MORRIS: Huppert is among the last of a dying breed of psychological star. That kind of acting has tended to be closely associated with the Europeans and the Method people, but is it nuts to watch Kristen Stewart work and think: She could be Huppert’s daughter?
SCOTT: No more nuts than my own hunch, which is that Kristen Stewart is the new Robert De Niro. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, De Niro’s reputation as the best actor in American movies rested on his ability to vanish completely into each role, to effect a physical and psychological transformation so total that you could barely recognize him from one movie to the next. Some of what he did was a matter of what you might call technical extremism: learning Sicilian dialect for “The Godfather Part II,” pushing his body from sinewy fighting trim to has-been bloatedness in “Raging Bull.” Stewart hasn’t quite done that yet, but she burrows as deeply as De Niro ever has into the interiors of her characters, arranging her expressions, her carriage, her vocal inflections — even, it can seem, her height and bone structure — accordingly.
You could say that, having been made, perhaps reluctantly, into a movie star by the “Twilight” movies, she has lately reinvented herself as the character actor she might have always preferred to be. Apart from her lead performance in Olivier Assayas’s “Personal Shopper,” she has been an ensemble player in 2016, with roles in Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society,” Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” and Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” But the fact that she’s the most interesting person in all of those movies suggests that her movie-star charisma is still intact. She’s just using it in subtle and occasionally subversive ways.
MORRIS: I think Kristen Stewart is just about the best American movie actress we have. Her bad romance with movie stardom has served her well, because early exposure to its toxins might have fortified her resistance to mere fame. Unlike with, say, Ben Affleck, there’s no tension or ambivalence between her being an actor and her being a star. She appears to have rejected the latter to insist upon the value of the former. Lots of people can have it both ways, but it’s a balance that takes a while to achieve. Look at how long it took for Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio, whose allergy to overnight godliness foreshadowed Stewart’s. In the meantime, it’s fascinating to watch her flirt with stardom in the films she takes and the women she plays.
SCOTT: In “Cafe Society,” the Woody Allen movie, she takes what is, as written, an almost entirely functional character — the dream girl swooned over by both a middle-aged Hollywood mogul and his ambitious nephew; a catalyst of male desire and a mirror of masculine ego — and makes her into the only person in the film whose choices and desires really matter. In “Certain Women,” a much better movie, she slouches onto the screen with self-effacing diffidence. You may wonder if Elizabeth Travis, a young lawyer trying to earn some extra money teaching adult-ed classes to disgruntled teachers in a middle-of-nowhere Western town, is in possession of a backbone. Her posture is terrible. Her fashion sense is worse. She seems entirely capable of standing in front of a room full of people and vanishing from sight.
Except to a young ranch hand (Lily Gladstone), in whose eyes Elizabeth is a dazzling, almost magical creature, the most intoxicating and glamorous person she has ever encountered — a dangerous and alluring Edward Cullen to her own humble Bella Swan. But there is no winking from Stewart herself, and none of the kind of ostentatious deglamorization that stars sometimes traffic in when they are shopping for Academy hardware. If this is realism, it’s the kind that forces you to acknowledge the gaps and blurry spaces in your previous conception of reality.
The hero of Olivier Assayas’ new movie, Personal Shopper, is surely one of the actress the most… How to say it ? Interesting ? Pretty ? Smart ? Honest ? Sincere ? Friendly ? Annoying ? Smiling ? There it is. Mostly. Details following.
Next ! At the Cannes Film Festival, interviews keep on coming and we never in which state will be the day’s victim. Tired, stressed, not caring, pro, wild ? Kristen Stewart, here to present Personal Shopper by Olivier Assayas, has a red carpet long resume [to see at the bottom of the transcript] does entire hours of promotion always with a smile on her face. She is annoying. Available, focused, relevant, friendly. Knowing that, we’d ask her to get a drink. Yes, both of us, why ? But no, once we’re done, she turns the page, does something else, closes the door. Never mind.
Since when are you an actor ?
I started when I was 9, and now I’m 26.
When you look at your already long career, what color is it ?
It’s ongoing. I’m always enthusiastic, ready to move on. I had the chance to find what I wanted to do really young, when at my age people are only starting to think about a job or a career.
You never wanted to do something else ?
I grew up in Los Angeles. My parents are in the industry too, on TV and in movies, and I always wanted to be a part of that. At first it was just being here without doing anything. At 12, I shot Panic Room. I was hooked. Upset even. I didn’t really understand what was going on inside me, but I was sure it was for me. Movies are sometimes works of distraction, but they also can explain the world. Some can push to react instinctively, others make you think. I’m surfing from one to the other.
Is it easy to build a career ? Do you let the events come to you or do you take charge ?
I am someone impulsive. I never think about what it means to “build a career”, nor what might be good for me. Nobody can develop a theory about my choices and above all not me. I have cravings, needs, but I’m never afraid of the future. And I’m really grateful of everything that’s happening. For example, Personal Shopper’s screening can go terribly wrong tonight, there can be whistles, it won’t change what I lived when we made that movie. That’s something that nobody can take away from me. Building a career, it’s at first being understood and recognized for what you’ve done, and then to be seen by others directors that will want to work with you. A movie is a sharing with the public and the industry.
So the experiment of shooting a movie is more important than the movie itself ?
No, not at all. The two are inextricably linked. The movie goes toward the public, but filming, it’s what I live. Then, we have to listen and assume the critics. I have no problem whatsoever with speeches, enthusiastics or negatives about a film. It’s the lack of warmth and indifference that bothers me.
You say that you’re intuitive. Why do you choose a project : for the director, the story or the character ?
A little of everything. If it has at least two out of three, I’m going for it. Sometimes, a script attracts me for no reason, but I know that if I’m doing it, I will understand why. That interests me. Even if it’s a new director, I’m taking the risk. It’s always worth it; when you feel a little tingling, you have to go for it.
Do you put The Twilight Saga, Into the Wild and Personal Shopper on the same level ?
In any case, it’s the same job. What changes in the end, it’s when you talk about it during promotion. Here, you answer question and see how different the reception is.
Being impulsive, does it also integrate the fact that you will choose wrong and act in bad movies ?
Yes and it doesn’t bother me at all.
It doesn’t mean that you make bad choices.
I know. Everything is subjective. The movie that you won’t find good, I’m gonna love it and will be happy about the work I did. It’s the same principle of the art between the actor and receptor of the movie in the large sense. But I won’t quote any titles.
But being wrong is a part of the game. Yours at least.
Errors are enriching experiences. If you work sincerely, you can’t cry wolf and say that a movie is bad just because others are saying so. You have to keep on being proud. Even if the result is far from what I’ve been hoping for, it doesn’t call into question what I felt when I said yes. If you are afraid of reactions, if you wait for the result to express yourself, then you will accomplish nothing. At one point, you have to realize that you’re doing it for yourself. Look at it with your own eyes, not from everyone else, and always think for yourself.
What memories do you have of filming Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper/i> with Olivier Assayas ?
It’s quite simple, we agreed upon Sils Maria that we would work together again. Olivier is a smart man, not at all pretentious and really funny. He’s a geek that loves surprises and so do I. I’m not an actress that prepares intensely for a role. I love flowing into a project, and Olivier lets you do your thing. Then rectifying. I love working like that.
Sils Maria was a movie about Juilette Binoche. Personal Shopper is a movie about Kristen Stewart. Do you agree on this ?
Absolutely. It’s like nothing is preconceived, even if Olivier thought about it, of course. I always felt that he could see something in me that nobody ever did. I feel really well directed, without having “done” my job. I love when I react differently from what I saw or thought. When I watch myself react a surprisingly different way, I have the impression to learn more about myself. And that’s what happen on this movie.
Who is Maureen, the heroine ? Is she close to you ? Is she someone you love or hate ?
I feel for her. I want to protect her. I know what loneliness can be like, the feeling not to be recognized, to be in the shadows, to have to accept everything from people. When you watch the movie, you want to know what will happen to her in two years, hoping that she will be okay. There will come a time when she will have a life that satisfies her. She doesn’t know if the perception she has of things comes from her loneliness, but life resists her. I rarely felt something as just and strong towards a character. Maureen simply asks herself how to live, how she will take her life in her own hands. Big questions everybody asks themselves. Not always, of course, but often. Sometimes, I’d rather think about my friends and go have a drink, but sometimes we have to confronts ourselves to these questions without falling in the abyss of depression. Nothing is ever impossible. I feel for her because Maureen is in the dark. And it’s a little scary.
She’s always moving around to escape reality. Are you like that ?
I’m an active person. Maureen tries to distracts herself from herself, but she can’t do it. She thinks but is sometimes an animal and is paralized by the idea of being a part of humanity.
What spectactor are you ?
I love good movies.
It’s a good answer. But like anyone else, no ?
I’m not very cinephile, not like Olivier who has seen everything. That guy is crazy !
Did he give you movies to watch ?
I’m sorry but I don’t like going there. I haven’t seen a ton of movies; I know that’s bad, I have to get on to it. Still, to answer the question, I really love Jacques Audiard. And it is not necessarily a call for anything.
You’d rather go see expos, listening to music, read ?
I like to read. I also write. I have directed my first short film [Come Swim, the portrait of a man overwhelmed by grief that she finished shooting in August NDRL]. I hope to do a feature film one day. This one is quite experimental. It’s probably not the best way to break through this industry…
With Twilight, you became a blockbuster star, with Sils Maria and Personal Shopper you’re in cinematography. Is it different ?
I have the same approach. There was supposed to be only one Twilight movie, and it wasn’t a blockbuster. But frankly, I went all in. As for Olivier’s movies, I was surprised to received a Cesar [actress in a supporting role NDRL] for Sils Maria, because it’s not a prize-movie. In the States you only win when you shave your head and look extremely sick. But I am proud to be on that list. This prize doesn’t really mean anything to the american public, but I know what it means ro people I really respect like Sean Penn. I am recognized in that family and I am happy about it.
Do you feel that you are becoming a better actress with time ?
I am not necessarily a better actress, but I am more relaxed. I know more what I want, understand better how I work, I am capable to get the best of each experience without being selfish. Maybe it’s being better. I don’t know. I never regret anything and I am more self-confident. I am proud to be a part of movies, but I am not sure to have created something. It’s not necessarily an actress’ role either.
Come Swim / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kristen Stewart) — This is a diptych of one man’s day, half impressionist and half realist portraits.This short presents two perspectives of one man’s saturated day — an impressionistic portrait of sourcing one’s need and the inability to absorb it. “We are the same. We are plain. Plain as day. Plain as a glorious new day.”
The Sundance Film Festival runs from 19 - 29 January in 2017.
For more details on the festival check out their site.
"Come Swim" will premiere at Sundance on 19 January and runs for 17 1/2 mins.