Coming to theatres this Friday from director Oliver Hirschbiegel comes an intense look at the iconic Princess Diana from a less iconic view. Trying to find privacy and a life for herself, this story centers on the last two years of her life. Looking for a sense of purpose she get involved in the fight to get rid of landmines and Diana is also looking for the one thing that seems to have eluded her – love.
She meets Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and falls in love. Their affair is filled with secrecy, excitement and a peak into a life Diana has always wanted. Unfortunately there happiness comes at a price for them both bringing Diana back to the place of unhappiness she’s know too well.
Trying to find solace is where most people know the story of Dodi Fayed and the fateful and event that took Diana too soon.
Naomi Watts of last year’s amazing film THE IMPOSSIBLE portrays Princess Diana and Naveen Andrews of the iconic television series LOST is Dr. Hasnat Khan. Both of these amazing actors bring the story to life and fill it with intense emotion.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel has worked on films and one in particular caught my attention. In 2009 I saw the film FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN with Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt about former UVF member Alistair Little and was moved by the theme and duality between anger and forgiveness. He is also responsible for the Academy Award nominated Best Foreign Language film DOWNFALL.
Having the opportunity to talk with the film’s director was a dream! We were able to discuss his film career that began in the military and what led him to bring this particular story to screen.
Thanks for talking with us today Oliver.
Of course, I’m glad to speak with you. I use to be in the army but that was a long time ago.
Tell us more about that.
I went in when we still had the draft.
How was that for you?
To be honest, in those days it was very unfashionable to join the army. You had the option to do social work, which mean you worked in a hospital or drove an ambulance or helping the elderly. That would have been two years or the army, which was thirteen months. I thought that thirteen months was shorter and I might learn something that would come in handy. I was an athlete so I thought the army was a more interesting challenge.
And that led to filmmaking?
I was already working with photography and a little bit with film at the time so they assigned me to the press corps and what I did after my basic training was that I reported on certain things. I took pictures and wrote articles and even used a bollix to shoot footage of when ships went into the water and the NATO maneuvers. When the Americans, German, English, French and Canadians did all the maneuvers together and I’d report on that. It was quite fun actually.
How does that translate to deciding to do a film about Diana?
I was always fascinated with storytelling. In my former life and following that period in the army I studied art, I was an art student and I went to art school for five years. I did painting and performances which eventually led more and more into video and film work. One of the aspects was always narrative. I always had narrative elements in my work even in the paintings. DIANA, the last one is something I always wanted to do. It is a very moving and universal love story, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. These days it’s a rather old fashioned genre if you will and these kinds of films are not made anymore really. The key character being Diana made it even more fascinating for me because I learned so much about Diana reading the script. There were things that surprised me and that I had no idea about not to mention the love story.
I myself had no idea about this love story that was going on with Diana. What made you decide to make the film now?
It was offered to me a year or so ago and the question became would it be all right to tell this story right now, is it the right moment? I started doing my research and what I found out thinking and asking myself is that her legacy had gotten confused quite a bit. What do people really remember her for? Is her being in the limelight, flying in helicopters, being on the yacht hanging out with Dodi (Fayed) and then having that tragic accident in Paris and the whole world being in mourning? That’s not even the half of the story. All the things she stood for like the landmine campaign and all these things she stood for especially in the last two years are completely forgotten. If you go to YouTube looking for the documentary on the landmines you find that only a couple of thousand of people have seen that and it’s about one of the most famous women in the world. I think it needed to be told and the picture needed to be corrected.
What did you see in Naomi Watts that you thought she could portray Diana? First, it is such an iconic figure and so you have to find someone who can embrace the role.
I knew a look-alike contest wouldn’t do here because there is no other woman or actress in the world that looks like Diana. Naomi doesn’t really look like Diana at all but I knew that if there was an actress in the world who had the talent and the bravery to tackle this it would be Naomi really. She was the first one I ever put down. She has that chameleon quality, she becomes the character that she plays and makes me forget I’m watching her on the screen.
There are moments in the film where she is speaking and her eye cutting; face and speech just capture Diana perfectly. It really was amazing to watch it happen.
Yes, its eerie even sometimes especially when we were shooting. It’s a rare quality to have. There are lots of moments where it feels like you are watching Diana right?
When she is doing the television interview where she says “there were three of us in the marriage so it was a bit crowded” for a moment she was Diana in word, speech and action. I got a tingle!
Me too! Welcome to the club because it’s the same feeling here.
Naveen, I tell you that I absolutely love him because he is another chameleon. Is that why you chose him?
I needed a man with a purpose and not a boy. I needed an accomplished gentleman that had gravitas and a good, fine dry sense of humor, which is seemingly what Hasnat was like in those days. I wasn’t really concerned with the features so much even though I think he is a good version of the real Hasnat. It’s very hard to cast a part like that and I found him funny enough through a little detour. I kept thinking about the ENGLISH PATIENT and the Indian solider Kip who falls in love with Juliette Binchoe’s character. That touched me so much at the time and it was more than 20 years ago. I looked him up and found he was the very same character Sayid in the series LOST. I watched every episode in the series LOST loved it and the character of Sayid and I didn’t recognize Naveen. I thought that was interesting and I sent him the script. We skyped and in talking to him for more than an hour I realized he was exactly what I was looking for. He had all that, he’s a real man and he’s hardly what you see anymore in movies these days. Most of the films are about boys or about sexy muscles but not all the other aspects that make a man.
When you see movies about relationships that have to do with love and conflict, you rarely see a man who will show his feelings that he’s torn up and wants to do the right thing. Naveen has such true emotion and he may not have said it but you saw it in his face.
Yes, I’m glad that you saw that. I’m very proud of that performance actually and believe he’s done a wonderful job as well.
My question is after seeing the film is what do you want audiences to walk away with, what do you want them to talk about?
I think it’s a very basic question of what does love mean in the world, how powerful is it and how far can you take it. How much would you in your life sacrifice in order to live that love that you want? That’s the basic contradiction in their story; it’s like a Greek drama really. They love each other so much yet they are in a corner, they are trapped and don’t know how to make it work. I think it’s something people can relate to even if they are not in a situation like that it’s a general question. What does love mean and what is love in my life?
Also, what will you sacrifice because he had his family and work and she had – well you cannot even begin to list the problems that she had?
She needed the limelight as much as she needed love, that’s the contradiction. Since childhood she has been deprived of love it seems. The mother walks away and leaves the house when Diana is hardly seven, which is a devastating experience for a child. It makes it hard to open your heart again. Then she finds this guy Charles and she really loves him and adores him but then finds out after a few years that the same thing is being done again. Not only this man turning his back on her and betraying her but all his friends being in on it, which is an equally devastating experience. That makes it even harder to open up her heart. Then she finally finds that man after a string of silly lovers if you will and that alone is quite an achievement. But on the other end she was insecure and shy and needed that reassurance of herself through the limelight and the public eye. She is very complex with a natural talent. She could shine and touch people just by looking at them.
She is to my generation the equivalent to Princess Grace in my mother’s generation and as Prince William is to my children’s generation. There is one every generation.
I would say so yes. William is the son of her mother all right. He is an old soul with a spiritual character. Both of the boys live her legacy you know. They try to be more normal. William doesn’t take the picture in the royal palace but instead take pictures in the father in laws house. It’s very charming.
Diana let the world in a little bit and it seems William is doing the same.
That’s definitely Diana’s achievement giving it to both the boys. Harry represents the rebel side of Diana if you will. He continues the charity work quite a bit too and continues the landmine campaign.
I laughed at the scene where she puts on the wig to sneak out and I thought that’s Harry! When it comes to being polite and shaking hands with the people, that’s William. I saw so much of her life that I never would have thought of. Diana walking in the street at 3 a.m., I never would have thought that!
She did it and she enjoyed it. She did the cars and doors and she enjoyed that very much.
I think you captured her beautifully and told so much about her. Yes, there are different films out there but in this film if you take away her title and look at her as a woman, you would have these same struggles with life, love and culture. You did add that cultural factor in with Hasnat’s family being from Pakistan. The scene where his mother talks about Mountbatten I just cringed! The incorporation was so well done so thank you for that!
Thank you very much and that’s my job as a storyteller isn’t it.
So that means you’re a good storyteller. Are you working on other things now?
I’m working on three projects but I don’t know which one I’m going to do first. I’m doing a real life person story and the other is the last four weeks before the first World War centering around the politicians in Europe and Russia at the time and how they exchanged information. It’s fascinating. The third one is an action one with a strong female lead in the center.
Anytime you can get a strong woman out there doing action I’m all for it. I’m also a history buff so I’m also pulled toward the World War II picture.
I’ll make both then!
We’ll get the word out and we’ll get it done! Thank you so much for your time Oliver and congratulations on your work with DIANA.
In theatres this Friday from the storyteller himself director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s offering of DIANA starring Naomi Watts and Naveen Andres. It is a film about an extraordinary woman trying to find herself and love.