Lionsgate has announced a slew of new release dates and release changes this afternoon. Perhaps the most surprising, coming out of nowhere is the anticipated indie “American Ultra” starring Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Walton Goggins, Connie Britton, Bill Pullman, Topher Grace, and Tony Hale. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis the movie was thought maybe to debut at a film festival sometime this or next year, but Lionsgate has decided to release the film later this summer on August 21st.
Here’s the official synopsis and note, it’s being described as an action comedy: A stoner and his girlfriend's sleepy, small-town existence is disrupted when his past comes back to haunt him in the form of a government operation set to wipe him out.
Richard Mowe: Can you elaborate on the different acting styles of Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche?
Olivier Assayas That is very much what the film is about. They are actresses coming from completely different cultures. They have a completely different background and I have a completely different relationship with both of them. Acting is also part of what goes on between an actor and a director. It is just not out there on its own. Juliette is a very experienced actress who went through many phases. She is an actress who has had periods like a painter would have periods. In the early stages of her career she was heading in to a direction of controlling what she was doing and maybe intellectualising what she was doing and now she has gradually loosened up. She understood that she could be confident enough to improvise and to reinvent the scenes and to try things. Basically it is the process all actors go through because it is the only way they can have fun doing what they are doing. Someone like Kristen was doing the film because she felt she had something to learn from Juliette. She thought she had been limited in what she has been able to do in terms of her acting by the rules and stiffness of what is expected of a young American actress in an American film. She had a sense of that there was more to acting, there was more space and that she could try things the same way Juliette tries things. What made the chemistry between them in this film was the fact that Juliette understood that and understood that she could give her something and they started very far apart and gradually got closer and closer. They learned to function as a couple – and even at times seemed to become one person. I saw Kristen trying things she obviously got from Juliette and that she wouldn’t have touched during the early days of our shoot.
RM You seem to be attracted to strong women in your films. Why?
OA Not just in my films – in my life too! I have been lucky to have made movies with great actresses. I have been privileged – I have worked with Juliette and Kristen and Maggie Cheung, Asia Argento, Jeanne Balibar and so on. It is difficult to explain what inspires you but I think that portraying women in modern society is exciting and interesting. There is a sense that what defines the contemporary world is the way women have been empowered and how they have learned to use that power and that has been a subject that has fascinated me not only in films but in real life and in art and how society is changing.
RM: What did Kristen Stewart bring to the table?
OA: I suppose she was able to play around a bit with fame and Hollywood and her Twilight persona. She brought a new dimension. Juliette was part real and part fiction and suddenly Kristen also was part real and part fiction. It became a very different kind of film – in my other movies I try to erase the actors and have them blend in to the characters whereas here I realised that it was important that you were in and out of their personas. The film hovered between their characters and themselves as individuals.
A meeting with a Hollywood star usually involves a large suite in a five-star hotel, and levels of ceremony the Sun King would recognise. So what to make of Kristen Stewart who appears in a cosy little café in Los Feliz, a quiet district of Los Angeles, entirely alone; who stays talking to me for three hours; and, when we leave, tries to pick up the bill for my decaf and her almond-milk latte? And this from an actor with a reputation for being difficult and hostile in interviews.
Stewart earned that reputation when Twilight fever was at its height. She had been acting since she was nine, but nothing prepared her for the global hysteria that accompanied Bella Swan’s tortured relationship with an impossibly handsome vampire, Edward Cullen, played by her real-life boyfriend Robert Pattinson. Aged 18, Stewart was jostled and pursued, mobbed, stalked, her every comment and outfit subjected to harsh scrutiny on a whole internet’s-worth of websites. No wonder she seemed guarded during red-carpet appearances and at press conferences.
‘Having that much human energy thrust at you and then being critically analysed is obviously disarming,’ she says now, hunched over her coffee. ‘Control issues make me so nervous. It’s not knowing what’s going to happen. So what people were seeing was what happens when you are terrified. My palms sweat, my knees shake, I don’t think I can stand in my heels, I’m breathing heavily, I feel nauseous. I’ll be so nervous and then my body creates something to calm me down and I get so tired I’ll just...’ and she slumps over the table.
Stewart clearly needed strength. Some of this came from within: ‘I’ve taken a step back and relinquished a bit of control. Now, I just breeze through, though there are some things I still get very nervous about. I’m still really personally invested. You could sit down with me in a five-minute interview on camera and really rough me up. It’s not hard to get me upset.’ But she also learned to use fashion to her advantage. ‘I started out in situations that were quite foreign to me, photo shoots, famous photographers, having to deal with designers. I felt quite out of place and young. And I remember meeting some of the worst people you could possibly imagine. Just soul-sucking, cut-throat fashion people, the full-on Devil Wears Prada.
And then I also met some others who were so respectful and natural and creative and involving. Everyone I ever met from Chanel was wonderful, and working with them has been amazing.’ So Chanel couture is her armour? ‘Definitely.’ Karl Lagerfeld is, for her, ‘a well’ of knowledge about everything. ‘As an outsider, I thought, “He’s probably insanely pretentious”; but he’s the opposite of what you’d assume. He’s funny and quick and can talk to you about anything, from film stock to Roman fountains, or completely nail a photographer or break down a situation quite candidly.’
Her relationship with the fashion house was deepened during the filming of Clouds of Sils Maria, a little gem of a movie, which was supported by Chanel and in which Stewart is Valentine, the enigmatic assistant to a famed European actress played by Juliette Binoche. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, and shot mostly in Switzerland, it looks at fame, isolation, ageing and the complex flow of love between the women. ‘I was intimidated, in all honesty,’ says Stewart of the experience. ‘I was not only out of my element culturally but working with one of the most renowned French actresses of all time. So it was a quick process of proving myself to her and to myself, too, I guess. Within the first meeting, you either share that spark or you don’t. And we loved each other.’
Valentine has to protect her boss, Maria Enders, from the paparazzi (Valentine refers to them as ‘cockroaches’, which is also Stewart’s own term for the gutter press), arrange the removal of the cellophane-wrapped baskets of flowers from Maria’s hotel room, read her lines with her, drive her drunk from casinos, and juggle phone calls from her ex-husband and his lawyer. The third character in the film is a rackety starlet, Jo-Ann Ellis, pursued by fans and photographers, whose life, in terms of scandal and press attention, mirrors that of Stewart herself. ‘I find it so funny that, purely by coincidence, I happen to add an irony to some of those lines,’ says Stewart. She was originally supposed to play the role of Jo-Ann, taken by Chloë Grace Moretz, ‘but that was not for a second acceptable to me’, she says. ‘It’s a great part, but you would take the irony out of it. I’d be a playing a sensationalised version of myself to make a comment on how ridiculous it all is. But to play the more subdued, peripheral, observant role was very satisfying, obviously. I was loving the words so much that I was grinning inside.’ The experience of being a celebrity – rootless and alienated, spoilt, spotlit and alone – is, she says ‘very accurate. Obviously I know that very well’.
"Women inevitably have to work a little bit harder to be heard. Hollywood is disgustingly sexist. It's crazy. It's so offensive it's crazy,"
"Fame is the worst thing in the world. Especially if it's pointless. When people say, 'I want to be famous' Why? You don't do anything."
"I'm a little bigger than sample size when I'm eating cheeseburgers and am happy and comfortable,"
"If I'm stressed or working, the weight falls off. My weight and my sleep are tied to my nervous system. Sometimes I'll sleep for 12 hours a night and sometimes sleep just doesn't exist for me for a couple of months."
"I only hate them when they're contrived. That's when it's grotesquely uncomfortable. On Twilight we had to do the most epic sex scene of all time. It had to be transcendent and otherworldly, inhuman, better sex than you can possibly ever imagine, and we were like, 'How do we live up to that?' It was agony. Which sucks, because I wanted it to be so good."
Kristen Stewart wears Chanel on the subscriber edition cover, photographed by Alexi Lubormirski and styled by Miranda Almond.
Kristen Stewart has made the transition from teenage Twilight star to a sophisticated award-winning actress, while negotiating the sexism and savagery of Hollywood. But she's also learning to enjoy being herself at last, well away from the cameras and the red carpet.
Sasha Slater meets the actress for the June issue of Harper's Bazaar - out on Thursday 30 June. Check back later this week for an exclusive preview of the cover shoot and interview, plus exclusive extra content not featured in the print edition.
You can order the issue here (UK site) and here (US site).
All retailers deliver worldwide.
While studio executives often gripe about the gamble in mounting dramas, Nelson has a knack for getting his feature ambitions off the ground, topped off with a number of notable prestigious actors. Some indie filmmakers have to wait years to get their films funded, or have to grin and bear an actor’s unavailability before rolling, however, Nelson admits, “I have not found it incredibly difficult to get my movies financed with one exception, my project Seasons of Dust. At a certain point it seemed to be financed, but then fell apart, but I intend to make it. I have a sense of how to get my indie projects off the ground.”
Nelson doesn’t wince at the industry’s whining about dramas. For Nelson, no indie drama is stigmatized when it come to financing. “I think at the right budget with the right cast, and the right vision you can make a movie. It’s not necessarily going to make a lot of money, but none of us are making money as we work for scale. But when we get our movies made, we all end up subsidizing because the market is so squeezed.”
His latest film Anesthesia was funded from all private equity, “a combination of somewhat sophisticated movie financing and first-time investors” says Nelson giving a shout out to his producers Julie Buck and Josh Hetzler who handled the money-end. Anesthesia was funded before Nelson secured his cast which doesn’t happen that often in the indie finance world . “My financiers knew because of my track record that I would deliver a good ensemble, and that made them feel safe about their investment,” says the director/actor.
In general, Nelson makes his films for seven figures. His first film Eye of God was made below seven. “My attitude is you have to make the movie for a price where investors have a good shot at making a little bit of money. All of us working on the film are subsidizing it. I’m not asking investors to do that. I feel very responsible, grateful and beholden to the people who invest in my movies.”
Anesthesia takes place over a 24-hour period and follows a Columbia University professor, Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterson) who is mugged on his apartment doorsteps. The film follows the chain of events that triggered the attack, while bringing together a number of people in Walter’s life including his son (played by Nelson), his daughter-in-law (Jessica Hect), a troubled student (Kristen Stewart), a cheating spouse (Corey Stoll) and a drug addict (K. Todd Freeman). Glenn Close, Michael Kenneth Williams and Gretchen Mol round out the cast. Even though Manhattan has been a safer place since the Mayor Rudy Giuliani era, Nelson says that muggings “happen near the Columbia University area. I live on 104th Street and this film is about my neighborhood. While you can walk around New York and feel safer than than you did during the ’70s and ’80s there are still areas where you can get mugged in the city, like any city in the world.”
Casting is also a painless process for Nelson, thanks to the actors, as well as their reps, that he has gotten to know over the years. Not to mention, Nelson isn’t above cold-calling a manager or two to get who he wants. His golden rule is “I don’t go out with a script unless I know the roles are going to appeal to the sorts of actors that will attract financing.” When it came to landing Twilight actress Stewart in his film, “it wasn’t challenging at all. I just texted her and sent her the script. She read it and texted me back ‘Yes'”, says Nelson who is an acquaintance of Stewart’s. The cast for Anesthesia was assembled in two and half months, with casting director Avy Kaufman leading the charge, particularly with the younger actors. Nelson didn’t know Waterson, rather met him over lunch after being pursued by the actor’s manager Keith Addis.
In the past, Nelson has landed such top-shelf talent as Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon, Kerri Russell and Richard Dreyfus for his 2009 directorial Leaves of Grass about an Ivy League professor who returns to his Oklahoma hometown, only to contend with his pot-growing twin brother. For his 2001 Holocaust film Grey Zone, Nelson landed Harvey Keital, Steve Buscemi, Natasha Lyonne and Mira Sorvino. It grossed $518K at domestic B.O. for Lionsgate. Nelson’s highest grossing directorial is his millennial version of William Shakespeare’s Othello, entitled O which made $16M stateside for Lionsgate in 2001 and starred Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer and Julia Stiles.
However, Nelson emphasizes again, “I will not send out a script that is going to get passed on. I’ll sit on it and write for months and months. I know when it’s not ready. I know when a script is not working. I’m very patient. You only have one chance for actors and their reps to read your material, and I let folks know that if I’m sending out a script, it’s well worth reading. Even lesser known actors can be quite choosy.”
As a filmmaker though, one thing Nelson is picky about is that “I still want my movies to be seen in movie theaters”. While Nelson understands indie distributors’ needs to make their release models work with theatrical-VOD day and date; it’s not an auteur’s ideal deal.
Says Nelson, “When we are all making the movie, the production designer, the DP — we’re all thinking of our film for the big screen where a lot of strangers have gathered for a collective experience with great sound and beautiful, immersive colors. That’s what I’m still after. I’m less interested in home viewing experience when it comes to film.”
In addition to its premiere, Anesthesia is also showing at the Regal Battery Park Stadium on Thursday, April 23; Friday, April 24; and Saturday, April 25. UTA and Gray, Krauss, Stratford, Sandler Des Rochers are handling sales.