Click on pics for full view.
Source: Alannah Campion
Click on portrait for full view.
SHANGAY ⇒ How important do you think it is that it is a same-sex couple that stars in the film?
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ I think after a while, we'll look back and wonder how something like this hasn't been done before in commercial cinema. When I read the script, so cute and fun, and I knew it was a project with a large budget, supported by a large studio, I felt very lucky to be part of this project.
MACKENZIE DAVIS ⇒ Certain groups in our society only see their stories told on film through tragic drama. It is very sad that certain voices are not taken into account when making certain experiences visible to the general public. In a way, until not so long ago, it could seem that if you were queer , in the movies they were telling you that your life was going to be a drama. It was about time to have a Christmas movie starring a couple of two women.
SHANGAY ⇒ Was your approach different when preparing the characters knowing that they were LGBTQ?
MACKENZIE DAVIS ⇒ I asked Clea if the fact that I am not part of the community could be a problem, or if there were some keys that she should be aware of when working and doing her best. Clea told me "you play a woman in love, that's all that matters." So my approach was not at all different from that of any other woman in love character I've been able to play.
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ I understand what Mackenzie is saying because it can be a tricky question; He did not want it to be possible to suggest that he was appropriating a character that perhaps, due to lack of personal experience, should not belong to him. But that's what acting is about. The important thing is to be with your senses open and strive to be the best character possible, forgetting about labels. Was work going to be any different because of playing lesbians? I've always lived being queer in an organic way. And although we have both had different experiences when we fell in love, we found a lot in common to contribute to the joint work. Because, as the movie says, "love is love!" [laughs].
SHANGAY ⇒ Kristen, it's not so common to see you doing comedy… Have you gotten the hang of it?
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ It has been a special experience. At first, I was intimidated by the level of the actresses I was going to work with, although at the same time I was encouraged by the challenge of measuring myself against them. My character is a bit of a "straight man" as ironic as it sounds, given that I play a lesbian woman. It is a kind of observer, through which the viewer discovers how absurd his girlfriend's family is, and how strange they have to relate to each other. I hadn't worked for a while, and as soon as we started I saw that the more relaxed we were and the more we committed ourselves to the job, the better we had fun. The pressure was gone immediately.
SHANGAY ⇒ Have you had any experience remotely similar to the one in the film?
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ Not exactly. I have ever felt that perhaps someone around you could feel uncomfortable knowing that the person who accompanied you was your partner. And I have tried not to make this situation a threat to others; but it has never happened to my family. Around 22 I began to really understand myself, and I felt that pressure of having to put a label on what I felt, even though I didn't quite represent myself. But the context of the film is very different.
SHANGAY ⇒ Did the chemistry you give off come about in an easy way?
MACKENZIE DAVIS ⇒ The secret is in the casting, when looking for two actresses, in this case, who must be compatible. The job started out being similar to what dating is like. In this case, I admired Kristen, and from the moment I met her I wanted to be her friend. We started spending a lot of time together to get to know each other and get comfortable before we got to set. To lose respect for touching us, for example [Kristen laughs]. In other shootings it has been difficult for me, because I have had couples who were not especially nice, and even so you have to make it credible, that is why you dedicate yourself to acting. In this case it was not so.
KRISTEN STEWART⇒ Good job, bitch! [laughs]. From the first moment I saw that Mackenzie was going to be amazing in the movie, and for that alone I loved her. She is a great actress, and I tend to love people who are good at what they do. I'm not good at creating chemistry at full speed with someone I don't know at all; in that case, I get to the set, shoot as soon as possible and fake whatever it takes. Mackenzie and I were delighted to spend time together, and because of that, filming just got better, easier and smoother. We were going in the same direction, and it showed.
SHANGAY ⇒ Do you especially value the fact that a comedy like this can be very important for LGBTQ visibility at mainstream levels ?
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ It's something we've talked about a lot among ourselves. Because there are many young people who do not consume auteur cinema or proposals with a clear protest component, but they do use Christmas movies like this one in which they can be reflected. It is important that art is not marginalized, and that a light and pleasant tone can also be used when making visible according to what issues. In fact, if I hadn't made this film, I would have been envious of those who made it, because it clearly has a message that is important to reach the public.
SHANGAY ⇒ Was it another point in favor of having a director, and that she is also out of the closet?
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ Since I read the script, I saw clearly that there was an intention and a commitment in it, that it was not the typical opportunistic formula that is created to show that we live in a world with greater acceptance. This story has a lot of truth, and the fact that it is Clea who tells it gives it a plus of authenticity.
SHANGAY ⇒ Kristen, since your character is the one who fights for her girlfriend to come out of the closet and show herself as she is, without lying, do you think it can be positive for viewers who are going through a similar situation?
KRISTEN STEWART ⇒ Hopefully, because I always appreciate any comments from people who thank you for making yourself visible and tell you about their experiences, which also make me feel happy and proud. That exchange of experiences is fucking wonderful.
Excerpt from the interview below. It can be fully read at the source.
In Happiest Season, Hulu’s lesbian Christmas rom-com, Levy delivers the film’s high point in a monologue; filmmaker Clea DuVall tells me, “I cried during every take.”
“Everybody’s story is different,” Levy’s John says to Kristen Stewart’s Abby, who is planning to propose to a woman whose family doesn’t know she’s queer. “But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words, when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next,” John goes on. “That moment’s really terrifying. And then once you say those words, you can’t unsay them. A chapter has ended and a new one’s begun, and you have to be ready for that.”
He worries that he wouldn’t be able to handle uber-fame with the aplomb his co-star Kristen Stewart does. When they went out to a dive bar while filming in Pittsburgh, he says, “I was just so kind of in awe of her confidence and comfort in herself. She's so at ease — [I say that] as someone who I think will always be on their journey to have that for myself.”
“Dan’s assessment is actually incorrect,” Stewart says later. “But what I have done is try to keep that experience [of fame] fairly insular, not make other people I’m with take on the weight of my own self-consciousness — or, God forbid, have someone think I’m up my own ass and loving the attention. It’s easier for me to pretend [people noticing me] is not happening, even though on the inside I still feel like the world is a big school yard of giggling onlookers. Are they laughing at me? Yes, no… Who cares.”
If Levy ever does find himself in the position of being Stewart-famous, she thinks he’ll be fine. “What I did notice was how absolutely wonderful Dan is with everyone,” she says. “He is so loving and gracious towards people that recognize him. The positive force he puts out into the world is clearly reflected in how people come back at him.”
When foreign visitors take a guided tour of the Château de Chenonceau, one of the jewels of France’s Loire Valley, they are often intrigued by the interlocking Cs that appear throughout the castle.
The initials are those of Catherine de’ Medici, the former queen of France whose portrait hangs above an elaborate carved stone chimney bookended by lions. But to 21st-century eyes, they look remarkably similar to the Chanel logo.
Also known as the Ladies’ Château, Chenonceau has a history marked by a succession of powerful women, of which the Renaissance rulers, in particular, inspired the label’s founder, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. That the French fashion house chose to stage its Métiers d’Art collection there is therefore something of a full-circle moment.
Chanel had hoped to invite 200 guests to creative director Virginie Viard’s first fashion show outside Paris, but a second French lockdown forced the brand to revise its plans.
Instead, it will unveil the collection online tonight at 7 p.m. CET, with a fashion show filmed in the castle’s ballroom on Tuesday. The shoot involved a cast and crew of 300 people, and precisely one VIP guest: Kristen Stewart, who will feature in ads for the collection photographed by Juergen Teller, marking his first campaign for Chanel.
“Really, the only difference with what we had planned initially is that there are no guests,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS.
“Even if it’s a video, even if it’s not live, the result will be the same as a runway show,” he added. “We’ve tried to make sure that all the ingredients are there to create the same buzz.”
For the first time, the house has produced exclusive content that can be unlocked by invitation only. It includes photographs of the castle by Teller, which have also been compiled into a coffee-table book, as well as audio clips delving into the history of the place. Narrators include Keira Knightley in English, Penélope Cruz in Spanish and Anna Mouglalis in French.
Pavlovsky said it took guts to bring the collection to the storied setting of Chenonceau, so it seemed logical to commission Teller, known for his pared-back, seemingly improvised aesthetic. “He brought his edgy eye to the place,” he said.
Likewise, Viard was not overly reverential in her approach to the collection, created as a showcase for Chanel’s 38 specialized Métiers d’Art workshops. Lean black coats and jackets topped with ruff collars reeked of palace intrigue, while quilted leather vests and jackets with bouffant sleeves exuded the swagger of a Renaissance prince.
But the designer responded just as much to the fairy-tale aura of the castle, which straddles the Cher river and is surrounded by magnificent woodland and gardens. “It’s somewhere between an animated film and the swashbuckling B movies I used to watch as a child,” she said, citing musketeer epics and the kitschy 1964 classic “Angélique, Marquise des Anges.”
“The women in them were always quite sexy. I was also extremely inspired by the checkerboard floor in the ballroom, Catherine de’ Medici, Coco Chanel — it’s a mix of everything.”
Her sexy maidens were not afraid to don shaggy hunting vests and tweed jackets, slashed at the sides, over bare skin — the racy top halves balanced by ample skirts, including one in inky denim printed with a floral tapestry pattern.
And what about those itsy-bitsy tweed bodysuits? One version, in cream with gold braiding, was topped with a sweeping black coat. Another one, in black, was worn with nothing but bare legs and a lethal attitude, enhanced by the model’s charcoal-ringed eyes and wavy black hair.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Viard tapped embroiderer Montex to create a Disney-like geometric castle motif in colorful rhinestones that popped on evening handbags and cummerbund belts, one of them cinching a swishy black satin skirt worn with a white ruffled shirt and a cute black cone hat with a veil, the kind usually found on kids’ princess costumes.
The mostly monochromatic palette was inspired by the former ladies of the house, as well as Coco Chanel’s own minimalist style. Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II known for her beauty and love of hunting, famously wore only black and white. De’ Medici, Henri II’s politically astute wife, always wore black, occasionally set off with a white ruffled collar.
It was a favorite look of Coco’s, too, as witnessed by a memorable photograph of the designer by George Hoyningen-Huene. Viard paid homage to both by putting a graphic white collar on a pencil-straight black coat that flared out into an asymmetric hem, but she balanced out the more austere silhouettes with opulent tweeds and cozy knits in rich rusts and wintry grays.
“A lot of it is done on instinct,” said the designer, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Chanel’s suppliers, gleaned over three decades as her predecessor Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman.
Viard described spotting the leaf embroidery on a translucent white coat sleeve in the archives at Lesage, which also produced the dense red embroidery on the bodice of a dress shrouded in a black chiffon cape. Knitwear maker Barrie contributed sweaters with intarsia castle or flower motifs.
It was the wealth of regal details that truly impressed: the tiny pearls dotting an off-the-shoulder tweed dress; the discreet quilted pattern of interlocking Cs, topped with a crown, on an ivory skirt suit; trompe-l’oeil gold buttons and four-leaf clovers printed on a black velvet top — and enough bling to rival the crown jewels.
Stewart said she prepped for the experience by binge-watching old episodes of “Reign,” the CW show that fictionalized the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.
“I was learning about who’s lived here and who’s loved this place, and it’s shifted hands primarily between women. And I was just telling Virginie, it felt like the story was folding in on itself. The women who lived here before were really into art, and promoted a lot of creativity, and loved to be inspired and inspire other people to come create, and I was imagining who our characters were while watching the show,” she said.
“I’m always proud of her, but it felt very personal this time,” the off-duty star, wearing a black-and-white varsity jacket and a signature Chanel camellia pinned in her hair, told WWD.
Pavlovsy noted the Métiers d’Art collection, which is unique to Chanel, is also a commercial success. The last one flew off the shelves after Chanel was able to reopen its stores following the worldwide lockdowns of the first half of the year.
“Since July, when we launched the Métiers d’Art collection in stores, we’ve seen remarkable activity. Many weeks, our sales are up versus last year, so we’re very happy,” the executive said, noting that sales associates — or fashion advisers, in Chanel parlance — have been successfully engaging local customers in the absence of tourists.
“In every country, our local clientele is growing in the double digits,” he said. Still, the rebound won’t be enough to compensate for the losses in the first half, which earlier this year led Pavlovsky to predict a two-digit drop in sales in 2020 as a whole.
“We’re still hoping to do a bit better,” he said, noting that the cruise collection, presented online in June, has been posting “excellent” results since launching in stores on Nov. 17. Chanel has been testing different formats to amplify its recent collections, but Pavlovsky said that high digital scores were not enough.
“You musn’t get blinded by the figures. The scores can get really high, really fast,” he said. “It’s not just a question of numbers. The depth and quality of the impact we’re trying to create is just as important, and more difficult to measure.”
That’s why, despite the recent strategic partnership between Farfetch, Alibaba Group and Compagnie Financière Richemont to provide luxury brands with enhanced access to the Chinese market, Chanel is sticking by its decision not to sell fashion online.
Furthermore, after several years of spectacular flagship openings, Chanel plans to stabilize its network of 205 stores next year by focusing on renovations, though Pavlovsky insisted that plan was already in place before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The only major new store is set to bow in Miami’s Design District in December 2021.
In the rapidly growing Chinese market, Chanel plans to open one new store next year in Shenzhen, in addition to a shoe boutique in Beijing. It will also renovate its existing boutique in Hangzhou. “We continue to develop the brand, but at our own pace,” Pavlovsky said.
He’s confident the Métiers d’Art collection will also resonate with travel-deprived customers. “This château is so exceptional and unique that the decor of the château acts as the launchpad for the collection, which is equally superb,” he enthused.
Spare a thought for the models, who huddled between takes wrapped in gold foil survival blankets. The whole event was a tour de force, considering ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, though DJ Michel Gaubert chose an upbeat song title for the show finale: “They Told Us It Was Hard, but They Were Wrong.”
MACKENZIE DAVIS: Hi!
CHARLIZE THERON: Hello! Where are you, fancy pants?
DAVIS: I’m in London.
THERON: And how is it?
DAVIS: It’s so nice to be here. I always dreamed of moving to a new city in the middle of a pandemic, and then going into lockdown.
THERON: Are you working there or was it a personal move?
DAVIS: Just a personal move.
THERON: That’s awesome! I love when people take big jumps like that.
DAVIS: Well, baby, 2020 has been my year of big fucking jumps.
THERON: You don’t have your house in L.A. anymore?
DAVIS: I’m renting it out and then I’ll probably sell it next year.
THERON: I always loved knowing you were so close to me, but to be honest, you are the worst invite because you’re never in town.
DAVIS: I have missed so many events in my life, and every single holiday party that you’ve had, but one day it will come together.
THERON: We, the people, benefit from you missing my parties because it usually means you’re working on something great, so we’ll take that. I watched your movie on Friday. I was down with a sinus infection, in bed and not feeling great, but I put that movie on and I cannot tell you how it just lifted my sick-ass mood.
DAVIS: It’s really funny, isn’t it?
THERON: Dude, there are so many degrees of separation there. Kristen and I worked together on Snow White and the Huntsman, and I love her to bits. And then Clea DuVall played my little sister in The Astronaut’s Wife.
DAVIS: Wow. I had no idea that you had worked together.
THERON: I think when I worked with her, it was her second or third movie, and now she’s this seasoned director. It’s unbelievable.
DAVIS: She’s a ’90s icon to me, so it was amazing to be around her.
THERON: Did you guys know each other before? How did this come to you?
DAVIS: I didn’t know her. I met her to talk about the part, and then the movie got pushed a year after I decided to do it. And so Clea and Kristen and I just kept meeting up for dinners and lunches, and did some escape rooms together, and kind of spent a year becoming friends, which, if you can do that, I really recommend. It’s such a fun way to make movies. It’s so much more fun when you don’t wander awkwardly wondering where you’ll eat lunch.
THERON: Did you know Kristen before?
DAVIS: I met her shortly after I met Clea. I was intimidated to meet her. She has such a strong energy. She’s so sincere and really means what she says, and it’s quite unsettling at first.
THERON: She’s very direct.
DAVIS: She’s just so fucking direct, but it’s not combative. It’s just curious and open, and it’s weird to meet somebody who’s kind of guileless like that.
THERON: She’s very unapologetic in that behavior, too, which is so refreshing. She really is that person. She can look you straight in the eyes and say something in three words, and it can totally come off as, “I’m about to murder you,” or it can come off as, “I have your back.” And that’s how I always took her. This girl will have your back.
DAVIS: She’s a ride-or-die person, and sincerely cuddly and sweet and so excited about the world.
THERON: I love that she deeply cares about things, whether it’s her friends or her family or her work. I don’t know if she still does this, but it used to break my heart because she would do a take, and if she didn’t like it, she would just start swearing: “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” It’s funny in the beginning, and then I was like, “Stop beating yourself up like that.” But also, we all do that.
DAVIS: I found it so liberating to just talk about how we felt like shit all the time. I love this job, but I feel like garbage doing it most of the time, except for brief windows where I’m like, “I was there.” But most of the time I’m like, “It’s so embarrassing being an actor. I hate this, I hate that everybody’s looking at me.” And she vocalizes it in a way that felt like it wasn’t shameful. It was like, “No, no, no, this is the mental state. This is the choice you’ve made. And this is how you live.”
THERON: Exactly. I heard that you and Clea and Kristen lived in the same apartment complex. Is that true?
DAVIS: We did. It was an old warehouse. There were two buildings connected by a walkway and Kristen lived in one and then Clea and I lived in another. I lived about two doors down from Clea. I always knew when she was home.
THERON: That is so cute.
DAVIS: It was sweet, the whole thing. You know how there are times when you really don’t want to hang out with anybody after work, or you just really need space? This was definitely the opposite of that, where it felt like we were all staying in dorms and there was an event every night.
THERON: And Pittsburgh is great.
DAVIS: It’s the perfect-sized city.
THERON: I’ve always had a great time there. I find the people amazing, and the food is awesome. There are some amazing restaurants in Pittsburgh.
DAVIS: Amazing restaurants, amazing bars. I really like the architecture. It hasn’t completely modernized, like where every city in the world has this bougie gentrification.
THERON: Well, listen, I have to pretend that I’m a really smart interviewer here, and ask you some real questions, because I want people to know about your movie. I love that it’s about something that’s very specific to the queer community, but there’s something about it that feels like it’s taking us on a road to normalizing a queer Christmas movie in the way that we have had to sit through heterosexual holiday movies forever. I’m just so happy that my oldest daughter came into the room while it was on, and she was saying, “Is that her girlfriend?” I said, “Yeah, that’s her girlfriend.” And then she went to school. To her, that was no big deal. It’s just a Christmas movie with two girls. I don’t want to make it sound so compartmentalized, but how did you think about it when you read it?
DAVIS: I loved the story. I’d never done anything like it before. It made me laugh out loud and also really moved me, and I really wanted to work with Kristen and Clea. I also got the script right after I finished Terminator and was like, “What’s the opposite of that? That was great, but how do I do a different thing now?” Something we talked about while we were making the movie was how the genre is such an aid in these sorts of movies, because there’s no suspense. It’s like a horror movie. You know that certain people are going to die, but you know that someone’s going to live at the end. And with romantic comedies, you know that there’s going to be a happy part and then there’s going to be a lot of difficulty and they almost won’t make it, but you always know they’re going to end up fine at the end. I think especially in the limited canon of mainstream queer stories, that certainty that they’re going to be okay at the end is never part of the story. And so, by taking formulaic genre and only changing the people in the primary roles, you get all the safety of it, and it still has a little something different. It’s a familiar way to enter a world that maybe, for whatever reason, people don’t seek out or are uncomfortable with. It’s like, “No, it’s this thing you know. You love this thing! Join us.”
THERON: The thing that really stayed with me was how different your coming out story is, and how different it is for everybody else. It doesn’t diminish one or make one better.
DAVIS: I know. Dan Levy has such a beautiful part in the movie where he talks about his coming out story, and Kristen talks about hers, and there’s this resistance against flattening the queer experience into a monolithic one.
THERON: A lot of the actors and people who came together to make this movie are from the queer community. Did you feel like that was something that people would put pressure on you about?
DAVIS: That’s the first conversation I had with Clea. There are certain parts I wouldn’t take, and that I think are important not to take—there are people who could easily take those parts who are members of that community. The reason behind this push, I think, is not that everybody should be playing their own identity, but that people who have that identity have not had other opportunities in Hollywood. So please just allow the space for them to exist in this world, because trans people aren’t getting cast as the straight, romantic lead in a movie. Give them the space to occupy a corner of the industry that straight people, cis people, don’t need to venture into. I asked Clea about it going in, if it was something that concerned her. As a member of that community, did she feel that a gay actor should play this part? I talked to Kristen about it as well. I try to be deferent to the points of view of the people around me who are more informed than I am, and they both felt that the dynamic between Kristen and I was more important to the story than whether or not I was in the queer community. It’s a complicated conversation, and it’s hard to know when it stops.
THERON: The sheer fact that we’re having the conversation makes me happy, because I feel like we haven’t talked about anything as far as representation, the way we are right now, in the last 20 years of my career. You’re right, there’s such a lack of opportunities given that at least let them have ownership in that space. But I find that that’s almost insulting. I feel like a good actor is a good actor, and I can’t wait for us to look at nonbinary queer actors in the same way that we do hetero-cis actors.
DAVIS: I think that’s the goal, but out gay actors only recently are allowed to be romantic leads in movies, even though they have a husband at home. That’s something that’s happened in the last six years. It feels so recent. I think we’re going through this across so many parts of our society; we have to go through a really uncomfortable transition phase where we overemphasize something in order to normalize it. And then, at a certain point, we no longer need to overemphasize it. And the first step is, like, “I’m not going to colonize your space.” That’s fine. There are plenty of roles for a cis white woman in the industry.
THERON: It’s interesting times that we’re living in. But, yeah, I love this movie. It really stuck with me, and it also made me dread that we’re right on top of Christmas. Are you a big fan of Christmas?
DAVIS: I like the food part of it. I love seeing my family. I don’t always go back to Vancouver or to my parents’ house. We tend to go away together a lot, so I don’t have this singular Christmas memory. We don’t buy presents for each other. It’s sort of like, “Let’s all have a nice time because we don’t see each other all year.” So I like that part of it, but the more traditional aspects don’t get my juices running the way they do for some people. Juices running. Is that a disgusting thing to say?
THERON: No, no, no, juices are exact. That’s what you’re always looking for, no matter what you’re cooking. You’re looking for juices. I’m kind of the same. Growing up in South Africa, it was summer. So if you saw Santa Claus, he was on water skis. I don’t have any real attachment to the holiday, and my parents never put up a tree or anything like that. But now that I have kids, I have to say I do love it, which is weird, because I should just break it to them now. But I can’t, it’s just too much fun.
DAVIS: There’s something about being a parent and being the architect of your child’s memories. That sounds so sinister, but being like, “I’ll give you the perfect memories,” it’s like being a dreamweaver or something. It must be so fucking exciting.
THERON: That’s exactly what it is. I think my oldest is slowly catching on. I’m trying to get maybe one or two more years for the little one. I’m like, “Don’t say anything.” I was told that you learned how to skate for this movie. Was it hard?
DAVIS: I had an amazing skating teacher called Victoria, who I met at the skating rink a couple of times a week for about two months, because I could not even stand up on ice. You would never know it watching the movie, because I still look so deeply at odds with my body. But from where we started to where we ended, it’s the thing I’m most proud of in the movie. And I really recommend it, skating’s wonderful. I love this part of our job, that you get access to all of these different cultures that you’d never be a part of. The lunchtime skating culture midweek in Pasadena? Incredible people, incredible lifestyle, great characters. And it’s not just for kids, it’s for grown adults who want to speed skate around the ring and do tricks.
THERON: There’s joy in trying to imagine your long lean body on ice skates.
DAVIS: So awful. I felt like a skyscraper being knocked over, or like a Jenga cube. Never could I just crumble delicately.
THERON: Listen, you’re one of my favorite humans on the face of the earth, and I’ve weirdly been thinking so much about you in the last couple of months because when we were shooting Tully, we had a night shoot during our last election. And on election night, you reached out to me, and I had a flush of memories of me and you out in Brooklyn, in 2016, riding bikes, shooting Tully, and everybody just going like, “What the hell is happening? It’s the end of the world.”
DAVIS: I will never forget that night. I’m really happy to have shared such a sad moment with you.
THERON: We shared many other fantastic moments, so I’ll take a little bit of bad with all the good.
In Happiest Season , you play the role of a young woman ready to declare her love for another woman during the Christmas holidays. Why did you want to participate in this project?
Kristen Stewart: The story obviously touched me a lot. I am not sure that such a film could have seen the light of day a few years ago. I am not naïve, however. If Hollywood studios are starting to produce and distribute this kind of feature film, it is because today there is finally an increasingly growing market for this kind of theme.
You have a core of important fans who don't hesitate to thank you for revealing your bisexuality. How do you live it?
Kristen Stewart: To be honest with you, I have the impression that it was the generation after me that was much more courageous than mine. Today, those who manage to break taboos and fight against all kinds of discrimination are people who are younger than me. This new generation has given me the opportunity to go beyond the images that the studios wanted to stick on my back.
Are you happy today?
Kristen Stewart: I feel like I've finally found some balance in my life. I feel as good about myself on a private level as on a professional level. Things seem to me much more consistent today than in the past. This is the reason why I feel so happy in these two areas of my life.
You are about to play Princess Diana in the cinema. Do you feel any pressure?
Kristen Stewart: I admit that it was not easy to accept such a role which really requires a big responsibility. Diana is a true icon and she will remain so forever. I can tell you that I have done a lot of research. Above all, I didn't want to listen to the testimonies of those close to her, but to get to know her better by analyzing her actions and her speeches. I still fall asleep today listening to his voice!
Kristen Stewart: Dude, didn’t we have the greatest time ever on Happiest Season?
Mackenzie Davis: I’ve never had more fun working with someone in my career. Being friends with someone and loving them and not having them think that you’re too much. It’s so nice to be at home somewhere.
K: I always justify bad experiences because I got through it and I think I was better because of it but really what I love is feeling visible and understood and loved and supported. It’s so nice to do work that feels natural, I felt so at ease with you and that comfort wasn’t boring.
M: I so relate to what you just said. Having hardship doesn’t really promote the best version of myself.
K: Imagine two guys having this conversation, it wouldn’t even cross their mind. It’s such a female reaction to strife to think, ‘I can make something out of this actually, I actually do some of my best work out of adversity.’ But actually, fuck that, that is not true. So, [the director of Happiest Season] Clea [Duvall] is great, don’t you think?
M: Clea is one of the greatest people I’ve met in my life, I think she is so talented. She kept us on course this whole movie when you and I wanted to turn it into an absolute drama-tragedy.
K: In interviews, you often end up talking about the result of the work you’ve put in but not the work that you did. It’s weird because you have to step completely outside of yourself to relate to other people and their perception but what about the experience that you’re having? Even when you get up in the morning for your work, how do you prepare for a big scene? Or are you better in the morning or at night?
M: Talking about [process] stresses me out because I have such anxiety about being a bad student and not doing the right stuff or not knowing the right way of doing things. With everything [I work on] I read a bit, procrastinate a lot, think a bit, write something and then where that goes, I have no idea…this garbage bag of dead-ends. When I talk about my [process] I think, ‘oh no, that’s such a mess and you don’t want to look at it and you’ll be so disappointed to learn what actually goes on.’
K: I don’t think that’s a wrong way of doing anything though. I’ve noticed that whenever anyone that I work with has hard and fast rules, even when they’re really talented and those rules prove to be productive and fruitful for them, I so can’t relate. But then I also feel like I’m a bad actor or that I’m not as diligent because I haven’t defined my process to a T.
M: I guess this is the weird psychosis of this job, that there is always the chance to start over and do the next one better but also the fear that you’ll never get another chance.
K: Also the desire to please never do it again but also the feeling that I want to do it for the rest of my life.
M: Yeah, I want to do it for the rest of my life but also could I please have a farm and I would actually love to be a housewife and chill.
K: You do make really good delicata squash, you’d be a great housewife.
M: I think in terms of process I learn so much of what and what not to do from people I work with. With you, I saw that you’re so good at advocating for yourself and defending your choices. I mean that in the most flattering way because I have this kind of Canadian thing mixed with just my natural personality of saying, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way’ and then ‘oh, you don’t like that? Let me shut up and I will not bother you anymore with my opinion because I’d rather we just moved on and had a nice day.’ I’m not saying you do the opposite of that and create a problem, but I really learned from watching you and will take it in the future.
K: So, do you have any other projects coming up?
M: Yes, Station Eleven. It’s set twenty years in the future after an apocalyptic pandemic wiped out 99.9 per cent of the population. It’s the pandemic show that got pushed by a pandemic. I’ve had ten months to workshop a jokier way of saying that but that’s what I settled on.
K: You’re going to really hone in on that one, you’ll have time.
M: It’s so weird not working for so long [due to Covid-19 halting production on Station Eleven] because you really feel like you lose the knack between each job and I just always feel as if it’s the first day of school and I didn’t learn anything last year.
K: What’s the tone of the series?
M: It’s a lot about the trauma that shapes artists and also the pursuit to create art even in a state of chaos and devastation. That after everything is gone and there’s nothing left, there’s still going to be people who tell stories and create art as a means of surviving. It follows a Shakespearian troupe that brings Shakespeare to all these settlement towns after this end of the world event.
K: I don’t believe in a world where we are not inclined to really imagine and create. All these hypotheticals are what we meditate on and really what drives us. I’m really excited about Station Eleven – if I was going to make a topical movie that’s where my head is at.
M: The fact that they’re performing Shakespeare is so interesting. I’ve read some historical fiction about the writing of Hamlet and [I was struck by] the omnipresence of plague and disaster in that era [the 1500s]. I sometimes feel really hard on the human race because its adaptability is through ignorance, ignoring the reality in order to forge ahead and create a simulacrum of a normal life. You do it with climate change, you do it with the pandemic.
K: We’re just monsters, really.
M: Reading [this historical fiction] has made me feel a bit better. Realising that [reluctance to change for the greater good] is not a twentieth-century problem, it’s not from the industrial revolution. We’re just garbage, it’s kind of the human condition.
The Happiest Season would have helped me so much growing up and regardless of your sexuality, it’s a story of self-acceptance and gaining respect from others. How would this have helped younger you?
Kristen: I would have loved to have seen this movie when I was younger. I wasn't as a teenager or as a younger person in my early twenties having to contend with judgmental energy in terms of being around a family who didn't necessarily accept you, or just being an out gay person. At the same time, I was fully like reacting to the ‘strangeness.’ I would have loved to have seen this movie, but I only know that in retrospect, and sometimes you need to be shown things before you know you need them.
I always wanted to work with Clea [DuVall]. I know for a fact that when I was watching But I'm a Cheerleader that I was like, ‘I love this movie for probably pretty solid gay reasons.’ I didn't know that until I was an adult. So, if this helps anyone who's unaware or aware of the fact that sometimes it's hard to say who you are around every group of people, then that makes me tres happy!
Mackenzie: Most importantly, this is why representation matters! I know that phrase has sort of lost a bit of meaning but it really does because it doesn't only help the people who are being represented in the thing, it also normalises a thing that up until that point maybe hasn't been normalised in mainstream entertainment. I went to a pretty progressive high school and grew up in a very liberal environment that was very accepting. But I look back at things that happened in high school and the way -more with boys and the way that gay boys were treated or whispers about gayness - and it wasn't normalised. It wasn't something that was like treated with open arms acceptance. I think if there were movies like this and if that's what we went to see on the weekends, it would not be cool. I'm not including myself in this to be clear, but there just was a culture of homophobia, even in the most liberal communities. I think not having representative stories that normalise it is the culprit for that homophobia.
Someone said to me recently that we won’t have equality until people don’t have to come out. But coming out stories are still so important and it’s imperative to have these ‘coming of age’ and ‘realisation’ stories. What do you think it’s still important to tell coming out stories in 2020?
Kristen: It's a really fringy perspective to think the fear has been sucked out of the idea of, of telling everyone, you know? It would be a really, really naively optimistic or just an ignorant dumb way to approach it. Look at where we're at just in the States. I'm so happy to be in a movie that is inviting and a part of a conversation that can be argumentative and divisive. The movie has open arms and it is not even judgmental of the people that are judgmental in the movie. To think that we're not as divided as we are is actually just not very helpful because it's not real. I'm the most optimistic, glass half-full person, but at the same time, I think this movie could be good for people that don't necessarily always lack judgement. We could be loud and aggressive with a more in-your-face indie movie and I want to make a bunch of those with other perspectives embedded in things that are sort of harder to digest, but I think it's really important to be like. ‘we're really nice too. We're just like you and like come laugh with us!’
COUP DE MAIN: It must be so surreal for you, but ‘Happiest Season’ is out in actual cinemas here in New Zealand. Do you have a message for New Zealanders, who can experience it in cinemas?
MACKENZIE DAVIS: Enjoy your hard-earned freedom. Your well-led freedom.
KRISTEN STEWART: You deserve it!
MACKENZIE: I'm so proud of you guys. It's so great. Celebrate, and celebrate by going to see the movie. It's so fun and lovely.
CDM: So many LGBTQ+ films follow character's stories which end in tragedy or sadness - and I think this film is so important because of the happiness and joy that it portrays, which is going to be so powerful for queer people to see on-screen. What do you want these communities and people that can relate to the characters, to take away from seeing ‘Happiest Season’?
KRISTEN: Hopefully, to go to the movies and watch a big movie and not have to go and find your story on a smaller screen, or download it, or watch it on YouTube, or somehow get to a festival and hope that maybe they find the legs to get to your town. I happen to live in LA, Mackenzie is in London right now, and we have access to smaller fringy movies, but it's really rad to find yourself visible in something so big, and it is definitely not normal. So I would be like, "Enjoy! Swim around in it. And hope for more!" I do think it's happening.
CDM: Harper’s character has a real struggle with love in her family - she says, “Love wasn’t something we got for free, it was something that we competed for.” Family relationships can be really hard, especially when siblings feel like they need to compete with one another, and have certain expectations placed upon them. Do you think that the concept of love is something that changes throughout our lives? Like how Harper has a different experience of love with Abby - a more pure form?
MACKENZIE: I think that's why her life is so compartmentalised - not because she's grown out of that one type of love into this other healthy love. She's had to restrict her identity from her hometown, with her family, with her high school, and then sort of having a totally different identity that is her true identity, I think, when she's in Pittsburgh with Abby, and with her friends as an out woman. But she never did that thing where she knit together the childhood trauma of learning a sort of perverted form of love, with the adult, grown, healthy version of love. And so she really has these two selves that are never the twain shall meet...
CDM: Tying in with that, another moment I thought was quite important was when Abby is talking with Riley about which Harper is the 'real' one, and Riley says, "Maybe they both are." Why do you think humans often have slightly different versions of themselves that they become, depending on who they are with? Whether it be around family or different groups of friends?
MACKENZIE: It's survival.
KRISTEN: Because we need to keep going. I think in order to keep going, when you observe that something's going to be more successful in a given group, you highlight that thing. And that's not to say you're changing yourself, per se, I think that there are so many potential versions of myself that live in here <motions inwards>, depending on what's going on out here <motions around her>. It can be really interesting how there are some people whom one version of themselves betrays the other, but there are also ways to be things that are unexpected, that go together, and that maybe someone's perspective is not wide enough, or too narrow to see. And so you go, 'Okay, they're not going to get this one part, so I'm just going to show this part,' and so you start to try to control that. And then it's like, when you try to control it so overtly are you losing yourself? Or are you lying? I think it's very complicated.
CDM: There are so many hilarious literal closet jokes - like when Tipper finds Abby literally hiding in a closet. Was it fun to act out those really ‘on the nose’ jokes amongst the rest of the comedic elements in the film?
KRISTEN: I didn't think about that at all. And we shot that like, 100 times. Every single time, I never put it together.
MACKENZIE: Until I saw the trailer, I never put it together.
KRISTEN: Yes, right? Me neither! Because I heard someone laugh. I was watching it with a couple of friends, and like she was like, "Abby, why are you in the closet?" Like it was the most obvious question. And they were like, "Oh, lol," and I was like, "Oh, ohhhhh!" I felt so caught in that moment that I was like, "Nothing!" I didn't think about it at all.
CDM: When Abby is in one of her darkest moments about her relationship with Harper, she says: “I don’t think that she loves me as much as I thought she did.” It’s so strange that love can be perceived as different by different people, and so many people have different ways of expressing love. What do you think are the ultimate ways to show your love for someone?
MACKENZIE: It depends on the person.
MACKENZIE: Really, and what they need, and love languages. But what means the most to them? Maybe they don't need gifts. But maybe they really want you to build a fence.
CDM: Love languages are so interesting. I'm always discussing them with my friends about how people just have different things they expect and need from other people.
KRISTEN: The worst is to think... I always try and rationalise things, like, 'Look, if this doesn't work, then maybe we're just not the right person for each other.' It's like, 'No! It requires effort, you have to try!' <laughs> Maybe put in the work.
CDM: Yeah, I have a friend that always tells me that love is an action and not a feeling and that always resonates with me a lot.
KRISTEN: And I also resent it. <laughs>
CDM: Clea Duvall has said: "The LGBTQ community deserves happy endings sometimes.” Considering that for the past four years, the US has dealt with a President who literally wants to take freedoms away from LGBTQ communities (from trying to attack the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, banning trans people from serving in the military, and trying to put trans prisoners according to their assigned sex at birth), why do you think that pop-culture representations of queer people and their communities are more important than ever before?
KRISTEN: Because we're constantly trying to pretend like they don't exist, and therefore take all of their rights and humanity away from them. So if they're more present and shown as normal people who actually have feelings, and that can be hurt just the same way that you can... I don't think that people typically are horrible, hateful, fill in the blank, whatever word you want to fill in there, fucking go for it, but yeah, it's because we need to be present or else we will be forgotten.
CDM: Kristen, you said about the movie: “It's a heartwarming, slightly stressful and manic Christmas movie – which are definitely my favourite ones, because that is what Christmas actually feels like.” What do you guys each have planned for this Christmas season?
MACKENZIE: I'm going home to spend time with my parents. I'm justifying the travel because I'm working in Canada right after Christmas, but it means I'm going to spend about a month at my parent's house and I'm curious about that. I'm open and curious about it.
KRISTEN: I'm open, excited and afraid. <laughs> I have a really boring non-answer for that. Nothing. I'm staying in LA. I was actually going to spend the holidays abroad, but then the world changes daily and shut down, and so the prep for my next movie changed slightly. So I'm going to be able to hang out with my family, which is nice.
What was the deciding factor for you to join Happiest Season?
I didn’t know Clea [DuVall] before we met about the movie, but she was a friend of a really good friend of mine, and I just heard the most wonderful things about her, and it made me really ambitious to work with her and to force her into being my friend. So that was just a forgone conclusion before we even met. I was like ‘I’m in!’ But Kristen doing it was such a vote of confidence. I think she has such an interesting career and she’s not precious about the work that she does in that everything is going to be nominated for a César Award.
What I really appreciated about the film is not only does it break boundaries because it creates this same-sex romance on screen, but it also does it in a genuine way. You’re not perfect, Kristen’s character is not perfect. Were you aware you were making a film that was going to change things a little bit?
I think we were aware of the headlines—that it’s the first queer-fronted studio romantic comedy Christmas movie ever made. So we knew that was the banner of the movie, but in terms of all the stuff, the imperfections, and the character failings and stuff like that, I felt sort of worried about it and insecure when we were filming it. And there’s also this feeling that I had making the movie, and that I had watching the movie, where I’m like, ‘These girls are going to have a lot of work to do on their relationship after this.’ Like it doesn’t feel like it ends now. There’s a lot of unpacking, this experience is going to go on, so I guess what I’m saying is: I think all those messy bits do make it better because it’s not a riding off into the sunset sort of story.
It’s quite difficult to find a piece about you that doesn’t mention the word ‘feminist’, and I want to know how you feel about having that label thrust upon you. Perhaps it comes from the fact that you have a degree in Gender Studies, but I wonder if that’s ever felt like a very convenient label that journalists thrust upon you?
Well, I don’t think it’s a label, because it’s something that I have no reservations about, nor have I ever had any reservations about identifying as. It feels almost passé to call yourself a ‘feminist’ now, because it’s like, if you’re not, what the fuck are you doing?! [laughs] Where do your beliefs land? So I don’t know the potency it has anymore. There was a weird time where it was extremely potent and scary for people to say and then extremely in vogue and then the in-vogue-ness has now made it feel kind of limp or something. It’s just a belief that women should be treated equally or receive equal rights to men—it’s not a really radical point of view.
But to the other part of your question, I do think the conversation surrounding feminism, strong female characters, women in Hollywood, are lazy and are sort of pigeonholing the actor answering the question even further into another category, instead of being able to have a conversation about the work that they did, the role. I find I’m constantly asked about the optics of the things: what does this mean for the future of women in Hollywood and they always want a think piece on it, which is not my job. My beliefs are evident across my resume. I’ve made very specific choices because of the things I want to see in the world and the things I believe. And to have to constantly answer about my gender in interviews even if it’s talking about—not in this case, sorry—even if it’s talking about positive advancements, just feels like I don’t get to talk about more interesting things, or things that aren’t tied to gender identity. But you know, you have to talk about things to death until they stop being interesting, so hopefully we are getting close to that.
Happiest Season talks about something else which is quite interesting and quite deep, and that’s being truthful to yourself and being truthful about who you are to others. Have you ever gotten in trouble for being quite strongly the person you are and not doubling down from that. Or have you doubled down?
I think I tend to double down, I don’t know, I mean life’s a journey and you’re changing all the time. There are times when I was so unpleasantly staunch in my opinions and the way I communicated them to people. I then had a period of recalibration where I was like, ‘Leave room for other people to argue with you without you needing to own them,’ and like dominate a conversation, but I don’t know. I’m thinking of this time when I was in theater school, which was like the maddest I’ve been in my life. We would do scenes and sometimes there was nudity in scenes—it felt like a safe environment, part of exploring things, but I heard of a list that was in the basement of the theater school in the boys’ locker room rating all of the girls’ bodies. We were in our early twenties, not fourteen—not that it would be okay then—but there was just such a lack of respect and privacy. We were sharing our naked bodies as part of a very, very safe space to do work, and I was furious and told them to get rid of this list.
Then we were working in the basement of the school on another day and I saw the list, like pinned up on the wall, and I have never yelled or been possessed with a demon in the way that I was when I found it. And I just remember ripping it off the wall, walking in the middle of the classroom where a class was going on, and screaming at all of these immature little boys and then storming out of school and not coming back until the next day.
I tell that story because I really relate to this—in terms of doubling down your personality—but I do feel like I get possessed with a feeling of this miscarriage of justice or something, and that can lead me to behave erratically. Also, socially I don’t think a lot of people liked me at that school because I was not fun.
Read Mackenzie's full interview at the source.
What can you tell us about Abby and Harper?
Mackenzie Davis: In the beginning, it's a pretty short period of time where we get to establish them not having been corrupted by going home to meet Harper's family. They’re a very stable, loving, transparent, settled couple that has a whole life together and is grown up. And then they go home to Harper's family, and Harper regresses into an absolute monster, and secrets tumble out.
While it is definitely a coming out story, it's also this coming-of-age story of having to unite your identity as a grown up with your identity within your family unit. How you have to regress a little bit before you can unite those two selves because your family might not be ready to accept your grown-up self.
Kristen Stewart: And as a monstrous as she does sort of reveal herself to be, Abby's perspective might not be congruent with the audience's. She knows her so well that there's never a point where you're like, "Well for conflict's sake, sure this works, she would stay." I'm constantly going, "Oh no, wait. No, no, no. You don't know her. I know her, I know her. Trust me. She's incredible in this. She's going to get through this.
While Harper may act a bit monstrous, we’ve heard that her parents are not the villains, per se. How would you describe your dynamic with them, and then Abby’s impression of them?
Mackenzie Davis: Sure, I think there's no villain. I think that they haven't been exposed to many lifestyles that are not their own. They live in a very waspy, rich environment and anything that's out of that paradigm feels scary and too foreign to them to accept immediately. But once they're confronted with it, I think they handle it well.
But it's like anybody, a lot of public figures - I think of politicians who need to have a gay child in order to understand why that's an issue that they should throw their weight behind, in terms of any sort of civil rights and liberties.
Kristen Stewart: And I understand, but I also don't.
Mackenzie Davis: Yeah, I was getting to a criticism of those politicians. Where you're like, "I'm happy you came around to it. It's so weird that you needed to be related to someone to have just the basic shred of empathy that most people are able to muster up.”
They need to be exposed to it, and they haven't been exposed yet.
Could you guys talk a little bit about working with this cast? In particular, we don't know a lot about Dan Levy's character. We heard he's playing Abby’s best friend and we all love him.
Kristen Stewart: I am so in love with Dan. It's insane. It was so important for whoever played Abby's best friend to be a really grounded reflection of who she is – obviously, because we don't have a whole lot of time to develop the characters before we're thrust into this precarious situation.
He's written in a way that is so nuanced and neurotic, but also broadly funny. And I think that he is so perfect, because when he really brings it home and wants to connect, and he comes from a place of true understanding of what the story is and how heavy and hard it is - it can then be funny. But only, first, it needs to be completely understood from the inside. And he's so unbelievably funny.
He's so destabilized by my leaning into convention. I want to ask her dad for his blessing; I want to do it all the right ways, and he's just like, "I thought that we had a pact to be Others forever!" You know what I mean? So, it's really funny because it also acknowledges how weird it is to lean in towards something that is not welcoming to you.
But she's a romantic, so it's really sweet. Dan's amazing. The entire cast is so great. We've said it a million times to each other every single day, all of us go, "We love our jobs. We love the opportunity to tell stories with people that we're drawn to." But this is such an extreme version of that. It's so wild that everyone is so wonderful.
Mackenzie Davis: We’re so in love with each other. And they’re so talented. You've lived with it longer than I have, but I had this script for a year before we started shooting, so I'm very familiar with all the scenes in it. And yet every single scene that we've done, when Mary Steenburgen's doing it and Victor Garber's doing it, you're like, "Oh my God! I didn't know it was like that. It's so much better than it already was, which was great!" It's just so cool to watch them work.
What is it that you look for in a script? What stood out about this one in particular that made you want to jump in and take the role?
Mackenzie Davis: Well, I was just saying that a lot of the time, before anything else you're like, "Can I feel these words in my mouth?" You start mouthing them and being like, "These don't fit in my mouth for some reason, and I don't know why." That's just a very basic nervous system test of if it feels right to you.
And then I think, especially in a genre movie like this, we understand the parameters of a romantic comedy. We know everything's going to be okay in the end. There are very specific beats that take you through this story, and while accepting those and embracing the genre elements of this, what makes it smart and new? Or not even new, but authentic and empathetic and fully felt? Not just relying on the convention to carry us through the story, but that each beat of the convention has been fully fleshed out.
It's like, "Well, this is the part where we have this pratfall thing," but it feels purposeful and important and urgent. And I felt like the script had everything, and also such a distinct voice. Clea and Mary, who wrote the script, just have such distinct comedic sensibilities.
Kristen Stewart: It's so funny. I loved the script. It felt like a huge relief. It didn't feel obliged to be overwrought, but it's so tender.
I think with a Christmas movie, like she said, knowing that everything's going to be okay allows for you to... I don't want to be too specific. It's nice to not highlight something so overtly, because that is in itself self-conscious. But it doesn't shy away from what it is, which is a really beautiful love story and a coming out story about two women, and it doesn't exist yet. I would have been so jealous and also very excited to see it coming together without me, but I belong here.
For a queer person, the scene feels familiar: you go home for the holidays, and that's when the conversations happen. Does it feel like you're telling a very relatable story in that way, or that you're representing that experience?
Kristen Stewart: Yeah. I have so many close friends that I’ve intimately unpacked these stories with and laughed about them and been enraged about them and told them like, "You don't have to..."
But I personally have never had to do it. I've never had anyone hide me. So no, but yes - because all my friends have. But I do have to say my parents are pretty wonderful about it.
I'd like to hear more about how you feel the film is speaking to an aspect that we may not get to see as much in cinema, and how it’s a huge relief.
Kristen Stewart: What I think is really interesting is that in certain moments that we have maybe considered delving into really deeply, or maybe we throw out the words and we improv it - it's always been rooted by Clea being like, "No, it's a genre movie." We have to hit the beats, because it is a situation of being able to hide the vegetables - which is something she says - in something that is commercial and fun. Not everything has to be facing this grave adversity in order to be itself, and still acknowledging that it's not completely easy.
It's something that is earned, but not something that is fought so hard for. It doesn't need to be all about how much it hurts to be unacknowledged, even though that's an element of it. They also really know themselves very well, and there's a comfort in that. I think that a lot of times people on the outside of that project this sympathy. It's like, "I don't need that. I'm actually fine. But this is how I got there.” Do you know what I mean? So, that's cool. That's what felt relieving about it.
Directed by Clea DuVall, “Happiest Season,” out now on Hulu, was born from her desire to see holiday fare that reflected her own experiences.
“I’ve always been such a huge fan of holiday movies, but … if there was an LGBTQ+ character in a holiday film, they were always in the background or just sort of thrown in to diversify an otherwise ‘normal’ family,” said DuVall. “Once I had transitioned into writing and directing, I realized that I could be the person who made that movie, and it was this very powerful, inspiring moment.”
“Happiest Season” is the second feature directed by the veteran actress who wrote, directed and starred in 2016’s “The Intervention.” And although she had started conceptualizing the characters and working on an outline on her own, progress stalled while acting projects kept DuVall busy. It wasn’t until she met cowriter Mary Holland (who also appears in the film as Harper’s sister Jane) while working on “Veep” that a script came together.
“We just really connected as human beings, and she was so funny and warm,” said DuVall. “And writing is such a lonely experience that I thought it would be so much more fun to work on a comedy with someone, especially someone who really made me laugh.
After sending a draft of the script to Temple Hill’s Isaac Klausner, who joined the project as a producer, they eventually chose to move forward at Sony’s TriStar Pictures, one of a number of studios where it was surprisingly well-received.
Surprising because it arrives without precedent. “Happiest Season” was intended to hit theaters as the first lesbian holiday rom-com released by a major studio, but plans had to change as the COVID-19 pandemic upended norms such as watching anything inside a theater.
“Before we moved to Hulu, people would ask me about the movie and approaching the place where I was going to have to encourage people to go to a movie theater started feeling very wrong to me, and on a moral level, just not something I was willing to do,” said DuVall, who despite the circumstances feels the streamer is a great home for her film. “It is more meaningful to me that people will be able to watch it safely from their homes with their family, and that maybe people who wouldn’t have gone to see it in the theater will now see it and get something out of it that they didn’t know they needed.”
Despite this minor setback, “Happiest Season” remains revolutionary for putting a queer couple at the center of a mainstream genre that is synonymous with heteronormativity. It’s significant even in a year that the TV powerhouses of Christmas rom-coms, including Hallmark and Lifetime, have also added more inclusive offerings to their lineups. This one is a major studio production directed by an out filmmaker, featuring an award-winning queer lead and other well-known LGBTQ actors in supporting roles.
“It was such a huge relief and pleasure and delight to work with a fellow queer woman on a movie like this because we are well past this stage,” said Stewart of working with DuVall. “It just felt so good to remember together funny things about what it was like to feel more uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with someone who hadn’t also gone through it.”
While Stewart advocates the importance of uplifting underrepresented voices, she doesn’t believe in hard and fast rules limiting who can tell what stories.
“I don’t think you need to be gay to be telling a gay story,” Stewart said. “Mackenzie’s a straight woman. She’s one of the most present, open, aware, honest people. I know that we feel the same way about loving other humans. So I just knew she was the partner for me in this movie.”
The queer love story of “Happiest Season” also stands out because although there have been more LGBTQ filmmakers making LGBTQ movies in recent years, these films are more often than not indies and happy endings can be few and far between.
“Typically with a queer story, my experience with watching movies is that you’re always sort of on the edge of your seat going, ‘Are they going to be OK?’” said Stewart. “Because that really does reflect a true experience. So it was so cool to see something [where] you know it’s going to work out. That these people just sort of need to get through this, but that they’re clearly in love and going to be together.”
For DuVall, leaning into all of the rules of Christmas movies and rom-coms was key because audiences deserve to see authentic LGBTQ stories with happy endings.
“Really nailing that tone was so important for the story ... sothat we could then transition into what the movie is really about, which is something very real,” said DuVall.
But both Davis and Stewart, who are better known for their more dramatic work, explained that they had a tendency stray away from that tone in their performances.
“We had to be reminded constantly by Clea what genre movie we were making,” said Davis. “I just really wanted to honor this story because it was personal to so many people that were going to watch the movie and so many people who were in the movie, and I imposed a lot of pressure on myself. It just felt very important to me. But I just dove so deep into the tragedy of the situation … and Clea would just come into scenes and be like, ‘Stop. It’s not that movie. It is a comedy.’ Having her recalibrate us was essential.”
“I always kind of lean away from stuff that I feel may be cliche or trite,” said Stewart. “And every single time Clea would come back and go ‘Look, you kind of just have to get on your tippy toes and kiss her.’ You just have to do the thing. You want to to give the people what they want.”
Ultimately, “Happiest Season” could be summed up as a coming-out story with all the holiday trimmings. But it’s a type of coming-out story that is rarely reflected on the big screen both because Harper is quite confident in her identity outside of her parents’ orbit and because it’s within a comedy.
“This is a woman who is so self-realized,” said Stewart. “When you meet [Harper] in the beginning, she’s more self-assured than I am, even. She’s more confident. Like she really knows herself.”
“Coming-out stories are always so fraught and dramatic,” said DuVall. “To be able to see one in the context of a comedy, while still honoring the experience was really, really important to me. We all have elements of ourselves that we’re trying to come to terms with, and for Harper it is being her authentic self with her family, which is something that I think a lot of people can relate to.”
For audiences that have become more accustomed to increased onscreen LGBTQ representation (particularly in television) and seeing queer story lines beyond the coming-out experience, Harper’s story might feel old-fashioned. But Stewart notes that the normalcy and comfort some see around coming out in 2020 is just one perspective
And DuVall points out how “the assumption that you’re straight is everywhere, so that in itself is like a very light homophobia that is ingrained into our world” and reminds us that coming out is still a big deal for many people
She also points to moves by the government enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation, in particular those targeting the transgender community, as well as the power of conservative courts to turn back hard-fought rights.
“Homophobia is not gone,” said DuVall. “Aggression towards LGBTQ+ people is not gone. So to anyone who’s saying ‘Aren’t we past coming out?’ No. It is a big deal. There are still people who are in the closet, and they are f— terrified. … [So] to be able to tell a story about someone coming out that is not a tragedy, that is a comedy, that is warm and bright and hopeful, that has a happy ending, is so important.”
But DuVall and Stewart both look forward to a day when things have changed.
“I think it’s cool to not pretend like it’s not hard to come out for some people even though for others it’s become really normal,” said Stewart. “Movies always are a little bit behind the times slightly. We’re always playing a couple years of catch up.
“I’m really excited to start seeing coming-out stories, queer stories from really young perspectives and how that’s gonna shift. What does it feel like for a younger person who doesn’t understand that it would be weird to not come out when you were 10 or say that you always knew you were gay?”
Click images for full view.
No one imagines that a Christmas rom-com can be renegade. And yet “Happiest Season,” about a couple played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, manages to be at once deeply, warmingly conventional and surprisingly radical, simply by focusing on a pair of women.
“I just wanted it to feel very, very relatable — but then also completely new,” said Clea DuVall, the director and co-writer with Mary Holland, who also stars as a loopy sister.
DuVall, who is an actress too (“Veep”), has said her own role in the seminal 2000 comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader,” in which she played a gay teenager sent to conversion camp, helped her out of the closet. She came out to her own mother on Christmas Day and modeled Stewart’s character, Abby, after herself. The production included other L.G.B.T.Q. stars, with Daniel Levy as Abby’s scene-stealing bestie and a soundtrack, courtesy of the producer Justin Tranter, performed by queer artists.
They shot in the cold in Pittsburgh — DuVall adamantly wanted that winter light — wrapping just two weeks before Covid-19 upended life.
In a recent video interview, DuVall, Stewart, Davis and Holland — beaming in from different locations, with Stewart’s dogs occasionally barking in the background — spoke about missing each other and somehow not yet getting the hang of Zoom interviews. (“Yesterday I had it on Gallery View, but then I just was looking at my own face the whole time,” Davis admitted.)
“Happiest Season,” which premieres on Hulu on Thanksgiving, was the last big project for all of them — a time capsule and a holiday rolled into one. “Christmas movies are so specific and they become a part of our lives in a way that other movies don’t,” DuVall said. “None of us had any idea just how much we would all need that comfort when the movie came out.”
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Kristen and Mackenzie, your characters at the beginning have such a sweet relationship and real chemistry. Did you build their back story to create that intimacy?
STEWART Right before we started shooting, you and I maybe had a couple of conversations. Do we meet in college? Are you older?
DAVIS We talked so much about our own current or past relationship experiences, what we like, things that felt really specific to our own lives. That’s for me more relevant than the checklist of, OK, we met then, what were our friend groups like when they merged? That stuff is important to a degree but it doesn’t show up in the same way as, like —
STEWART How do you catch a person’s eye.
Stewart said she wanted the romance to feel as if it were about “just two women in love” who happen to do a Christmas movie.
Stewart said she wanted the romance to feel as if it were about “just two women in love” who happen to do a Christmas movie.Credit...Photo illustration by Sam Cannon for The New York Times
STEWART I always felt as long as we felt solid going in, we could be like an aspirational, really self-assured couple in a way that strips any kind of discomfort or internalized homophobia that is undeniably applied to same-sex couples in commercial projects. Like, did we seem like lesbians? Or were we just two women in love, and then we do a Christmas movie?
Tell me more about characterizing queer characters onscreen vs. what has historically been represented.
STEWART I’ve had a lot of experience with confusing people and having it be misconstrued as my confusion. It’s like, I’m sorry, you need to catch up. Sometimes I didn’t wear heels when I was younger [and that was commented on]. Wardrobe choices — it became more and more evident that optics really matter, because they’ve been violently used against me.
You know, the word “lesbian” has a negative connotation to me that I have now tried to strip because I grew up being like oh, I’m not a lesbian. Because I hadn’t dated girls yet. But, like, that was violent. In retrospect — just because I have so much of pretty much every other type of privilege — that doesn’t mean that I have to not acknowledge that sucked and felt physical.
So it was important for me in this movie to acknowledge it and be like hey, I’m going to nicely invite you towards me, rather than feel like I’m feeding into an alienation that I have been sucked into my whole life.
Davis said she and Stewart didn’t work on a back story for their characters so much as discuss their own experiences.
Davis said she and Stewart didn’t work on a back story for their characters so much as discuss their own experiences.Credit...Photo illustration by Sam Cannon for The New York Times
DuVALL I think people don’t even realize how rampant homophobia is and how casual it is. And that it does really have a lasting impact.
I so appreciated making this movie with Kristen, because I felt she could understand it in a way that not a lot of people can. I was very lucky early in my career to be in “But I’m a Cheerleader” and play a character that felt like me for the first time, and also seeing that for the first time [onscreen] — it was so major. Creating Abby was really wanting to bring that kind of specificity back into movies.
Mary, you and Clea were co-stars on “Veep.” How did you go from that to writing a Christmas rom-com together?
HOLLAND Our characters on “Veep” never had scenes together, so we never got to be together on set. But I would go to the cast table reads and right away, we sort of locked in with each other and had this chemistry. She told me about this idea, and I was a thousand percent on board. Clea really took a shot in the dark with me. We were pretty much strangers when she asked me to write with her.
Did you have a list of Christmas movie must-haves, like that image of a door with a giant wreath on it opening, which seems like a staple of all holiday movies?
STEWART I’ve seen the movie like three times now — [jokingly] because I’m obsessed with myself. But when the door opens, I feel like the movie gets up and starts to run. And you’re like oh, my God, wait, I’m supposed to run with you? I love it.
DuVALL In the writing we didn’t really watch stuff — we built the world on our own. But once I got into working with our production designer, Theresa Guleserian, and our [director of photography], John Guleserian, that’s when we started creating those iconic images and [making] them feel like Christmas without just putting up a bunch of tinsel and lights.
The soundtrack is also totally Christmas-y. But why no Mariah?
DuVALL Because Mariah’s Christmas song is very expensive.
DuVall based Stewart’s character on her own experiences.
DuVall based Stewart’s character on her own experiences.Credit...Photo illustration by Sam Cannon for The New York Times
Kristen and Mackenzie, how do you balance being funny with the movie’s big emotional arcs?
DAVIS Clea would tell us this all the time — don’t try and make it something that it’s not. Don’t shy away from the big romance and don’t shy away from the slapstick and the big emotional moments, because all those things together are part of this genre. So even though your instinct as an actor might be to make it a little quieter, all of those things actually thrive if you invest the most into each of those elements.
STEWART Going back and forth from the comedy to being emotional or hurt was, like, traumatic for me. I would be mad at Mackenzie in the morning.
Holland met DuVall through “Veep” but the two hadn’t written anything together until “Happiest Season.”
Holland met DuVall through “Veep” but the two hadn’t written anything together until “Happiest Season.”Credit...Photo illustration by Sam Cannon for The New York Times
Dan Levy has a memorable scene talking about the coming out process. How did that develop?
DuVALL His speech was actually almost an afterthought. I was needing to create sides for auditions to see if this actor can do drama.
And then when I got into it I was like oh, this is maybe the most important part of the movie. And it was something that I hadn’t ever really articulated for myself. Because I came out and I think I just brushed it off. Then when I thought about it and that came out — he delivered that so beautifully, I would watch it in the tent and just cry.
STEWART Also Dan, I was so nervous. He’s so funny. I didn’t know him before. I was like, dude, is he going to think I’m like a dumb loser? Are we going to like each other? Because I’ve had experiences with comedians that at first you go, oh, this is going to be really fun, and then you’re like actually, I kind of just feel dumber around this person. And also there is a sort of one-uppy thing some really funny people have.
Dan is the most warm and welcoming and truly observational and neurotic funny person, without ever taking anyone down or being weird and negative. I was like oh, man, it’s going to be so easy to love this guy.
This movie made me realize that there’s a certain amount of tension and release that can be good, but really you do your best work when you’re supported and feel seen. Rather than fighting to feel that — which I have also loved doing, but I’m growing out of. I don’t have the energy for it.
Also, it feels so good to watch a movie where the jokes are so familiar to me and my friends, with relationships between two girls. It feels amazing to take the piss out of stuff that hurts, because that means you can release it.