Looking back on The Bodyguard, it’s almost impossible to believe that it became the cultural phenomenon that it did. It released in 1992 to one of the biggest critical drubbings in recent memory, and ended the year with the highest number of nominations at the annual Golden Raspberry Awards, including nods for both of its lead actors, Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. And yet, despite everything going against it, The Bodyguard still grossed a whopping $411 million — an accolade that saw it become the 10th highest-grossing film ever made. Its accompanying soundtrack topped charts globally and cemented Houston‘s status as one of the greatest singers of her era, and to this day it’s hard to watch any melodramatic romance and not imagine “I Will Always Love You” blaring in the background. It’s a rare example of a film where its flaws contributed more to its success than its strengths, and even if its popularity continues to elicit the ire of snobby reviewers, there’s no question it will remain one of cinema’s most enjoyable bad movies.
Costner Was Keen to Cast Princess Diana as His Co-Star
Contrary to popular belief, critics do not decide what is and is not a box office sensation, and following The Bodyguard’s record-breaking turn that had stunned producers and critics across the country, a sequel seemed like a safe bet. Well, that’s exactly what happened, although it took until 2012 for any of this to become public knowledge (by which point it had been thoroughly canceled). Initially both Costner and Warner Bros. showed great enthusiasm toward a successor, and based on the snippets of information we have related to the project, it seems that no one involved was keen to rock the boat. Once again Costner would be donning his best tuxedo and playing the duel role of bodyguard and lover to Hollywood’s hottest starlet, but that left the obvious question of who could play said role. Houston – while far from the greatest actor – had given Rachel Marron an operatic quality that would be hard to replicate, and asking anyone to follow up such an iconic voice bordered on cruel. The Bodyguard 2 needed someone special, but Costner had just the right person in mind — Princess Diana.
It was an odd choice, to say the least. Diana had never been one to take the obvious path through life, but to suddenly take a break from her life as one of the most beloved (and polarizing) members of the Royal Family to star in a major Hollywood production felt out of character even for her. Nevertheless, all reports indicate that she was fully on board. Diana was persuaded to discuss the project with Costner by her close friend Sarah Ferguson — another member of the Royal Family who went through a bitter divorce in the 1990s, and who later found success as a film and television producer — and seemingly his proposals did enough to warrant future meetings. Unfortunately, The Bodyguard 2 didn’t progress beyond this. Her tragic death on August 31, 1997 (the day after Costner received the first draft of the screenplay) put an immediate halt to production. Given the sensitive nature of its intended plot, that was probably for the best.
On paper, the proposal to cast such a high-profile celebrity for the film’s most important role (especially one who had no experience as an actor) was ludicrous, and it does have the air of being done purely because Diana would be one of the few people on Earth who could top Whitney Houston’s star power. However, on closer inspection, it’s not as silly as it first appears. Houston had never appeared in a film before The Bodyguard, and while this caused some hesitation during the casting process (much of it from Houston herself), she ended up becoming its defining aspect. Much of this came from her playing a character who was basically herself — a fiery diva with a powerful singing voice — and it appears that Warner Bros. was planning to repeat this formula. Diana’s character was set to be the victim of insistent “stalkers and paparazzi” (something the real Diana had contended with her entire adult life), and while it’s unlikely they would have gone the full hog and also made her a princess, the overlaps with her real-life shine a light on why she would get involved.
In many ways, The Bodyguard 2 sounds like it would have been the latest example of Diana’s masterful manipulation of the media — a talent she had plenty of practice in by the mid-1990s. She famously (or infamously) had a love-hate relationship with the press, often deriding their intrusive nature that made a normal life impossible whilst simultaneously craving their attention in a way unique for someone in the Royal Family. Her photogenic nature and friendly personality that bubbled with warmth and humility made her the darling of the British media for years, and she quickly learned how even the most innocuous comment could have enormous ramifications on herself and her family. Many times she tried to shape this frenzy to her liking, with methods ranging from somewhat trivial (tipping off photographers to her location) to highly extreme (giving a controversial interview with Panorama), but all of them felt like her attempts to reassert power over a narrative that had long since spiraled out of control. No one in the Royal Family harnessed the media to such incredible effect as Diana, and while it’s debatable if this was for her betterment or not, it can be argued that it played a significant role in her continued popularity.
Returning to The Bodyguard 2 with this in mind — with its plot about a renowned female celebrity being hounded by stalkers and paparazzi to such a degree that she needs the world’s top bodyguard to protect her — and it becomes easy to see what enticed Diana to the project. She likely saw it as a glorified way of reasserting dominance over the most unmanageable part of her life, and while turning it into a personal wish-fulfillment machine may have detracted from the film’s overall quality, but would that have been a bad thing? Actors have been using cinema to similar effect for decades, and there’s no reason why that can’t also result in an engaging film (just look at anything Tom Cruise has done in the last 20 years). And besides, even if The Bodyguard 2 ended up feeling more like the latest battleground for the press to squabble in than a piece of entertainment to be enjoyed, the obvious parallels between its content and the political landscape that birthed it would have certainly made it a fascinating watch.
Diana’s Death in 1997 Resulted in the Film Being Cancelled
Sadly we’ll never know, and given how an inquiry by the British Metropolitan Police found the paparazzi to have played a contributing role in her death, it was a smart decision to leave the film unmade. Unlike other abandoned sequels, talk of a potential revival has been non-existent, with Warner Bros. instead turning its sights on a remake that seems to be stuck in its own version of development hell. Regardless of what the future has in store for this franchise, it’s safe to say that its proposed sequel will go down as one of the strangest what-ifs in cinematic history.
The addition of Princess Diana could have been either a stroke of genius or a bout of madness (if not both), but if nothing else it would have gotten everyone talking (if only because of all the manic speculation it would have generated for who’d they get for the next film). Art doesn’t have to be good to be interesting, and given its semi-fictionalized plot that would have seen it channeling mass-market entertainment by way of some hard-hitting journalism and a revenge-fueled memoir, there’s little doubt it would have succeeded.