It's Kristen Stewart week in L.A. - and why shouldn't it be?
The 26-year-old Woodland Hills native has grown into one of cinema's most respected actresses in recent years, and not because of (nor in spite of) the massive success she had with the "Twilight" movie series. Since that franchise finished in 2012, Stewart has aced a run of demanding performances in little-seen but highly praised indies "On the Road," "Camp X-Ray," "Clouds of Sils Maria" and "Still Alice."
She's got two more opening locally Friday, Drake Doremus' dystopian romance "Equals" and Woody Allen's latest, the highly sophisticated, 1930s love story "Cafe Society." Additionally, she's made strong impressions in the upcoming "Certain Women" and "Personal Shopper" at recent major film festivals, and she'll also appear in double Oscar-winner Ang Lee's anticipated "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" later this year.
This weekend's two releases show Stewart tackling love and other problems in ways that "Twilight's" vampire-smitten Bella Swan could hardly have imagined.
"Equals" takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the "civilized" survivors have built a peaceful, technically advanced society predicated on the notion that feelings are a disease that need to be medically - or, failing that, more harshly - suppressed. As in "1984" and "THX 1138" before it, rebellion emerges when co-workers Nia (Stewart) and Silas ("X-Men" and "Mad Max: Fury Road's" Nicholas Hoult) can't help but act on their attraction to each other.
Doremus, who specializes in partially nonscripted, intimate emotional dramas such as "Like Crazy," put his leads through a unique "getting to know you" process for his first foray into sci-fi-tinged, um, intimate emotional drama.
"The rules of the game were, initially, just say hello to each other," Stewart explains. "He wanted us to have the physical memory of saying hello to each other 365 times. Our characters had been seeing each other in an office every day for a year and hadn't had a conversation yet, hadn't addressed each other in any way other than hello. "But after a year of that, you know a person. I don't know his date of birth or where he's from, but I have a sense of this man. By the end of that hour, I felt like I'd seen him in this office for a year, and I had this curiosity and a feel for his reactions." That was just the meet-and-greet.
"The next game was, you can speak and it doesn't matter what you're saying, as long as every word is honest," she reports. "And then the next game was, you don't have to, but if you want to say something, it has to be the opposite of the truth, it has to be a lie. That really introduces yourself to how you lie and when you don't know you're lying." Sounds like an essential actor's tool. Especially when playing someone who has to hide her feelings from virtually everyone.
Stewart is unconvinced that it worked for her, though. "Hiding and stifling emotions for presentation's sake is something I've had to do a lot," she admits. "It's so not unique. Anyone who's had to go to work with any baggage, sadness or anything, does it. Some people are the type who would rather not share. I am, like, such an oversharer that it actually tortures me a little bit. I need people to be on my page and it connects us. Maybe that sounds selfish, but that part is easy for me because I know what it feels like.
"I thought I was hiding it very well," she says of working on "Equals'" futuristic Japanese locations. "I've seen the movie a couple of times now and I'm like, wow, I am literally not hiding a damn thing! What happens to my face when I don't want to show things is I just go hard, like a knot. I thought I was just expressionless, but really I looked like, unnngh, I'm f-ing dying!"
She's being unnecessarily tough on herself. Especially so if you consider "Cafe Society," a movie that repeatedly showcases Stewart's expertise at displaying a rainbow of conflicting emotions, many of them being suppressed, on her Vittorio Storaro-lit face.
Stewart plays Vonnie in the Allen film, an ambitious but winningly down-to-earth assistant to Steve Carell's Phil, a high-powered Hollywood agent. When Phil's nephew Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg, who's previously starred with Stewart in "American Ultra" and "Adventureland") comes out from New York to try the movie industry, she shows him around L.A. and captures his heart. He touches part of hers too, but when things don't work out, he returns home to run a hot Manhattan nightclub.
Their lives proceed, separately and more-or-less satisfactorily, until the night Vonnie walks into Bobby's club.
"Vonnie is so tonally different from me," says Stewart, whose own love life, at least by how it's been reported, has had its share of face-knotting drama. "She made the story possible because of how inviting her energy is. For there to be no guilt or shame surrounding her motives or ultimate decisions is a pretty forward way of telling a young woman's story in the late '30s. Falling in love with two men at the same time, one of which is very much older, breaking up a marriage. ... It's really off-the-grid in terms of conventionality.
"What I think it celebrates is appreciation of momentary experience, and not always knowing how something is going to turn out but not throwing it away because you can't identify and own it. She allows him and herself to have both, sort of, and there's this melancholic, reflective gray that's like, I feel everything about that. There are only a couple of people that I'm not embarrassed around, and Jesse's one of them, so I could be ultimately feminine and ultimately just buoyant. And there's something casual about it, not everything is so dire. If you can candidly look at something, it becomes more poignant."
As for Stewart's impressive professional blossoming, is it a casual or an unngh kind of thing?
"Genuine impulse and allowing yourself to be around people that encourage that," she says without hesitation. Or angst. But with dead seriousness.