Words by Karley Sciortino / photos by Hedi Slimane /
I hung out with andro icon and my celeb crush Kristen Stewart in LA for the cover of the UK mag, Wonderland, which came out last month. You can now read the article in full below :)
Of all the actresses in Hollywood, Kristen Stewart is the most effortlessly cool. With her cropped hair and laid back, tomboy style, she’s a striking androgynous beauty. She’s like that girl from school who you admired for her mystery and quiet confidence, but who you also kind of hated for her ability to somehow make even sweatpants look stylish. Stewart is distinctly different than a lot of actresses her age–there’s no pomp and circumstance. No presence on social media, no selfies, no paparazzi accidentally-on-purpose catching her in a skimpy bikini on Malibu beach. She’s more understated than that, a quality that comes across not only in her personality, but also in her acting. She’s subtle. She doesn’t overplay it. With Stewart, it’s often more about the internal monologue. It’s all in the eyes, those piercing green eyes that are equally parts gentle, wild and menacing.
Stewart was just 17 when she was cast as Bella Swan in Twilight, the vampire-romance saga that made her an international superstar, and proved she could anchor a multibillion-dollar movie franchise. But Stewart is not one for the beaten path. In the two years post-Twilight, she’s strayed from Hollywood blockbusters, instead reinventing herself as a queen of indie film, with roles in the critically acclaimed Camp X Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria and Oscar winner, Still Alice. With an eclectic trio of new films to be released in 2015, there will be no stopping Stewart. She’s restless and unpredictable, like a good rebel should be.
We meet on a Monday afternoon at Cafe Figaro, a lunch spot in LA’s Los Feliz neighborhood. She was casual in a cut off T-shirt, loose fitting slacks and yesterday’s makeup. She has a firm handshake. Stewart grew up in LA, the daughter of parents in the film industry. But it wasn’t the glamorous Hollywood childhood you might be imagining. Home was in the San Fernando Valley–known for its heat, porn studios, and a certain type of young girl who spends a lot of time at the mall and speaks with vocal fry. Her mother is a script supervisor and her father a stage manager, but Stewart is adamant they were never ‘stage parents.’ “My parents were both fairly shocked at my interest in acting, because I wasn’t an actor-ey type of kid,” Stewart says. “They quickly made very aware of the unlikelihood of becoming a successful actress.” She remembers her first year of auditions as being fruitless. “Everyone thought I looked like a boy,” she laughs. But her parents agreed to continue carting her around to auditions, primary because of their daughter’s growing interest in the process of filmmaking. “I basically grew up on a movie set,” she says, “and I loved being in that environment.”
Stewart landed her first film role at age 9, playing a tomboy type in Rose Troche’s The Safety of Objects. Her break came a couple years later when, at 11, she was cast to star alongside Jodie Foster’ in David Fincher’s 2002 thriller, Panic Room–again, playing the role of the tomboy. It was a role true to her own life. As a young teen she was made fun of at school for wearing her brother’s clothes, not shaving her legs, and basically just refusing to be a typical “Valley girl.” At 14 she quit and opted for home schooling. “My childhood was very free form,” she recalled. “I did well in school, but I never felt a specific pressure. I was always very much allowed to find my own interests and pursue them.”
That free form nature has seemingly informed the way she chooses film projects. She has said many times that her approach to choosing roles is intuitive, not pragmatic–that she “just needs to feel it, let the script strike me and destroy me.” Still just 24, her work is all over the map, proving both her range as an actress and her willingness to take risks. To name a few: there was the Sean Penn directed Into The Wild; the film adaptation of the Jack Kerouac’s hipster bible, On the Road; she portrayed Joan Jett in The Runaways; played Snow White in the Hollywood blockbuster Snow White and the Huntsman; and, last year, she played a soldier at Guantanamo Bay in Peter Sattler’s Camp X Ray. And Stewart will be the first to tell you how “totally fucking lucky” she feels for the opportunity to have played such a wide variety of interesting and complex roles, because she knows such roles are limited in the industry.
In recent years, the rolls for women in Hollywood—more specifically, the lack thereof—have become an increasing part of the cultural conversation. It’s no secret that women are vastly underrepresented in film and TV, both on screen and behind the scenes. At the 2014 Academy Awards, Cate Blanchett used her Best Actress acceptance speech to call for more leading roles for women, criticizing those within the business “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films, with women at the center, are niche experiences.” On a more optimistic note, Maggie Gyllenhaal, while accepting her award at the Golden Globes last month, noted what she felt was an increasing wealth of interesting roles for female actors, which she deemed “revolutionary and evolutionary.” Having been in the business for 15 years, I wondered whether Stewart felt Hollywood was beginning to atone for its historic dearth of complex female roles.
“It’s impossible to deny that the good projects for women stand out like flint rocks on a dry, crusted earth,” says Stewart. “That’s true for women in age group, which is why we’re all jumping so ravenously on those projects. I think women have always had to fight a little bit harder, and I don’t think thats going to change instantly. But I think Maggie’s right, and that things are moving forward.” She noted that, despite the fact that more moviegoers are women, male leads dominate the screen, because that’s what studios and producers think is “safe”–an essentially archaic idea. “We sell our audiences short,” she says. “Nowadays, movies are financed almost purely out of systematic fear. Like, ‘OK, this project is going to assure me a paycheck,’ or ‘This movie is sure to get me my money back, based on a equation created by a research scientist.’ There’s no risk anymore. And it’s so cliche to say, but in order to do really great things, we need to take risks.”
Stewart pauses, her face tensing up a bit, organizing her thoughts carefully, no doubt aware of how easily her words can be taken out of context, and be made to sound ungrateful. “It’s silly to play the devil’s advocate when having a conversation about female roles in Hollywood, because then you’re doing this ‘reverse feminism’ thing that has become weirdly trendy recently. I feel like some girls around my age are less inclined to say, ‘Of course I’m a feminist, and of course I believe in equal rights for men and women,” because there are implications that go along with the word feminist that they feel are too in-your-face or aggressive. A lot of girls nowadays are like, ‘Eww, I’m not like that.’ They don’t get that there’s no one particular way you have to be in order to stand for all of the things feminism stands for.” She credits the feminist kickback to what is ultimately a lack of knowledge about the subject—an issue that was also addressed by Emma Watson in her recent UN speech about gender equality and feminism. “It was really cool that she did that,” Stewart says of Watson enthusiastically. “That was badass.”
Stewart lives her life under a microscope. While that’s true for many famous people, it’s intensified when you’re the lead in a major franchise, and one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. The scrutiny began early with years of speculation that she was dating her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, and came to an angry head when she was caught by the paparazzi cheating on Pattinson with her Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders. Lately, she’s been the subject of lesbian and bi rumors, which are seemingly based solely on Stewart’s preference for sneakers and jeans over skin-tight micro-dresses, and because she can occasionally be seen standing next to her female friends—how very scandalous. Also, it’s 2015: as if “gay” and “straight” are even relevant terms anymore. Sexuality is fluid, duh.
“Your life becomes this stage show broadcast for public consumption,” she says. “Like, I was probably followed here, and they’re going to photograph every expression I make, and wonder what it means, and then that’s the show that’s going to be running tonight. And sometimes they catch something true, but often it’s rooted in pure falseness.” Her rebellious attitude, and diversion from the Hollywood norm has seemingly only fueled media intrigue into her private life, which has continually been probed and dissected since she was 17. Yes, the microscope of fame leaves little room for the normal trials and tribulations of self-discovery free of scrutiny—be it professionally, personally, sexually or aesthetically. And those who became famous during adolescence know that better than anyone.
It’s been said many times over that Stewart feels uncomfortable in the spotlight–that she’s awkward or visibly shaky during interviews, that she scowls down the red carpet. But when making that observation, one has to consider that, today, the world’s standard for being “comfortable in the spotlight” is Kim Kardashian. Surely most performers would seem a little shaky in comparison. To me, Stewart seems perfectly happy and capable in her role as an actress and Hollywood star. But there’s a world of difference between being happy and capable, and being a fame whore, and today we’re less perplexed by the latter. “People have a hard time accepting when someone displays even the slightest amount of uncomfortability in a spotlight,” she says. “You’re supposed to soak up every bit of fame like it’s sunshine. But I think it’s genuinely scary that fame is valued so highly, even above happiness. I love making movies, but I don’t do my job to be a famous person.”
Despite the falseness of the rumormill, Stewart has continued to be aggressively and unapologetically herself—something her fans and colleagues consistently praise her for. This has been particularly demonstrated with her nonchalant style and sex appeal, which has led her to be the face of both a Balenciaga fragrance and Chanel’s 2014 ad campaign. “Through my by default association with fashion, I’ve spent time with some of the worst people I’ve ever met in that world, as well as some of the most interesting and kind,” she laughed. “In fashion, the good ones stick out. Chanel have been very conscious of working with people who interest them; they’re very family oriented. When I was younger, that made me feel comfortable in a world that was otherwise so uncomfortable for me.”
This year will see Stewart in three new films, including Equals, a futuristic love story opposite Nicholas Hoult, and the comedy American Ultra, a sleeper-cell stoner movie in which she stars alongside Jesse Eisenberg (who was also her costar in 2009’s Adventureland.) “It’s like the Bourne Identity for anyone who liked Adventureland,” she says of American Ultra. For the diverse roster of characters she’s played, this is her first true comedic role, and you can tell she’s got some nerves about it. “I hope that I’m funny in it,” she says with an incredibly endearing candidness. “I hope I compliment Jesse, because he’s hysterical. But I take everything so seriously!” she laughed. “I don’t know… my friends think im funny… but like, if Emma Stone had played the part, she’d be fucking hilarious.” It’s not often that you encounter a Hollywood actress to be so humble as to compliment a peer’s talents above her own. But this is common of Stewart. She’s openly talks about her flaws, and her fears, specifically when it comes to the butterflies she’s feeling about her next pursuit: directing.
Steward knows that her fame as an actress will be both a blessing and a curse when she steps behind the camera–with an audience comes expectation. But for now, she’s writing a lot, and planning. “I wrote a sick short film that I’m really proud of. It’s more abstract rather than super narrative. It’s like a poem; it’s about water. People ask, ‘Why not just direct a feature?’ But I want to play around first–I want to have experience.” She’s a big John Cassavetes fan, and talks about his filmmaking style as an influence. Cassavetes was a pioneer of improvisational filmmaking, and the cinéma vérité style that stresses realism and truth. “I think the first thing I’m going to make will live in the in between moments.”
When asked about actors she looks up to, she immediately sites Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes’ wife and long time collaborator. “Gena Rowlands is the shit,” she says, “but, ya know, that’s the obvious answer.” Other influences include Catherine Keener, as well as Julianne Moore, who Stewart stars opposite in the new indie Still Alice, about a doctor and mother (Moore) suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“She’s so cool… she just floats,” Stewart says of Moore. “Working with Julianne made me feel better about the way I approach acting, which can be quite technical. I’m just so interested in the process of making movies that I can’t be one of those method actors who totally ‘loses it’ and doesn’t know where the camera is–I always know where that fucking thing is. I’m the most annoying actor, always going like, ‘Ya know, you really should pull back for a two-shot.’ Julianne is undeniably talented, but she’s still is a bit of a surgeon. So she made me feel like, yeah, maybe I don’t ‘lose it’ as much as other actors do, but maybe that’s OK.”
That technical and visual mind will no doubt help her when she steps behind the camera. But despite being controlled—the classic cool customer—Stewart refuses to be tied down. “The best film experiences I’ve had have been the ones where we’re all try to figure something out, but we’re not quite sure what is. You give yourself time to meditate, and by the end you realize why everyone came together. I don’t want to know exactly where I’m going, I want to find it.”