And how has it been to have the support of an even wider community – all these rave reviews? “It has, at times, been a bit overwhelming,” she admits. And was she ever thrown off track by acting alongside such a constellation of stars? “I was daunted after seeing the cast list and before auditioning. But my mantra for the rancher became: don’t think about it – one of the lines in the story.” And besides, she and Kristen Stewart (with whom she is mainly acting) clicked: “Kristen has an incredibly sharp, artistic mind, catches every micro-expression, understands how to drive a scene, gave me everything I needed. And we bonded over our admiration of Kelly.” When pressed to say what makes Reichardt special, she adds: “She gives her actors freedom and her world space. And she is good to be with – the best thing you can say about a person. She has a wonderful, dry, not overreaching sense of humour.” She volunteers that she also formed a bond with Michelle Williams because they both come from Montana and were even, she reveals with satisfaction, born in the same hospital.
She then tells the story of how Reichardt first went out to Montana and drove around until she saw a ranch she liked and knocked on its door. Lynn, the ranch owner, was resistant to the idea of a film at first. She said she did not want to exploit the beauty of her landscape for Hollywood. “But Kelly spends five minutes with somebody’s dog and…” Gladstone laughs – does not need to finish her sentence. Lynn and Reichardt quickly became friends but Lynn remained “hesitant”, especially about “having some actress she didn’t know working with her horses”. Gladstone had been around horses before but had no rancher experience – everything she learned was from Lynn. She says: “Lynn and I became close. She has no children and was born in 1953 – the same year as my own parents.”
When people praise the film for its “lived-in” quality, Gladstone believes they are reflecting her experience: “I lived on that ranch for two weeks. I got into the lull of daily chores – you have nothing but silence and rhythm. A lot of the character I found there.” To look the part, she even helped herself to Lynn’s boots and overalls with their ripped linings. And Lynn’s doubts were – slowly – put to rest. The horses came first, the film had to fit around them: “Reichardt is such an animal lover and would not let the horses go 15 minutes off their feed schedule.” Gladstone got to know the lead horse, Remington, by riding it every day: “I’m not as assertive as some lifetime cowboys but I figured it out.” It is charming to watch her offering Stewart’s Beth a lift on horseback to the diner and back – especially in a film where so much conversation happens in cars.
But what I kept wondering, as I watched the film, was this: how aware was Gladstone of what her face was expressing at every turn? “When I was little,” she laughs, “my father used to tell me he could see when I was lying because I’d get a twinkle in my eye. But I rarely make a meticulous choice in placing a gesture. I’m more fuelled by what is in the gut. One of the most intriguing things I talked about with Kristen is: how self-aware do you allow your characters to be? Sometimes, your audiences have an insight into the character that the character doesn’t.” The most important decision was about the “level of crush” her character had on Beth. “I told Kristen: ‘I’m not going to let Jamie be all that self-aware’ because, after all, who is?”
Gladstone was herself coming to terms, during filming, with the end of a relationship. How much did the pain of that personal experience feed her performance? “It was a lesson in learning how to let go and walk away – not easy, but important wisdom. My relationship helped – although I’ve also often been in Beth’s position in my life.” And she briefly considers the difficulty of having a person besotted with you: “Beth’s hand is forced when Jamie shows up with that horse, there is nowhere she can go!”
Read Lily's full interview with the Guardian at the source.
The ever versatile Olivier Assayas returns to genre territory with strange and mysterious ghost story Personal Shopper, which centres on a knockout performance from Kristen Stewart. When we meet the French filmmaker, he has nothing but praise for his star.
Ask any director the aspect of filmmaking they enjoy least, and 99 times out of 100 they’ll tell you it’s talking to the press. And who could blame them? Having to hear those same unoriginal questions over and over again. “Where did you get the initial idea?” “Who are your influences?” and then of course the obligatory topical question, which for the next four years will be: “What do you think of Trump?” French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, however, is part of the elusive one percent.
“It’s always interesting to discuss your own films because somehow you are reinventing them by talking about them,” Assayas says when we sit down to chat at a London hotel. He explains that while in director mode, he doesn’t have the opportunity to verbalise to his cast and crew his intentions for the film. “I’m not a very theoretical person when I’m on the set, I’m just all about action; I think that’s how movies get made. There I’m making decision after decision after decision every day, and once the film is finished, it’s then that you can try to understand why you made those decisions and understand, basically, what was the subconscious drive to it all.”
This is music to our ears, as we’re here to discuss Personal Shopper, a beguiling and unclassifiable film full of mysteries and nuances. It centres on a dissatisfied young American woman called Maureen, played by Kristen Stewart – who became the first American actor to win a César Award (basically the French Oscars) for her performance in Assayas’ previous film Clouds of Sils Maria. By day our hero works as personal shopper and general dogsbody for a bitchy supermodel who’s based in Paris. Maureen’s side gig, however, is far more interesting.
She's a medium, and the film opens with her on the job, but it’s one to which she has a personal connection. Maureen’s been commissioned to check out the dark and creaky villa her twin brother Lewis’s girlfriend inherited to see if any unwanted spirits linger there. It turns out, however, that Maureen has her fingers crossed it is haunted, as she’s eager to speak to one spirit in particular: Lewis, who died in the house of a weak heart (a defect his sister shares) a few months back.
Maureen insists she must spend a night alone in the house to check it out, and as expected, things do go bump in the dark: a ghostly apparition appears, but it’s benevolent. Lewis, however, does not make his presence known. “It’s difficult to find a portal into the spirit world,” Maureen shrugs, “That’s just the way it is.”
While this description might be conjuring up ideas in your mind of a hipster Conjuring, Assayas, as he often does, has wrong footed us. The rest of his ghost story won’t take place in the usual spaces of haunted attics, creepy basements or spooky cemeteries, but very much in the modern world of boutique hotels, penthouse apartments and, in one of the film's most thrilling setpieces, the Eurostar. And instead of communicating via ectoplasm stains or creaking door hinges, the ghosts in Personal Shopper use iPhone text messages.
What makes the film so unusual and compelling is this tension between the real and the supernatural. “I really wanted a character who is anchored, who is grounded, and who’s very human,” explains Assayas. “That’s what Kristen brought to me. She has this screen presence, she's this really solid person. It really matters that we relate to that character, because she opens those doors into the unknown.”
Much of the joy of Personal Shopper is the opportunity to observe Stewart at her most stripped back, her most raw. She dominates the film, but in an understated way. It’s a performance that feels very alive, full of subtle gestures and tiny character details. It’s a very quiet performance too, with none of the histrionics that characterised the role that made her famous in the Twilight franchise. Like all great actors, her charisma pulls you closer to the screen, like a magnet.
“When I was writing [Personal Shopper] I didn't know I was actually writing for Kristen,” explains Assayas, “but I think if I had not made Clouds of Sils Maria with Kristen, had not spent time with her, then I would not have created a character similar to Maureen. And when I finished writing and I ended up giving Kristen the screenplay she read it and loved it, and all of a sudden there was an inner logic to it all.”
As is the case with many critics, it took Assayas a while to realise just how talented Stewart is. His first experience of her was in Walter Salles’ On the Road. “I liked what I saw on screen,” he recalls, “but I never saw something that I thought was completely accomplished.” It wasn’t until working with her on Clouds of Sils Maria that he realised how good she really is. “She was something else, she was unique. She really has this extraordinary mix of intuition. She’s completely, incredibly natural. She’ll never do the same thing twice. She needs to feel things and simultaneously she has so much control over what she does.”
Assayas was so impressed, in fact, that he felt his material had let her down. “I was a bit frustrated because the character I wrote for her in Clouds of Sils Maria was one dimensional,” he laments. “She didn’t have a lot of space to create a character. I was extremely happy with what we did together, but it was a bit frustrating because I felt that we could have gone much further. She’s a very smart actress, and I think that she has an unlimited range that needs to be challenged.”
With Personal Shopper, they’ve done exactly that. What so impresses is that most of the film plays out focused on Stewart's character on her own in medium shot, dashing through the Paris streets on errands or simply reacting to the latest – possibly supernatural – text on her phone. So compelling is her performance, however, that you never want to take your eyes off the screen, even when she’s seemingly doing nothing. Assayas thinks, as an actor, she’s innately cinematic: “She moves within the frame like a dancer, you know? She has a way of playing with her body and with the camera, and she has this understanding of the space. For a filmmaker that’s pretty unique.”
Perhaps what’s so exciting for film fans is that Assayas reckons Stewart has only just scratched the surface of her talents. “After two movies, I feel that I don’t know her yet,” he says. “I get the sense there’s more space there. I think it’s the first time that it’s happened to me with an actor that I’m not sure where their limit is.”
This sounds like the start of a beautiful director-actor partnership.
2016, 106 min, color, DCP | Written by Olivier Assayas; directed by Olivier Assayas; with Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Nora von Waldstätten
For LACMA Film Club and Film Independent members only
Includes a conversation with actor Kristen Stewart and writer/ director Olivier Assayas
The filmmaker and actress team from 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria—director Olivier Assayas and star Kristen Stewart—reunite for this low-key, thoughtful and gripping ghost story. Stewart plays Maureen, the right hand to a coolly demanding supermodel. Maureen’s days include carrying out the soul-deadening personal and shopping duties for her boss, Kyra. “She’s a monster,” Maureen says, appraisingly, of the Kyra she rarely sees but keeps the world on its toes (a scene in which Kyra’s casual cruelty is limned quickly and boldly involves her browbeating an animal charity while Maureen tries to get her attention). And a less-known activity—Maureen trying to locate the spirit of her late twin brother, with whom she shares the same potentially threatening medical condition. Or is Maureen—a medium (also like her brother)—trying to find herself while roaming Paris? Stewart’s skill in slowly revealing layers of a character dovetail perfectly with Assayas’s interests in providing elements and details a piece at a time; the goosebumps begin to overtake us ever so slowly, and completely.
Star Kristen Stewart and writer/director Assayas will be in attendance for a post screening Q&A.
In conjunction with Film Independent at LACMA.
'Personal Shopper' has a running time of 1 hour and 46 mins. Therefore, expect the Q&A to start at around 9.16pm PT.
Film Independent and LACMA Film Club members can reserve tickets starting at 12 pm on Thursday, February 16. | Free; limit two tickets per membership. | Proof of member status is required to reserve tickets during advance reservation period. Reserve Tickets
PLEASE NOTE: Tickets for the screening can be picked up at LACMA’s Ticket Office, located in the Hammer Building, on the day of the event—as early as 11 am. Tickets are for general, unreserved seating. Ticketed guests must be in their seats 15 minutes prior to the advertised start time or seats may be released. Reservations do not guarantee entry, even with a ticket in hand. Entry is first come, first served, so please arrive early. Program and guest participation subject to change or cancellation without prior notice. Tickets are nontransferable and can only be picked up by the individual who purchased or reserved them.
When Kristen Stewart was looking to move on from the Twilight franchise, she sought out veteran French director Olivier Assayas. The pair made the acclaimed Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014 and their latest collaboration, Personal Shopper, is playing at Glasgow Film Festival this week. It feels like the start of a beautiful friendship, the director tells Alistair Harkness
Blockbuster success can haunt an actor when achieved early in a career. In the wake of Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio had to make three films with Martin Scorsese before people would accept what should have been self-evident: that he’s the best American actor of his generation. For Kristen Stewart, that re-evaluation is happening right now, thanks to her collaborations with veteran French auteur Olivier Assayas. After 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria – for which Stewart became the first American actress to win a Ceasar Award (the French equivalent of the Oscars) – and now his new film Personal Shopper, she’s successfully exorcised the ghost of Twilight.
“I feel extremely lucky to be able to work with her at this point in her career,” confirms Assayas when we meet in London to discuss Personal Shopper, which, like the film industry set Clouds of Sils Maria, offers a sly meditation on the intersection of stardom with reality (albeit this time set against the backdrop of the fashion industry). “The roles have to do with who Kristen is. She’s this big movie star, but she’s also a very open, simple person: it’s a side of her I really wanted to see and help her get across, which I suppose is why I created these two characters for her.”
Though the films tell stand-alone stories, they’re related in the sense that both cast Stewart as assistants to wealthy, bubble-dwelling celebrities. Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria and Maureen in Personal Shopper are extensions of one another, part of an invisible, very real network of put-upon PAs whose ability to micromanage the private and professional lives of the rich and famous help sustain the illusion that those lifestyles are otherworldly and desirable, accessible to the rest of us – if at all – only through these young, hyper-efficient gatekeepers.
In Personal Shopper, though, Assayas has ratcheted up the otherworldy aspect by making the film a horror movie of sorts. In addition to being a personal shopper for a spoiled, absentee fashion model, Stewart’s Maureen is also a medium who is obsessed with making contact with her dead brother and even has a side career as a paranormal investigator. If it sounds a little hokey on paper, the use of genre elements in an otherwise naturalistic film makes it thoroughly unsettling on screen.
“Horror allows me to express things that I could not express if I was not using those elements,” says Assayas, who has flirted with the genre before, most notably in Irma Vep, his 1996 drama about filmmaking. “To me, genre elements create some physical or emotional connection with the audience. When you’re watching Kristen in the first scene of the film walking through that haunted house, you’re with her: you physically feel what she’s feeling. It adds another dimension.”
At the same time, Assayas insists he wasn’t interested in making a “ride”.
“Horror movies are rides, ultimately. I don’t function like that. Genre elements are more like the doors to another world; they don’t have to contaminate the whole film.”
Indeed, the film’s most intense sequence doesn’t feature ghostly apparitions at all but an extended text conversation that’s effective precisely because of how mundane it is. “I think the conversations we have via text messages have a very interesting tension,” nods Assayas. “They have their own kind of suspense. The wording is very precise and often the shorter the better and the more brutal the better. To me the question was how can that be translated to film and used as a dramatic device that will be as powerful as the fascination we have with our phone screens?”
Assayas’s own fascination with the way film intersects with reality is a running theme in his much of his work, whether it’s the meta nature of the aforementioned Irma Vep, the future-tech musings of his cult curio Demonlover, the deconstruction of myth in his epic Carlos, or the autobiographical flourishes included in Something in the Air’s exploration of student radicalism. In many of his films, characters can be found watching, making or talking about movies. In Personal Shopper he brings this up to date by including a movie-within-a-movie in the form of playful YouTube clips of a film about Victor Hugo’s interest in the spirit world. It functions, he says, as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Maureen’s quest, but also represents the way film clips now punctuate our daily lives, augmenting our conversations and even helping us interpretate the world around us. “It’s the new status of images. You make a film and all of a sudden a clip appears on YouTube and will have this weird new status. That’s not why I make movies, but I do make movies that try and represent the modern world and this has become an important means of communication.”
As a former film critic for Cahier du Cinema – the legendary French film magazine that counts Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut as former contributors – Assayas is part of a great tradition of French filmmakers who’ve spent a lot of time writing and thinking and theorising about cinema as a means of advancing their own eventual contributions to the artform. Though he says his previous career feels like lifetime ago, he continues to see the value in film theory, dismissing directors who claim to work on instinct as ignorant of artform. “That’s not a position I want to be in,” he says.
To this end he’s not sure if he’d enjoy working in Hollywood. In fact, he’s pretty sure he’d hate it. Prior to making Personal Shopper he was due shoot Idol’s Eye, a period heist movie starring Robert De Niro. It collapsed 24 hours before cameras were set to roll. “What I learned was how alien the world of Hollywood is to me. Filmmaking should be a joy, but the whole system is created to make your life miserable.”
Would he still like to make the film? “Of course. Any experience that expands my adventures as a filmmaker is beneficial.”
That sounds like a good philosophy: Idol’s Eye has since been resurrected. With Sylvester Stallone in the lead.
*Personal Shopper screens at Glasgow Film Festival on 18 and 19 February and opens nationwide on 17 March.