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Brogen Hayes In today's Irish Examiner, I talk to #kristenstewart about #cafesociety and her reinventing her career after #twilightsaga!
Kristen Stewart has emerged from teen queen status to star of the indie circuit. So how has she done it, asks Brogen Hayes.
With two films premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — Woody Allen’s Café Society (released next week) and Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper — it is hard to deny that Kristen Stewart is an actress who is going from strength to strength.
Spending time in the south of France presenting work that she loves seems to be an experience that Stewart revels in — “It just feels so genuine here,” she gushes when asked about the festival — but just how good is it to be Kristen Stewart right now?
In the four years since the Twilight series ended, Stewart has pulled off something incredible, and reinvented herself from teen queen to indie darling.
Sitting down in the glamorous Carlton hotel in Cannes with the newly blonde actress feels like a typical Cannes experience; fans are camped outside the hotel to catch a glimpse of the former Twilight star, while inside, wearing a leather jacket that feels entirely too big for her petite frame, Stewart talks passionately and intimately about working with Woody Allen on Café Society, a film which she — even as one of the most famous faces in the world — had to audition for.
Kristen Stewart stars in ‘Café Society’ with Jesse Eisenberg. Stewart praises her co-star for making her feel comfortable on set.
“I really appreciate auditioning for something,” she says, “because it kind of gives you a confidence, not only that you can do it but just that it’s the right fit with the director.”
Stewart’s character in Café Society, a young woman named Vonnie who finds herself torn between love with a man close to her own age (Jesse Eisenberg) and an older man who can give her security (Steve Carell), is a departure for Stewart.
This is not the first period film that the actress has starred in, nor is it the first time she has played a character caught up in a love triangle, but Vonnie feels very different from the elfin, talkative woman sitting across the table, something that Stewart herself acknowledges.
“Her mannerisms and demeanour are more outside my immediate go-to personality traits. I am far from a character actor, so everything I have done, including this… Vonnie was definitely in there somewhere. I wasn’t faking it.”
It certainly doesn’t feel as though Stewart is faking it, with Vonnie as luminous and enchanting as a woman caught between two lovers should be.
Perhaps this is down to Stewart reteaming with Jesse Eisenberg for Café Society – their previous films together being Adventureland’ in 2009 and last year’s American Ultra — and finding confidence in working with someone she knows.
“I feel genuinely like I could mess everything up and fall on my face and just be an idiot around him, and it’s still not embarrassing. Therefore I could really play someone who was light and buoyant and fun. My immediate defences are hard, and with him I don’t have them.”
Playing Bella Swan in the Twilight franchise may have been the cinematic phenomenon that launched Stewart’s career back in 2008, but the superstar fame that came with the wildly successful teen vampire flicks is obviously something the actress still struggles with.
“My interaction with fame has been that it’s put me in a place where I can work as often as I do.
"I am so unbelievably stimulated all the time, I wouldn’t trade it, but I think its fairly obvious that there’s the nuisance of not being able to walk around and having people already think they know you before they do, and having to rectify that with every single interaction.”
It’s not just the hair cut and colour that has moved Stewart away from her most famous character though.
Last year, she made history as the first American actress to win the French national film award, the César, for her work with Olivier Assayas on Clouds of Sils Maria, something that still seems to excite her.
“It’s crazy,” Stewart says, when asked how winning such an award made her feel.
“I look at other actors that have had a place here and they are all people that I identify with and idolise and look up to, so it’s a good group to be a part of.
“It makes sense; American filmmakers that I like do what they do for the same reasons as French filmmakers and more European filmmakers do.
"It’s just that there is more risk taken here and it’s not about making a bunch of money all the time; it genuinely is just about desire. "You feel that, it’s so strong, it’s so obvious and the fact that there is a little place for me in that, it makes sense to me, but I am also so proud. It’s awesome.”
When she talks, it is very clear Stewart is a woman who has found her passion. Her jacket zips rattling as she gesticulates while talking, Stewart is a person who seems to think about life very deeply.
She is aware that her experience with acting and celebrity is one that not everyone has, while also being aware that two people who work in the public eye have different dealings with fame.
When asked whether Woody Allen was able to give her insight into how to deal with being constantly in the public eye, Stewart is immediately aware that she and the director come at fame from different angles.
“He was famous in a very different time” she says, referring to the fact that Allen’s career now spans more than six decades.
“We have had entirely different experiences with fame and the way we consume the reality show that is the entertainment industry. "It has turned into something that it never was and I have been cast as a character that is fully developed by everyone but me, and I have a part in that, for sure. “People’s impressions of me are not wrong, you can have a cumulative impression of me based on pictures or movies or interviews or whatever, and that is not wrong; that is a genuine impression of me that’s totally subjective.”
Always aware that she is dealing with the public, Stewart is quick to qualify her statement, saying: “It’s different. But it’s still worth it, but it’s not so simple.”
The good must outweigh the bad, however, as Stewart shows no signs of stepping out of the limelight any time soon.
As well as acting in Café Society and Personal Shopper, Stewart has also moved into the world of directing; she helmed a music video for Sage + The Saints in 2014, and is in the process of shooting a short film.
Working with digital publisher Refinery29, Stewart’s film is titled Water. [We now know it's called "Come Swim."]
Details are scarce on the project at the moment, and the actress is keeping mum.
“I’d rather not talk about what it is about, it’s very short so I’d rather have it speak for itself.”
What we do know is that Refinery29 have commissioned 12 female directors, writers, and animators to create work around the theme of power dynamics, and Stewart’s project is one of these films.
Stepping behind the camera is not a new passion however, and hearing the actress talk so passionately about this new turn in her career, it is clear that director is a role she intends to explore.
“I have been wanting to make movies since I was a tiny little kid, since I was like 9 years old, and I was introduced to this environment that was so holy, in this weird way.
"The energy that’s put into a project when its done right is so precious, it’s as if everyone’s holding together this really breakable little object.
“I have followed people down roads that are so worthwhile, and so whole and I want to be the catalyst for that; I want to be responsible for it.”
As our time runs out Stewart is effulgent about the Cannes experience: “I love festivals, but this is the best one. Having two movies with people that I really dig so much is just really cathartic and nothing but awesome”.
More than a few writers give the impression that it requires a leap of faith to admire Kristen Stewart. A war is, it seems, still being fought with the 15-year-old male idiots who reviled the Twilight films because they were “girls’ stuff”. There is a sense of critics patting themselves on their backs for their open-mindedness.
You get little such qualification in France. At 26, Stewart is already a stalwart of the red carpet at Cannes. She stormed the Palais with On the Road in 2012 and Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014. Last May, she was back with Woody Allen’s Café Society, which opened the event, and Assayas’s Personal Shopper, which won the best director prize.
The French love her like they love cheese. That long face and those arched eyebrows summon up the very American cool of Elvis. But the on-screen insouciance would have suited the Nouvelle Vague nicely. In 2015, the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma presented her with the best supporting actress César award for Clouds of Sils Maria. She is the first American actress ever to win the French equivalent of the Oscar.
As we arrive at the Carlton Hotel – the grandest establishment on Cannes’s bossy Croisette – French magazines featuring her image are scattered on every enormous cushion.
“All my favourite directors I have worked with in the States are like European directors. The list of actors that have found a place here from the States are all people I idolise. So it’s great to be on that list. There is just a risk that’s taken here that stands out. That doesn’t happen so much in the States. It’s obvious why that would be cool.”
You would expect Stewart to be smart. Like her co-star Robert Pattinson, she used the massive success of Twilight to manoeuvre her way into interesting work by interesting directors. By 2010, she was squaring up to James Gandolfini in Welcome to the Rileys. She and Assayas, one of France’s most fashionable film-makers, seem to have formed a dynamic partnership.
What you might not expect is the amount of energy she spits out. There is no sense of the creative introversion she’s exploited throughout her career. Stewart hits her consonants vigorously while firing through answers as if working to an ever-contracting deadline.
So, does she recognise that she’s made an unlikely shift from teen vampire to art-house vamp?
“When I am asked questions like that I can step outside myself and say, ‘Yes, I can totally see what you guys see’. But I have brought the same energy to everything I’ve done from the get. I have thoughtlessly traversed my creative desires.
“That’s just how I fell off the truck. As I have got older I have realised how working with good directors provides good experiences and good films. But I feel like something psychic happens between people who are drawn together to make something. I have so much faith in that.”
Actually, “vamp” is neither fair nor accurate. Raised in California to parents who were both in the business, Stewart slipped into juvenile roles largely by accident. You can spot her in a number of TV projects and as Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room. Still, she was unknown to most viewers when she emerged as the sullen millennial forced to wait for vampiric consummation in Twilight.
Woody Allen recently compared her to the young Elizabeth Taylor, but, in truth, no other female star has had quite the same oblique, reticent appeal. “Did he say that? I think that’s what his reference points are,” she says laughing. “Those are the people he really admires. That’s nice of him. It’s insane. It’s very cool. I know he admired all the great old Hollywood actresses. We talked about that a lot and you can see it in his movies.”
Dressed today in a great deal of white, Stewart manages an unlikely combination of post-beatnik cool and gleaming Californian good health. You can see why so many idealise K-Stew.
Her career appears to demonstrate that a young actor can triumph without indulging in triumphalism.
She has also proved that it is possible to live a life in the glare without seeming hounded or constrained. She recently confirmed that, following several relationships with men, she was dating visual-effects producer Alicia Cargile. Few got in a tizzy. No cars were overturned.
“Yeah I don’t want to be too guarded,” she says brightly. “Look I got really, exceedingly famous at 17. At that age you don’t know how to react with more than a couple of people. You are already trying to figure out what people’s perceptions of you are without all that.
“Can I affect all that? Should I think about all that? When it is thrust at you and that consideration is owned by the masses – not just by you and the people close to you – it starts this weird unnatural thought process. So, I really shut down and that doesn’t provide a fully lived life.”
In Café Society, Stewart plays a young woman, assistant to a movie mogul, who romances a young arrival (her frequent collaborator Jesse Eisenberg) in an idealised version of 1930s Hollywood.
Actors bring contrasting reports from Allen sets. Some say he gives barely any direction. Others say he gives no direction at all.
“The script was so perfect that the most direction we got from him was: ‘This is pretty self-explanatory. Go on.’ And it was self-explanatory,” she says.
“It is all explained quite well. Olivier doesn’t talk to me a whole lot either. There are directors who are themselves the spark and they then like to see the fire burn. They are both like that. They don’t like to affect your thought process that much. What they’ve done is kick-start that process and they just want to capture it. That is awesome. You do feel that it’s a true collaboration. That was shocking to me.”
Stewart is currently playing the game very adeptly. Café Society has been reasonably well received. The forthcoming Personal Shopper, a class of meta-ghost story set in suave Paris, had, from an actor’s perspective, the best possible response at Cannes: bovine boos followed by egg-head raves. Later this year, she appears in Ang Lee’s much-anticipated Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
So, she is sticking with this notion of forging a “psychic connection” with directors? “I have so much faith in that. I will always follow that. I will definitely make a few missteps and maybe make a few bad movies. I will make things that aren’t so sure. That’s why I like making films with people who have reckless intentions.”
Is it too much to argue that Stewart is a new sort of movie star? Charlotte Rampling meandered off to Europe when still young, but she never had the following that Stewart has maintained.
This relaxed engagement with the media also seems new. “There are ways to interact with media. And there are ways to interact with the public,” she says. “Beyond that, there are ways to interact with human beings. These are different things. I have found balance of ignoring the things I find worthless and letting in the stuff that feels human. It’s to do with being honest and acknowledging why someone might ask that question.”
Lindsey Byrnes When Kristen Stewart asked if I wanted to come visit her in Japan, where she was working on a film, I didn’t hesitate; I grabbed my camera and went. Well, there was a little coordinating but that part is really boring.
Never did I think I’d be on the set of an actual feature film, let alone be in Japan and with one of my closest friends. But in the end of 2014, that’s exactly where I was. Specifically, I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Awaji Island, three of the locations where Equals, a science fiction-romantic-drama hybrid was shot.
Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart play two people living in a world where emotions are not allowed to exist. When they both become infected with a disease that gives them back their ability to feel compassion and love, the film turns into a sort of futuristic Romeo and Juliet.
Hanging out behind the scenes, I got a glimpse into a whole other side of the filmmaking process: the quiet moments, the in-between thoughtfulness.
The New York Film Festival’s Special Events section always lives up to its name, and this year is no different. The lineup for the 54th edition of the festival is anchored by conversations with Kristen Stewart and Adam Driver as part of our “An Evening With…” benefit series.
The annual “An Evening With…” events recognize the work of individuals who have made significant artistic contributions to film culture, and this year’s honorees are Kristen Stewart and Adam Driver, two of the brightest young actors working today. Driver gives a remarkable performance in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, and Stewart shines in three New York Film Festival titles: Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, and Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, previously announced as a special World Premiere presentation in the Special Events section. Each of the evenings will include dinner and an intimate conversation between the award-winning actors and NYFF Director Kent Jones, and will serve as a benefit for the Film Society.
“An Evening with . . .” Benefits:
The New York Film Festival tradition known as “An Evening with” is a limited-seating event that includes an intimate dinner and conversation between an important star of the film world and NYFF Director Kent Jones. Past honorees include Pedro Almodóvar, Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, and more. We’re pleased to announce that this year we are offering two of these special nights, featuring two of the brightest young actors working today. An Evening with Kristen Stewart
For the past few years, Kristen Stewart has been quietly amassing an impressive body of work, starring in enigmatic roles in complex films, including the NYFF52 selection Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayas, for which she became the first American actor to win the French César award. This year feels like a culmination of this extraordinary phase of her career: she starred in five movies in 2016, the best of which are featured at NYFF: Assayas’s Personal Shopper, in which she appears in nearly every shot; Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women; and Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. All three films speak to an actor constantly willing to challenge herself and her fans.