary sense of humour and her cheekiness. They also all said she had quite a rebellious streak, something I always admire.”
Watts believes her own experience of losing her father at a young age helped her to empathise with Diana’s sons Princes William and Harry.
Speaking of the Princes, she adds: “I would hate to upset them. I hope they feel good about it. It’s a piece of history we’re all interested in and at some point, the story had to be told.”