Shanti Fiennes grew up in a large bohemian family. She’s the daughter of Magnus Fiennes, an English composer, record producer, and songwriter, and the niece of Oscar-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes. Her aunt Martha is a film director, and her uncle Joseph is also an actor. (He’s perhaps best known for appearing in Shakespeare in Love.) Fiennes’s grandmother, a novelist and painter, used to say, “Get your guts into it,” a rallying cry to make her children and grandchildren push themselves and go deep into whatever they were doing.
The 24-year-old spent her early years in sprawling English country homes surrounded by artists and performers. At family gatherings, “we’d get together and play our own really elaborate version of charades,” says Fiennes. “We would just perform skits and act out scenes.”
Fiennes’s grandfather Mark was the eldest son of a knighted industrialist who was a distant cousin of King Charles’s. Now Fiennes is portraying Charles’s ex-wife, Princess Diana, in the new film Diana in Love.
Growing up, Fiennes, who moved to Los Angeles with her family at age nine, wanted to avoid show business. “I had a moment of rebellion, which, ironically, was going to college and studying psychology,” she explains. “My parents were like, ‘Why are you doing that? What about your music? And acting?’ And I was like, ‘I’m going to go to college and get my degree.’”
After completing her undergraduate degree in 2020, Fiennes, whose full name is Shanti Atalanta Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, felt the tug toward a life in the arts. “It just kind of trickles down [from] the very vibrant household I grew up in and all my family and their family before that.”
“I had a moment of rebellion, which, ironically, was going to college and studying psychology.”
She enrolled in Meisner classes at the Ruskin School of Acting and constantly auditioned for roles. It wasn’t easy. Then one afternoon, while trawling the Internet, she found a post advertising a self-tape audition to play Princess Diana on a fictional 1997 road trip, just a few weeks before her death. “Usually the projects you see on self-submission sites aren’t all that enticing,” Fiennes explains. “This one definitely grabbed me.”
Diana in Love is a labor of love that writer and director Brent Roske has worked on for a decade. What immediately struck Fiennes was the project’s tone. The documentary-style film follows Diana on an imagined post-divorce, sun-drenched road trip through California. In this movie, Diana isn’t portrayed as a victim. “There is always such a focus on her troubled side. But she was also just as light and fun,” says Fiennes.
“I found comfort in getting into a character I felt I had always known,” she explains. “She was quick-witted and always teasing people and keeping them on their toes. At the end of the day, she just so deeply wanted to be seen for who she was.”
Playing the people’s Princess is no small feat. In 2021, Emma Corrin won a Golden Globe for best actress for her performance as Diana in The Crown. The following year, Kristen Stewart received both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of Diana in the film Spencer.
For Fiennes, the part marks her first leading role in a movie. Beyond mastering Diana’s insouciant smile, the actress describes the experience as “freeing.” On set, “we were just having fun.”
Diana in Love will be available for streaming through Roku beginning October 1
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Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor at AIR MAIL