Naomi Watts Was (Understandably!) Terrified to Play Princess Diana

The actress confesses that the challenge of portraying the beloved royal was so daunting, she turned down the role twice

For an actress, playing a real-life icon is always a gamble. Best-case scenario: you get an Oscar nomination (see Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn). Worst-case scenario: everybody laughs at you (see Lindsay Lohan in Liz & Dick). For Naomi Watts, playing Princess Diana meant meeting sky-high expectations. It was so daunting, in fact, that she almost didn't take the role.

"I turned it down twice," Watts, star of the film upcoming Diana, told the U.K. Sunday Times. I was a little bit torn, but once I'd said no, I wasn't completely at peace. Sometimes when you say no, you feel free, but it just wasn't the case."

Two years after first being offered the part, Watts decided to take on the challenge. But she was still nervous about one thing: how Diana's real-life children would react.

"The biggest reason that made me pause was how the princes were going to be feel about this," Watts, also a mother of two boys, admitted. "There was actually quite an eerie moment in London when I did see Prince William in a restaurant, and I got very nervous, because if I caught his eye I didn't want to interpret a look and think he had a negative feeling about this idea, so I made sure not to look."

The surprising thing about Watts' confession is that she's played real-life women many times before, including CIA agent Valerie Plame in Fair Game and tsunami survivor Maria Belon in The Impossible. Why is Princess Diana different? Maybe it's because Di remains so beloved, more like a saint than a celebrity. This creates an impossible conundrum for the actress. If she plays Diana well, she'll be making her more human -- which will no doubt be an affront to Di's worshippers. But if Watts gives a bad performance, the British press will never let her live it down.

Honestly, we can't imagine that Watts has much to worry about. She's a phenomenal actress who knows how to be vulnerable, yet still has incredible charisma. At 44, Watts is eight years older than Diana was when she died, but we're relieved that the filmmakers didn't go with a young actress. Diana, though beautiful, always seemed older and sadder than her years. Watts has the worldliness to understand that state of mind.

We'll get to judge Watts' performance for ourselves when Diana, which focuses on her two-year relationship with Hasnat Khan, hits theaters on Nov. 1 -- just in time for (what a coincidence!) Oscar consideration. Watch the trailer below!

Donna Kaufman is a freelance writer and iVillage contributor. Find her on Twitter and Google+

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