Naveen Andrews and Naomi Watts in “Diana”
Naveen Andrews (“Lost”) co-stars with Naomi Watts in “Diana” (opening Friday) — portraying Dr. Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani-born heart and lung surgeon, who had a romance with the ill-fated Princess Diana near the end of her life. Earlier this week, the actor called from New York to talk about the film — and the challenges of being in a film that has stirred controversy since the project was first announced — well before filming began.
Q: Did you any idea cause such a stir.
A: I did expect a certain amount of vitriol from Europe — and especially Britain — because the English feel a sense of ownership over Diana. They did while she was alive, and they still do now, even though she’s passed. I kind of feel we opened a wound in the national psyche.
It seems they haven’t gotten over that.
Q: Why do you think that’s true?
A: There’s a number of reasons for that. For one reason, I believe the class system is alive and well in England. The gap between rich and poor ever since I left, which is about 14 or 15 years ago, has gotten even wider than it was before. I think class is still something that divides the English. People over there feel very strongly about inherited wealth and privilege and power and will do anything to protect that.
Plus, even among the English who are working class — who support the monarchy — there is that sense of ownership of Diana’s legacy.
Q: Naomi Watts turned down the role a couple of times before she finally agreed. Did you have similar hesitation about playing Khan?
A: A certain amount of trepidation — but mainly because I would be playing someone who is real, plus alive and well. When you’re playing someone who actually exists, there’s a weight of responsibility that comes with it.
But unlike for Naomi — playing Diana who was internationally known and such an icon — Khan was rather obscure. Most people had no idea about the relationship, until long after it ended — frankly after Diana was dead.
Q: How much did you know about Dr. Khan and Diana and their relationship before you got involved in this role?
A: Frankly, until I read the script I knew nothing. I just thought there was Dodi [Fayed] who she had been seeing. I was very surprised to find out she was even seeing someone like Hasnat Khan.
Q: What was it about the script that intrigued you?
A: When I read the script, it reminded me somewhat of David Lean’s “Brief Encounter” film from the 1940s — a very simple love story. Two ordinary people in that film. Of course, here that’s not the case — as one is an international icon. But it was the connection between them was similar to the Lean film in that both parties wanted things to work, but it never would work out, no matter how much they wanted it to.
Q: I know you were not able to meet Dr. Khan before you filmed “Diana,” but it you could have, what would you liked to have asked him?
A: I don’t think it would have been so much about asking him anything. But to see how the whole experience might have effected him in the long term.
Q: By making this film, did your opinion of Diana change?
A: I grew up having absolutely no interest in the royal family whatsoever — and I still don’t. I relate more to the Plantagenets than I do the House of Windsor — at least in an abstract sense. What I mean is, I’m more intrigued by history, by things that happened 700 years ago than in the monarchy today. The truth is, I know more about what happened with Henry II than I do about anything that has happened in the last 10 years with the royals.
So, in looking at Diana — even though she is of that class — I looked at her and still do as a human being. More importantly as a woman who had some amazing qualities who could relate to so many people. She had a genuine desire to make the world a better place. She seemed driven by that.