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A Role to Di For
August 11, 2017
Let's just say, some things don't always turn out the way you expect them to. My time playing Princess Diana was both beyond gratifying and also a huge lesson to be learned in the industry. The main lesson being that in a typical recreation-style project, you juuuust might have your little face blurred the entire time.
I'm able to laugh about it now, of course! After all, I was lucky to be able to experience weeks of studying the People's Princess, five days of shooting on location, and all of the emotions that come with recreating precious moments of this iconic woman's life.
Not every project is going to turn out the way you planned. Maybe you and your costar may not mesh. Perhaps you get taken out of the episode entirely through editing. And, yep, sometimes your face gets blurred. Hey, baby steps, am I right? In my opinion, every moment and every little baby step that I take toward my dream, are steps worth taking.
It's so fun to travel for work - especially in the south! There's long drives to different destinations with expansive, open roads. Lots of time to reflect, to dream...
I used to really love getting put up in a hotel for work! I would think, 'how amazing is this!? I don't have to pay for my hotel room?! I get shuttled to and from set, and all I have to do is read over my lines and prepare!' As I have grown a little in this business, I have found myself not exactly loving the solitude that comes with staying in a hotel out-of-town. I've been surprised to find that a lot of actors agree with me on this. I now find myself just wanting to get back to my friends and my love - back to my normal "everyday." Is that ungrateful? What scares me is that as I hopefully get bigger roles in this industry, I'll be traveling farther away and for even longer! If that's the case, I know I'll always want to have my family there with me on location.
I was proud to actually book this job on my own! There's a fantastic website called ActorsAccess.com that most working actors have a paid subscription to. It's a medium for your agent to submit you to projects and for you to submit yourself as well. I'll use this to submit to non-union gigs that I know my agent isn't submitting me on. I have actually found quite a bit of luck with this site! It's a little pricey, but well worth it. But, be prepared to check the site daily for breakdowns, because while you were sleeping, hundreds of projects were added and people have already begun submitting.
I remember chatting with my best friends Jill & Andrew in the days leading up to my departure for Knoxville. Side note: I find it essential to have an amazing support team, and I think I have the best one there is! John even drove me to set in the middle of the night for two hours when it was pouring rain while I slept in the car. (Girls, get you a John!) Jill and I were joking about the idea of recreating Buckingham Palace in Knoxville, TN. It didn't seem plausible! At least, that's what I thought until I showed up to set the first day. With the help of a little movie magic, I was transported into a different part of the world, to an alternate and more complicated time. We shot the first two days at this gorgeous plantation nestled in the back farm country of Knoxville. I'm talking rolling hills, goats and pigs on the side of the road, back-woodsy. It was... incredible.
Here's a shot of me living my best life.
One of the best things about this project, undoubtedly, was the wardrobe. I must have had roughly 50 different dresses, blouses and shoe combinations. I got to wear different jewelry from funky thrift stores, and of course the iconic Diana engagement ring. (The only thing, really, that I desperately wanted to keep!)
An interesting aspect of the project was that there wouldn't be any dialogue. We would recreate scenes and then audio from interviews would be interlaced and cut over what we shot. This allowed me to really play and experiment as an actor. I told myself that I would keep my Diana accent the whole time, regardless of the lack of audio. I wanted to fully immerse myself in her as much as possible. It was always so fun when other actors would put on an accent too and play along with me!
This team was pretty spectacular.
Everyone from the producers who had been researching Di for a year, to the wardrobe department's stellar work as mentioned above, to the locations team that turned Knoxville into London, and the camera department that made sure every single shot was unique and had intention. It was clear that they were never just trying to get the shot done - it was always creative and pulsing with life.
Me and 'Prince Charles.'
We got so emotionally attached to our roles that we would often find ourselves playfully arguing off-camera because he felt Diana may have been in the wrong during their marriage, and I thought that Charles was a philandering dick.
My scene with this actor was one of the most memorable. This is John, from New Orleans. He's the sweetest pastor you have ever met. I felt like I had known him my whole life and we immediately clicked. We were pretty shocked to find out that we would actually be kissing in our scene! Nothing too romantic, just a peck on the lips. It would be the first time, for the both of us, to have an on-screen kiss. John wasn't too happy because he has his wonderful wife at home and this was just a day playing role for him that he took on a whim, and I was freaking out because I hadn't kissed anyone besides my John in the last nine months, obviously! We both just started laughing about it and calmed each other down. There was a lot of "Yeah, but you could be my daughter!" and "oh, yeah well you could be my dad!!" going on...
Our third and fourth day of filming took place at this massive mansion right on the Tennessee River. It absolutely BLEW... MY... MIND. Apparently, this southern entrepreneur bought this multimillion dollar 30,000 square foot mansion and is now using it as not only his home, but for television and movie sets as well. It is without a doubt the biggest house I have ever and will EVER be in.
View of the river from the home.
Yep, that's his humble backyard! We shot a pretty amazing sequence on this lawn with young Harry and young Will, that actually didn't make it in the final edit. Young Will was about six years old, and, to put it lightly, he wasn't really sure about me yet. I tried all of my usual tricks (offering gummy bears, a game of tag, funny faces, etc) and nothing worked on this kid! What was amazing to see was when we finally began shooting and I put on my Diana accent, this child just completely lit up! He started using his own little accent as well and we both started laughing and having fun together. An actor can learn immensely from watching a child just play!
Here's the foyer where we shot many different scenes. Just behind where I'm standing, the owner has a stuffed lion on display. It was just outrageous!
This was the first time I have ever been emotional while on set. Being vulnerable on camera is something that many actors struggle with. I personally struggle and have struggled with it every single week in acting class for years. All of that vulnerability and all of those tears in class, to me, mean nothing, if I can't bring it when I'm actually on set. One of the producers had actually even mentioned to me that one of the reasons they cast me in this role was because they saw in my demo reel that I was able to become emotional on camera. So, they were essentially expecting me to bring the water works when the director yelled, 'action!'
This was a small victory for me, and I'll never forget it. I was able to somehow completely relax and get to the place that I needed to get to, to be emotional and I just let Diana's pain overflow out of me. The DP was very perceptive of energy on set and he always knew when I was ready and in a good place to shoot. He saw that I was getting emotional and he just starting rolling the camera. It's always a blessing to have people on set that are respectful of the space that you need to be in for these tougher scenes. This is something that is always going to be a challenge for me. It's not something that I can just snap my fingers and it happens. I love that what I do for a living is always going to be forcing me outside of my comfort zone and that I will always be growing.
Those of you who are reading this and aren't actors, you should know that whenever you see an actor on camera who is getting emotional, that they most likely had to bring themselves to a tragic and immensely dark place in order to bring out authentic emotion. And at the same time, they're also forcing themselves to become completely calm and relaxed in their bodies. It's not just memorizing lines, fancy trailers and big Hollywood sets. It's being willing to live and die for your craft and completely free yourself of self-judgment and the judgment of others.
Me with one of my boyfriends, Dodi.
Prince Harry in a hallway, for scale.
How freaky is this?!
Diana in the hospital.
I got to hold an infant for the first time in my whole life!! I was lucky to have a lot of 'firsts' on this set. Perhaps I've been a little hard on myself. Most actors are pretty self-critical when watching the final product onscreen. There are moments when you can totally see my face and you know it's me, and the shots look amazing! To me, the invaluable part of working on this project is the experience I had on set. It's everything I dreamt of as a little girl. I got to play dress-up everyday and escape into a different world and be someone totally different. And not just someone, she was one of the most fascinating women to have ever lived.
Some things may not always turn out how you expect them to. Sometimes, they turn out to be even better.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!