Friday, March 10, 2017
Olivier Assayas' talks about 'Personal Shopper' and Kristen with Page Six
When Olivier Assayas wrote the script for his new movie “Personal Shopper,” he always had one actress in mind for the lead role — Kristen Stewart.
“She inspired it,” the director explained to Page Six on Thursday morning. “I was writing for a young American woman. My experience of being around a young American woman is basically with Kristen. I was not sure she would do it. I was not sure she’d be interested.”
But Stewart was interested, and on Friday, 10 months after the film premiered at Cannes, American audiences will finally get to see her play Maureen, a young American expat working in Paris as a personal shopper while trying to commune with the spirit of her deceased twin brother.
The film, at once a psychological thriller and ghost story, marks the second time that Assayas and Stewart have worked together. First up was 2014’s “Clouds of Sils Maria,” which earned her a César Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Valentine, the personal assistant to a French movie star played by Juliette Binoche.
At the center of both films is the world of celebrity, but it’s Stewart, who rose to worldwide stardom thanks to her role as Bella Swan in the “Twilight Saga,” who’s playing characters — a personal assistant and a personal shopper — on the periphery of the glitz and glamour.
“I kind of need to push the celebrity thing aside and deliver her from the burden of it so that people are not blinded by her celebrity,” Assayas said. “The celebrity is elsewhere in the film.”
Despite wanting to free her from those expectations, the filmmaker has enjoyed playing around with the baggage that Stewart brings to a movie.
“Normally, when you make a film, you kind of struggle to make people forget who your actress is in favor of a character,” he said. “You want people to forget about the movie star. In ‘Clouds of Sils Maria,’ I did the opposite. There was this notion that you were watching an actor — a fictional character — and at the same time, you always kept in mind that there’s a movie star behind.”
But he approached their second collaboration differently, creating a role for the actress where her real-life backstory would recede to the back of the audience’s minds.
“In ‘Personal Shopper,’ I think I’m going more in the direction of forgetting about Kristen the movie star and more of a character,” he said. “She’s half a character and half herself. The movie star element is out of the equation.”
While actors have always had to deal with audience expectations, Assayas feels that things have grown more complex for actresses like Stewart (and “Clouds of Sils Maria” co-star Chloë Grace Moretz), especially in the smartphone era.
“I used to say that historically, an actor always led two lives, one life as a fictitious fictional character and real life,” he said. “Now, there’s a third dimension to it. When you’re a famous actor, you have to deal with celebrity culture. There is some kind of third caricature of yourself that’s floating around in social media and you have to control it and younger actresses are certainly much more skilled at using that dimension.”
But as big of a Hollywood star as she might be, Assayas said that it’s Stewart’s humanity that makes his “weird” coming-of-age ghost story work so well.
“I think because Kristen is so real, she’s so grounded, she’s so straightforward in her own way, that she makes everything real,” he said. “So I knew that writing for her, something that has to do with how we communicate with the invisible, how we try to get all of us — we try to get in touch with our inner selves. I know it sounds weird, but she would bring it to reality. She generates empathy. I think she connects with audiences.”
And this ability to make even the most fantastical story come to life is why Assayas feels that he and Stewart aren’t done collaborating yet.
“I have to come up with something, but I would love to. It’s a good partnership and sometimes with actors, even if you have a great relationship, you know that at some point you’ve exhausted it or you know that you don’t want to make that one film too much, but with Kristen, I know there is much more to her,” he said.