Friday, August 26, 2016

Interview with the Irish Times

More than a few writers give the impression that it requires a leap of faith to admire Kristen Stewart. A war is, it seems, still being fought with the 15-year-old male idiots who reviled the Twilight films because they were “girls’ stuff”. There is a sense of critics patting themselves on their backs for their open-mindedness.

You get little such qualification in France. At 26, Stewart is already a stalwart of the red carpet at Cannes. She stormed the Palais with On the Road in 2012 and Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014. Last May, she was back with Woody Allen’s Café Society, which opened the event, and Assayas’s Personal Shopper, which won the best director prize.

The French love her like they love cheese. That long face and those arched eyebrows summon up the very American cool of Elvis. But the on-screen insouciance would have suited the Nouvelle Vague nicely. In 2015, the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma presented her with the best supporting actress César award for Clouds of Sils Maria. She is the first American actress ever to win the French equivalent of the Oscar.

As we arrive at the Carlton Hotel – the grandest establishment on Cannes’s bossy Croisette – French magazines featuring her image are scattered on every enormous cushion.

“All my favourite directors I have worked with in the States are like European directors. The list of actors that have found a place here from the States are all people I idolise. So it’s great to be on that list. There is just a risk that’s taken here that stands out. That doesn’t happen so much in the States. It’s obvious why that would be cool.”

You would expect Stewart to be smart. Like her co-star Robert Pattinson, she used the massive success of Twilight to manoeuvre her way into interesting work by interesting directors. By 2010, she was squaring up to James Gandolfini in Welcome to the Rileys. She and Assayas, one of France’s most fashionable film-makers, seem to have formed a dynamic partnership.

What you might not expect is the amount of energy she spits out. There is no sense of the creative introversion she’s exploited throughout her career. Stewart hits her consonants vigorously while firing through answers as if working to an ever-contracting deadline.

So, does she recognise that she’s made an unlikely shift from teen vampire to art-house vamp?

“When I am asked questions like that I can step outside myself and say, ‘Yes, I can totally see what you guys see’. But I have brought the same energy to everything I’ve done from the get. I have thoughtlessly traversed my creative desires.

“That’s just how I fell off the truck. As I have got older I have realised how working with good directors provides good experiences and good films. But I feel like something psychic happens between people who are drawn together to make something. I have so much faith in that.”

Sullen millennial

Actually, “vamp” is neither fair nor accurate. Raised in California to parents who were both in the business, Stewart slipped into juvenile roles largely by accident. You can spot her in a number of TV projects and as Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room. Still, she was unknown to most viewers when she emerged as the sullen millennial forced to wait for vampiric consummation in Twilight.

Woody Allen recently compared her to the young Elizabeth Taylor, but, in truth, no other female star has had quite the same oblique, reticent appeal. “Did he say that? I think that’s what his reference points are,” she says laughing. “Those are the people he really admires. That’s nice of him. It’s insane. It’s very cool. I know he admired all the great old Hollywood actresses. We talked about that a lot and you can see it in his movies.”

Dressed today in a great deal of white, Stewart manages an unlikely combination of post-beatnik cool and gleaming Californian good health. You can see why so many idealise K-Stew.

Her career appears to demonstrate that a young actor can triumph without indulging in triumphalism.

She has also proved that it is possible to live a life in the glare without seeming hounded or constrained. She recently confirmed that, following several relationships with men, she was dating visual-effects producer Alicia Cargile. Few got in a tizzy. No cars were overturned.

“Yeah I don’t want to be too guarded,” she says brightly. “Look I got really, exceedingly famous at 17. At that age you don’t know how to react with more than a couple of people. You are already trying to figure out what people’s perceptions of you are without all that.

“Can I affect all that? Should I think about all that? When it is thrust at you and that consideration is owned by the masses – not just by you and the people close to you – it starts this weird unnatural thought process. So, I really shut down and that doesn’t provide a fully lived life.”

In Café Society, Stewart plays a young woman, assistant to a movie mogul, who romances a young arrival (her frequent collaborator Jesse Eisenberg) in an idealised version of 1930s Hollywood.

Actors bring contrasting reports from Allen sets. Some say he gives barely any direction. Others say he gives no direction at all.

“The script was so perfect that the most direction we got from him was: ‘This is pretty self-explanatory. Go on.’ And it was self-explanatory,” she says.

“It is all explained quite well. Olivier doesn’t talk to me a whole lot either. There are directors who are themselves the spark and they then like to see the fire burn. They are both like that. They don’t like to affect your thought process that much. What they’ve done is kick-start that process and they just want to capture it. That is awesome. You do feel that it’s a true collaboration. That was shocking to me.”

Stewart is currently playing the game very adeptly. Café Society has been reasonably well received. The forthcoming Personal Shopper, a class of meta-ghost story set in suave Paris, had, from an actor’s perspective, the best possible response at Cannes: bovine boos followed by egg-head raves. Later this year, she appears in Ang Lee’s much-anticipated Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Psychic connection

So, she is sticking with this notion of forging a “psychic connection” with directors? “I have so much faith in that. I will always follow that. I will definitely make a few missteps and maybe make a few bad movies. I will make things that aren’t so sure. That’s why I like making films with people who have reckless intentions.”

Is it too much to argue that Stewart is a new sort of movie star? Charlotte Rampling meandered off to Europe when still young, but she never had the following that Stewart has maintained.

This relaxed engagement with the media also seems new. “There are ways to interact with media. And there are ways to interact with the public,” she says. “Beyond that, there are ways to interact with human beings. These are different things. I have found balance of ignoring the things I find worthless and letting in the stuff that feels human. It’s to do with being honest and acknowledging why someone might ask that question.”

She rises to her feet and prepares to leave.

“So, go write your article.”


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