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Interviews with director Olivier Assayas and producer Charles Gillbert.
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In Cannes, the actress wil appear in "Café Society" by Woody Allen and in "Personal Shopper", written for her by Olivier Assayas. Two roles extremely different, one light, the other tortured, where she gets to develop her whole acting range.
If you need an adjective to describe Kristen Stewart, it will be this one: eloquent. Among actors, a neat majority likes to hide behind ready-made formulas. ("It was a nice encounter", "a real challenge") instead of being adventurous in an analysis or an exact description of their livelihood.
Kristen Stewart has been acting for ten years (she's 25), we count forty full-length feature films in her filmography and she still talks about her job with stars in her eyes - sometimes terror - and talks about it as an explorator would when they come back from an unknown country. Woody Allen for example. Most actors who work with the octogenarian New Yorker talk about him with extreme respect. Not Kristen Stewart, lead feminine role in Café Society, which will be shown on the opening day of the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
She remembers asking to read the screenplay beforehand, "which was quite a situation", before acceptin to play Vonnie, a woman who makes Steve Carell and Jesse Eisenberg's heads spin. Ahead of filming, she asked herself if she could play a character she judged a bit old-fashioned. She decided to play with this lightness "ever if her natural energy is heavy", and decided to trust the director, against all odds. "He's a safe bet, she says, even if he is deadly honest."
Kristen Stewart makes a pretty impressive imitation of Woody, saying at the end of a tale: "We are going to do it again. Next time, would it be possible for you to not walk into the room like you walk into a saloon?" or "It was okay, I fell asleep for a moment but it was okay." She concludes by laughing: "In that last one we decided to go faster."
About the director of "Manhattan", she observes: "At times, he lets a striking emotion slip through, which is amazing because he's usually sardonic and not very delicate. When you watch his films, you feel like you're watching simple entertainment, and then everything slows down and you're deeply touches. Woody is like his films: a joker, who is very funny on set, who doesn't give many indications, and suddenly, something inside of him sweeps everything in his path. We look at one another and realize we just shared a strong moment with him. It's really nice, very important and it's considerably enough."
JESSE EISENBERG, AN OLD ACCOMPLICE.
The pronoun "we" includes an old accomplice of Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, with whom she's worked with three times in the past, in "Adventureland" (2009), "American Ultra" (2015) and "Café Society". With the young New Yorker actor, that she describes as "Crazy intelligent", she spends her days on set talking to him "our conversations are idle and hilarious, we analyze every detail of the behaviour of people around us." Which might not be the best way to end up popular with the crew, but it keeps boredom and loneliness away.
A loneliness that Kristen Stewart felt a lot when she went from Café Society to Personal Shopper. For Olivier Assayas' film, shown in competition, she will be present at Cannes again, a few days after the opening. She will walk the steps to celebrate a film, for which the shoot was a real ordeal - not only allowed, but also conceived by working in tandem with the director. She plays Maureen, a young American exiled in Paris, where her twin brother just passed away. To earn a living, she becomes the fashion buyer of a celebrity, while she's trying desperately to get in contact with the spectre of the diseased brother.
FIlmed in France, as well as in studios and surroundings in Prague, "Personal Shopper" is a winter film that offers its interpret a rare opportunity in the world of cinema: Act alone in almost every scene. The actress grasped that immediately, after reading the screeplay only once. But she asked Olivier Assayas to push back filming a bit so she could play Vonnie in "Café Society": "For Woody's film, I had to be bubbly and full of joy, to be very healthy and I knew that if I shot 'Personal Shopper' first, I'd have been drained."
For the director, who wrote the film with Kristen in mind, Stewart used techniques she learned on their precedent collaboration, "Sils Maria" who had the young American actress play the assistant of a star - Julliette Binoche. The director and the actress met one another through Charles Gillibert, who produced 'On The Road' for MK2, the adaptation of Jack Kerouac's book by Walter Saller. Kristen Stewart was Marylou, with a zest for life, a sensual simplicity that the Twilight films - at their peak - never showcased.
Following a series of mishaps, she almost saw the role of Val slip through her fingers, the intellectual who tries to maintain a link between the star played by Juliette Binoche and reality. But when Olivier Assayas asked her to play the character of Jo-Ann, the star who has the same amount of scandals in her real life than in her line of work, Kristen Stewart chose to play Val instead: "She told me that the character of the actress was too obvious, that the character of Val, with her distance and her skepticism, was more suited for her", the director remembers. The accuracy of the analysis was confirmed by a César, a trophy that the members of the academy usually do not give to non-French actors.
A GRUELLING SHOOT
This amazing experience did not prepare the director and the actress for what was awaiting them: "Olivier and I had grossly underestimated the difficulty of the film. This fucking 'Personal Shopper'... I've never felt so weakened at the end of filming before. We were working six days a week, days that lasted sixteen hours. It was a good setting to work, I never had to pretend I was cold, that I was along or exhausted. There was no break and I was starting to fall into mental cracks, I was starting to have thoughts you're not supposed to have at night, that stopped me from having a social and productive live. When I saw the film, I thought I was really skinny, I told myself: 'Dude, you need to eat a cheesburger'."
We should be able to faithfully transpose what Kristen Stewart says about the character of Maureen, her anxiety, her suffering, but it would taint the movie. She speaks with as much lucidity but with less passion about her role in "American Ultra" where she played Phoebe, A provincial hippy who is hiding a dark secret. Same goes with the Twilight experience. The role of Bella Swan, that she played for four year from 2008 to 2012, turned her into one of the best paid actresses in Hollywood, but also one of the favorite subjects of tabloids and internet gossip.
"I loved making these movies, she remembers about Twilight. We started really strong. If only we had succeeded in mainting that energy, that same enthusiasm as during the first film... But everyone was dreading disappointing the public, and the following movies were pure studio productions." Yet, Kristen Stewart holds a very particular relationship with this industry. Rather than being the client of one of those big artistic agencies in Hollywood, she's worked with the same one since she was 12. As Charles Gillibert observes himself: "She might be the only one in her field where her team works for her and not the other way around." She analyzes the economical mecanism of celebrity with a strong intensity. "You have to maintain her certain amount of popularity if you want to be able to finance movies. For that, you have to film in big budget productions from time to time, that are profitable. I'm being encouraged to make more movies like Snow White & The Huntsman (or American Ultra) to make it easier for indie films to be done like those I did this year. If I hadn't had that popularity, we wouldn't have gotten the money."
Same analytical coldness when it comes to tabloids: "We've created a character for an industry that makes up stories about celebrites. It's a form of entertainment. At least when we write stories, in my industry, we recognise that those are made up. These people just steal images to construct their own and then they try to make people believe that they're real. The public knows that it's a fraud. It's just like wretstling, everyone knows that it's not a real fight, that it's a game, but people pretend that we haven't chosen in advance who is going to win and who is going to lose."
JODIE FOSTER'S ADVICE
The pressure of paparazzi and tabloids is constant, but Kristen Stewart arrived alone to the meeting, on time, in a Los Feliz restaurent, a neighborhood that was once calm in Los Angeles, where the celebrities from Beverly Hills are slowly replacing hystorical residents. She remembers that on the set of 'Panic Room' by David Fincher, Jodie Foster told the 11 years old kid that she was then: "You are too smart to stay an actress for too long. You won't stand everything that comes along with it. I see you as a director instead."
Years laters, the two women saw one another at an award ceremony. The oldest was shocked to see that the youngest had persevered. "Jodie Foster loves being an actress, but she also hates it, Kristen Stewart observed. As for me, I love it and I don't want to stop. I've gone through the worst, the craziest when it comes to the negative side-effects of this job. And I still find incredibly lucky to be able to do it". We will see her again this year, maybe in Venice or Toronto, in 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' by Ang Lee. This adaptation of a successful novel, which follows the tour in the US of a GI, the recipient of a medal after going to Irak (Kristen Stewart plays his sister), is already talked about as a contender at the Oscars. The rest of the actress' filmography is yet to be unwritten.
Unlike her fellow actors who often build their career in order to gain roles who could bring them to the Oscars, Kristen Stewart lets the movies come to her. "Some projects seemed very good for me on paper, great roles with great directors, but I couldn't find in me the urge to make them. My team was not sharing my point of view. And these roles have turned big for those other actors that have played them. It's great. At the end of the day, the only person deciding is myself. I don't have a list of projects, I only have to feel that need to make some of the ones I'm being shown, and as long as I don't feel that, I don't even feel like I'm an actress.
A BREAK TO DIRECT
These days, very relaxed, she's going through one of those moment where she has no roles lined up, which she has never done before. "I can't feel free if I know I have to play a character." she explains. Between the end of "Snow White" filming in 2012 and the start of "Camp X-Ray", a small indie film where she plaid a GI in Guantanamo, she spent eighteen months without filming a movie.
This time she swears the interruption will be much shorter. She's decider to take the time to film the short that she's been writing for years. "I don't want anything right now, just to create my own stories." she admits. Kristen Stewart finished her studies on set, far away from classes, and she sometimes regrets not having gone to university, in a film school. She is old enough that she could be getting her diploma from one of them and she considers her upcoming short like a "student film", rathen than a business card to present to producers. A film she will shoot with zero care to the attention it will undoubtedly garner. Jodie Foster's prophecy might become reality.
The article and interview can be subscribed to here at a cost from Le Monde.