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Filmmaker Spotlight: Pablo Larraín

The latest work to depict “the people’s princess” is already generating some Oscar buzz for Kristen Stewart, who portrays Princess Diana in Spencer, but we’re here to talk about the director behind the new film. Pablo Larraín recently told IndieWire that his inspiration for it came from a personal place. “Basically, I wanted to make a movie that Mom could like,” Larraín noted. And he detailed to The Hollywood Reporter how he had Stewart in mind to play Princess Diana from the get-go and even chased down her agent in the lobby of a Hyatt Regency to make it happen. But before we give you any more insights into Larraín’s most recent work that’s causing an early awards season stir, let’s take a look at what led up to it.

The 45-year-old filmmaker grew up in Chile during the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet, and his work later reflected that period in history. Larraín studied audio-visual communication at the University of Arts, Science, and Communication in Santiago before creating his production company, Fabula, in 2003. The budding auteur began making films alongside his brother and producing partner, Juan de Dios Larraín, including his feature debut as a writer/director, Fuga. The 2006 drama centers on a classical composer who becomes insane, and it was followed by what some call the “Pinochet Trilogy,” three of Larraín’s films set in Chile during the dictator’s regime. 

The first came in 2008 with Tony Manero, a black comedy that takes place in 1978 and follows a Chilean superfan of Saturday Night Fever. Larraín wrote and directed the film, as he did with Post Mortem, his 2010 drama set during the 1973 coup of Salvador Allende and installation of Pinochet’s dictatorship. The filmmaker’s trilogy was finished in 2012 with No, a Gael García Bernal-led picture about an advertising executive who leads the campaign for Chileans to vote against Pinochet staying in power during the 1988 plebiscite on his presidency.

No earned an Oscar nom in the foreign-language film category and paved the way for Larraín to direct Fox Searchlight Pictures’ Jackie, his first English-speaking film. Natalie Portman starred as Jacqueline Kennedy in the 2016 biopic that focused on the former first lady during and after the assassination of her husband. That same year, Larraín directed another biopic, Neruda, which centered on the eponymous Chilean poet. The filmmaker’s next turn in the director’s chair came with 2019’s Ema, an adoption drama set in Chile that he also wrote.

Larraín went on to serve as showrunner and director of this year’s Apple TV+ limited series Lisey’s Story, the star-studded adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name led by Julianne Moore. And then came Spencer. Following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Neon released the film on November 5, giving audiences an imagined peek into “those few fateful days” that the royal family spent at the Sandringham Estate in 1991 for their Christmas festivities. 

The filmmaker revealed to The Independent his process of working with Stewart in Spencer. “There was a point that she had such a control of the character, she was so into it so deep,” Larraín recalled. “I discovered that on many occasions, my best instruction was no instruction. Just stay silent and film her.” The director’s hands-off approach seemed to have worked, considering the resulting performance already has speculators naming Stewart as an early Best Actress contender in the Oscar race. Time will tell if Larraín receives a Best Director nod for Spencer, but in the meantime, we certainly think he’s earned this filmmaker spotlight.


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