Friday, March 10, 2017
Kristen and Olivier Assayas' interview with Esquire for 'Personal Shopper'
Sitting with Assayas and Stewart it becomes immediately clear that this is no "artist and his muse" situation. The pair have found in each other a true mutual collaboration, both helping the other express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings more clearly than they could on their own.
Communicating with the spiritual realm is still at the core of our culture, so telling a ghost story using modern technology was only logical.
Assayas: I think that connecting with another world, connecting with the departed, connecting with the invisible, is pretty much part of culture. It's very present, even in extremely materialistic societies like ours. If you talk about any Asian country, if you talk about China or Japan, it's pretty much a fact of life. They consider that there are actually forces around us that somehow communicate with us. It goes without even saying. This part of our imagination, this part of our world certainly has to connect with the circumstances of modern life, with the tools of modern life. Phones, internet, whatever, it's an extension of our imagination, it's an extension of our memory, it kind of connects, it's hard-wired to our brains.
Building a thrilling scene around text message bubbles was a unique challenge of acting, directing, and editing.
Stewart: Those. Three. Dots. Ominous. Or not? Or just very titillating. Those three dots can be anything. Oh my god, how many times have you been like, waiting, and then they go away? Oh did you delete everything that you were just writing?
Assayas: When I wrote the scene, I thought, it's going to be easy, it's going to be simple, you know, we'll shoot it. Gradually I realized how every single element has this huge effect on the dynamic of the whole scene. We redid a lot of the text messages, because some did not have the dots, some had the dots, and the dots were important, but also the rhythm of the typing. It's acting, it's acting as much as the lines.
A cellphone is a surprisingly great acting partner.
Stewart: Honestly, it's the greatest actor ever. I can project everything I want onto it. It was only frustrating technically, when we didn't have service. It's was like, "come on!" It was so frustrating, because if we had the right emotion or something and it was just not timing out right, it was annoying.
Stewart became almost like a co-director of the film.
Assayas: The meaning of this film, whatever is going on in this film, is something that is based on a storyline that I constructed. But the reality of it, the expression of it, is the face that Kristen gives to every single shot. The rhythm of the shot, the length of the shot, whatever happens in the shot is defined by how you look for the reality of it. It's all about the process of feeling it from the inside and just expressing it in the most genuine way. That's really what we see on the screen, and that's what I saw when we were shooting. Ultimately, Kristen spent so much time and space on her own in this film, she directs it from inside.
Stewart: I've never worked with anyone who was less controlling, and engaged mutually. Usually it feels one-sided, like I'm being told something and then I'm showing something and then we agree and therefore we feel closer, and that's nice that we agree, but [with Olivier] I've never felt less expectation but more guidance.
Personal Shopper was a chance for Stewart to deal with grief.
Stewart: On Personal Shopper, I was like, "oh man, this is going to kill me, I can tell." I have experience with loss. I don't have experience with mourning death. I think there are few catalysts that send you unanswerable, existential questions that are very necessary. But not satisfying because there's no resolve, but they're very necessary to move forward. It's either traumatic, traumatic events such as death and loss on a grand scale, or extreme physical anxiety. I'm so physical that I'm often times really limited by it, and it starts a thought process for me that absolutely is the same one that Maureen has, which is, "is this fucking real? I don't even know if I can go on, I might actually just not be able to go on." So that, I knew, is painful and scary, and the only way that we could do it for real is if you abandon all of your default facets, and you actually become honest about how incapable and unknowing we are, rather than relying on all of these constructs that you've built in order to move on. It alienates you immediately, you become like a foreigner in the entire world.
Stewart always wanted to be a director, and premiered her first short film at Sundance in January.
Stewart: I've wanted to [direct] my whole life. I started acting because I wanted to direct, and I was 10 years old, so that wasn't going to happen then. I just made a short film. I just finished it. I like the idea that you can have a thought process that keeps you up at night, but if you have a bunch of other people to help, you really think about something so fucking indulgently for so long and make something, that's what art allows people to do. To externalize something incredibly internal is so satisfying. That's also a huge responsibility, it's very fucking presumptuous to be like, "alright everyone, let's get together and do this thing." It's really expensive. It's a really elitist fucking medium.
While she doesn't consider herself an exhibitionist, Stewart loves exposing herself in her art.
Stewart: All I want is to fucking share this shit. I love it. I'm not an exhibitionist, but I love exposing myself. Because as soon as something becomes real for someone else and someone sees it, or you find the right word for something, it can exist. Because if someone doesn't see it then maybe it's not fucking there. You know, we're talking about the invisible all the time, but if you highlight the invisible, it exists, and it validates you, and you're not fucking crazy anymore.
For both Assayas and Stewart, movies are a conversational and collaborative expressions more than anything, and controlling, god-like directors aren't her style.
Assayas: I think that movies are a collective art form. You share it. You put something into motion and central is your actor. I don't direct actors, I work with actors. It's also all the energies around us that converge and create something. Movies, they express something that's universal in a way or another.
Stewart: And they're conversational, too. You can see an exchange. There's no impulse to make a movie that's one-sided. The whole thing is communication. The desire to communicate is the desire to connect. It's funny, these god-like directors that are like, "I have made my piece!" I don't ever really like those movies.
Of course, at the end of the day it's the director who has to take responsibility.
Assayas: I think you channel energies. You are the one who is responsible in the end for everything. I think it was a French general in the First World War who said, "I'm not sure who won this battle, but I know who will be blamed if it has been lost."
Stewart: It's true, if this movie sucked I would be like, "God, he fucked up."