Written by Staff Writer at CNN
In 2013 Kristen Stewart stepped in front of the camera once again to shoot a new project in the UK, for BBC Films, with Danish director and actress Mads Mikkelsen. Inspired by a brief conversation they had with Oliver Hirschbiegel, director of the international hit “Downfall,” the production’s storycentered on a rapprochement between actor and screenwriter — Stewart plays Hirschbiegel — who, at the conclusion of their relationship, admits to his colleague that he feels very “cut off” and “unconnected” to life.
Even the title of the film, “Spencer,” suggests an unconventional form of therapy. Unlike film narratives and those of typical film-makers, Mikkelsen’s movie isn’t a story; rather, it’s a three-person dialogue between actor, writer and director.
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That the evening’s principal protagonists are actors — two of Hollywood’s most exciting young stars and the biggest Scandinavian success story of the past 20 years — is a coincidence. Stewart and Mikkelsen weren’t initially interested in the subject matter of the project and they didn’t set out to make a film about the entertainment industry. But as the movie grew and started filming, the themes that had originally been a surprise, started to make sense.
Commented Stewart in a statement provided to CNN, “Honestly, it’s such a crazy idea of how the creative process can lead you in all these different places and be a really beautiful way of discussing things and questioning things and getting to know different people.”
It’s true. “Spencer” (named after one of the characters’ famous aliases) isn’t as much about the show business as the kind of fringe politics the pair discussed during a lengthy Skype conversation before filming started. The script was co-written by the director and was subsequently developed over several years as “Spencer” began its gestation.
Mikkelsen plays the film’s protagonist, though the ex-partner of Stewart’s character, who we see in the film’s opening scenes, remains unknown. It’s inspired by a similar scenario to, as described by Mikkelsen, a passage the director drew from a conversation he had with Hirschbiegel before they first met. “I have this book that I really dug, by Géricault, that was about a guy who, at the end of his life, is still closing the mouths of the birds with a bow,” he said. “He never wrote a biography of himself … and there was one book that he looked at that really challenged him. And this happened to be a speech that he gave during the end of his life, when the bow was broken. And, of course, that’s a film that we never saw made because of time and money.”
Don’t reach for the popcorn
Back at the beginning of their conversation, Hirschbiegel said he felt “unconnected” from everyday life — something that finally struck the film’s protagonist — played by Mikkelsen, who believed that he had been cut off from life. “I think that maybe there’s this notion that if you do too much film, then you’re not interested in normal life anymore,” he said.
To give the film its focus, they wanted to shoot the actors’ scenes to generate a heightened atmosphere, while also inculcating an illusion of depth. Straying away from the narrative story arc of the characters’ relationship, “Spencer” was always meant to be a “fable” rather than a conventional drama, emphasizing acting as a powerful tool — just like the characters in the movie — to create a feeling of realism.
“I think art, in general, has the power to open a door for questioning, a doorway for looking in a whole new direction,” Stewart said. “Just when you’ve got that idea of how we tell stories and how we are all people, and how well we can ask questions to each other and how we’re connected, and how strong we are, and how far that is, it allows us to imagine ways of being that aren’t forced. And sometimes, that scares us.”