Freddy Beans: Hello Kristen. Hello Laura. How are you both doing today?
Laura Dern: Hi Fred, I’m good.
Kristen Stewart: Hey Fred. I’m really good man, how are you?
FB: I’m doing pretty fantastic today, thank you.
Laura, can you give a brief synopsis of J T LeRoy for our readers?
LD: It’s based on Savannah’s memoir. It’s this six year experience, which she’s adapted with Justin Kelly, our director. On its surface, it’s a radical ride for a seemingly male writer who is actually a female writer. She asks her sister in law to pretend to be the male writer and the rest is history. Under the surface, which is why I think Kristen and I were so passionate to be a part of it, it explores identity. Comfort in one’s own skin. The pressure culture puts on others to identify a certain way. What is truth? What is a lie? All of these themes, I think, were fascinating to explore for us.
FB: Self analyzation is so important and empowering.
Kristen, what was your favorite aspect of playing Savannah Knoop?
KS: I like playing someone so young and unarticulated in terms of identity vocabulary, yet is completely herself. It’s a young woman grappling with gender, sexuality, and her own creativity and how to funnel that. It’s interesting having met the person at the center of this story. She’s one of the most self-possessed people, I’ve ever met. Finding a context for all of that confusion. Getting in her head, as a young person on the market. That story is very fundamental. To take a young person with that kind of delicacy, unique nature and put here at the center of something so out of her control. At times really salacious and others overtly admiring. Positive reactions and negative reactions everywhere and yet none of it can be true because it’s all a lie. Yet, it’s the most truthful thing you’ve ever done. It’s crazy! The relationship between Laura and Savannah and how they kind of recognized each other. They saw the struggle within one another. They mutually bolster that drive to arrive, where they feel comfortable. A weird thing happens between them, a sort of co-dependency. That constant struggle for power that happens between strong women. Women who really do love each other but all of a sudden can become selfish and feel bad about it, after. I found it all so complicated, true, and loving. I thought it was important to tell the intimate story and not just be a huge salacious news story. There’s actual human beings at the center of it. Things happened and there’s a reason for the way it went down.
FB: Absolutely. You caught everything with that last piece, they’re simply human. We succeed. We fail. We make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them.
Laura, did you find the character Laura Albert easy to identify with? What were the challenges you found in the role?
LD: I definitely didn’t find her easy to identify with but I understood her deeply. That was the fun of the journey. Feeling like you’re being your most transparent self, while others say you’re a liar. I think everyone deals with self-doubt in their lives. Someone is always projecting on you and you’re always projecting yourself onto the world. That piece, was really, deliciously fun. Also, trying to understand her, particularly from Savannah’s point of view. One thing about Laura is, she was always grasping at a persona, to sort of breathe through. She would have made a great actor. I’m sure that’s why she’s such a great writer. She found her breath through others interactions. It’s an amazing experience as an actor, to try and understand that desperation. Many of us can find that relatable. Finding out who we are and articulating it to the world, even when it’s terrifying to do so.
FB: Thank you for that Laura.
Kristen, THE CHRONOLOGY OF WATER by Lidia Yuknavitch will be your feature film directorial debut. How excited are you to get cooking on this one and can you give a brief synopsis for our readers on Lidia’s life and memoir?
KS: Lidia became my favorite writer about forty pages into her memoir and I’ve read everything she’s written since. If I only have a minute to describe why I want to make the movie and why I think she’s truly, a remarkable human being. It’s not necessarily the things she’s gone through in her life. The way she’s swum through having a body and the violent things that happen to bodies. How we can channel that into love, creativity, and art. It’s some of the most traumatizing and revitalizing reading, I’ve ever done in my life. It’s not necessarily different from stories I’ve heard before. It’s her perspective. Her perception. The way she sees the world. The way she admires things. The way she consumes people and art. The way she fucks and the way she talks about it. She’s sort of hung her shame on a clothesline and let it dry. Now she’s completely and unabashedly herself. It gives the young woman in me hope for other young women. Just absolutely breaking every pre-conceived notion of who we’re supposed to be, as a body. Honestly, everything I’ve seen growing up, boys are allowed to be boys and girls aren’t allowed to be girls. Girls have to be something that’s anesthetized. Something fucking clinically clean and we’re not that. I think the way she writes about life, it’s just staggeringly beautiful and needs to be a movie.
FB: That’s beautiful. Thank you for that Kristen. Thank you both for your time. Good luck in the future!
Knoop discussed seeing their own story portrayed on screen, saying “It is very strange, and very meta. I feel grateful that it happened slowly [Kelly and Knoop have been working on the project on and off for nearly a decade], and that it’s also like plunking yourself, your experience, like becoming your own object, and watching the character as an ant moving across the table is liberating … and there’s something about that process and having the distance creates new understanding.”
Kelly discussed what he thought he knew about the story, versus what he learned through knowing Knoop and reading their memoir. “I read the memoir and I couldn’t believe the story. I lived in San Francisco during the entire JT saga, so I knew all about it, but people’s versions were ‘two women who wanted fame and money and created this fake character’ and reading the book I thought … this is such an incredible story, far more complicated than anyone thinks, and it made me really understand why they did it.”
Part of what makes the film so compelling is the chemistry between Dern and Stewart, who bring an immediate intimacy to their onscreen relationship. The two had 48 hours to prep before shooting began, and quickly connected to find the bond between Albert and Knoop.
Dern said, “I realize, when I talk about my friendship with you [Stewart], when you’re not around and someone brings up Kristen Stewart, it’s like ‘I own Kristen Stewart, I am Kristen Stewart, I know everything about Kristen Stewart!’, there’s an arrogance to it, and I realize that to do this, it was like ‘every part of your body I have to touch and be comfortable with, you get no say, I’m fucking taking you, and we’re doing this thing.'” Stewart agreed, saying “the thing is I liked it, so it’s okay.”
Dern continued, “We felt that Savannah/Laura connection. She was willing to go on that ride, and sense of self and body and ownership and boundary-lessness, and identity were all in the mix of what the story was about.” Stewart agreed, “It felt fucking great.”
Stewart also discussed playing Knoop, and what she thinks her character found so captivating about Albert, saying “On paper, you can understand why someone that age, Savannah’s age who had this creative impulse but felt like maybe who she was was confusing for people, and how to get that out was just, like unforeseeable at that point. And then you meet someone who goes, ‘God, I see every part of you and you should start running, you should start making stuff, and you should do it with me’, it’s crazy but it’s not like she was like, ‘we’re going to pull of the most extreme, crazy hoax of all time’. It didn’t seem that crazy in the beginning.”
Both actresses discussed working on female-driven projects (Dern had just wrapped the second season of Big Little Lies and Stewart just filmed Charlie’s Angels) and their enthusiasm for female-led content. Dern said, “I think continually, always longing to play characters, to tell stories that examine ‘the other’, whether it’s literally about representation and having voices be heard resoundingly in ways we haven’t seen before in film and television … we’re not one thing! We’re complicated, we’re manipulative, we’re longing, we’re desperate, it’s true it’s a lie, it’s all of it. We’re seeing that in the news every day. Just to get to play such flawed, broken, complicated female characters, which neither of would have, even as girls when we started.”
Stewart agreed, saying “It’s so expansive, so exciting actually, to be like ‘whoa there are so many things we haven’t acknowledged.’ It’s an exciting time in movies … we have so much more opportunity to tell strange stories … I’m really interested in ‘the coming of age’ story for a girl, we haven’t even, not even put a finger on it, so yeah, that’s exciting.”
J.T. LeRoy is currently playing in select theaters and is available on On Demand / Digital HD
Refinery29: Laura, your character Renata Klein on Big Little Lies is one of a troupe of iconic liars. Laura Albert in JT Leroy is a very different sort of liar. Between Laura and Renata, who's the better liar?
Laura Dern: "They’re not even on the same planet! I’m really interested in people who tell the truth, and those women believe they’re telling the truth. That’s where I think they’re similar. Their truth is their truth. Renata is someone who feels so projected upon by the world. What’s beautiful about JT LeRoy is despite the seeming hoax, there’s a real purity to these female characters. They're both desperately longing to find self and identity. Laura felt to me like a cat in a bag. Scrambling to get any way to get the truth out and not to be seen. I was very heartbroken and moved by that."
In a way, you both share the role of JT LeRoy. How did you work together to create JT?
Kristen Stewart: "We had all the footage and photos of their appearances, as well as interviews and people’s impressions of them from that time from the documentary. But I had to take the part from Savannah. I listened to Laura Dern read a story as JT, not necessarily Laura Albert. We needed to make it together."
Dern: "Which is amazing. I almost forgot about that, that we both played that person. Some of the scenes were hard to get to and really refine, but also fascinating — it felt like working on a play together — were these scenes in her office where Laura is pulling Savannah in."
Stewart: "And pulling JT out."
Dern: "There was a desperate need to have an avatar. And to find a muse that would keep that avatar alive. I believe that was really true for Laura."
Stewart: "I think she saw a displaced energy in Savannah, and she said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make you feel better about having that, because I have it.’"
Savannah and Justin said they were interested in the why, not the how, of the women's scheme. Have you come to your independent conclusions as to why Laura and Savannah sustained JT for six years?
Stewart: "How it happened is a judgmental standpoint. To say how: How would people want to lie about something so personal to other people? How did this all happen? But why makes a lot of sense. Given all the details, you understand why Savannah would want to be around such a compulsive artist and such an infectious person — she was trying to find herself in a world that wasn’t really listening, in a world that definitely found her confusing and when she was confused herself. She found Laura, a talented writer who's also her big brother's girlfriend, who was able to say, ‘You can take your agency by the scruff of your neck if you want to.’ Until then, no one told Savannah that. I totally know why Savannah would’ve gotten wrapped up in this and lost control halfway through. It’s easy once you get to know them to not judge so harshly."
And Laura has another set of reasoning.
Dern: "I can’t speak for Laura Albert. I’m an actor just trying to find my way in [from] a place of empathy. To understand the why. JT LeRoy is from Savannah’s perspective — the goal was to create Savannah's experience of Laura versus Laura’s broken-down innards. But I had to know them anyway. From my perspective and from what I learned on the outside, Laura was someone who was feeling uncomfortable in their own skin for a very long time. She'd already invented JT. If someone is calling suicide hotlines as another person for help, there’s a lot of shame and trauma there. An invention of another self in order to be heard breaks my heart. At the core, it’s what Savannah related to, and it’s what so moving about this movie.
"JT is a part of her. JT was alive in her. She did want to give JT a body and a voice. That has some real depth to it. I don’t think it’s a lie or a hoax. I think it’s steeped in a lot of truth. Then, it gets out of hand — there’s media and people needing things from her and JT. But I think it’s about a need to heal. "
What was involved in the JT disguise?
Stewart: "It was trippy. As both Laura Albert and Speedy [Albert's disguise as JT's manager], Laura's face is very much hanging out. I felt like I was being John Malkovich. I could only see a little bit through the glasses and wigs. I grumbled a little bit. Savannah would talk about the immense amount of anxiety she felt when people would address her, and she had to speak as JT. She got better at it as time progressed and was able to develop aspects of JT that she owned. Typically, though, she was on this simulation ride, and I felt that as well.
"It was nice, too. We had a lot of extras on the movie and oftentimes if I get self conscious or shy around a ton of people, it was nice to have the disguise. It really works. I went away. I didn't exist anymore."
This disguise can be your new thing when you’re out in public.
Stewart: "Yeah, yeah. People will think that supes normal. That'd be really good for me."
There are so many levels to each of your performances in this film. You’re playing people who are playing people who are playing people. How did you keep from getting lost in those rabbit holes?
Kristen Stewart: I think … the point of it was to get a little bit lost in the rabbit hole. In a somewhat measured way, obviously, so the story makes sense and you don’t lose your fuckin’ mind. [Laughs.] The story is from Savannah’s perspective, about a woman telling her story [who] needs somebody else to tell her story from a wildly altered perspective. Bringing someone in to find themselves through something that’s untrue, but then is ultimately true — God, it chases its tail into a Tasmanian devil storm.
That wasn’t well-articulated, but I don’t know a good way to put it! I felt a closeness and a kinship with Savannah for a lot of reasons. I felt utterly seen by Laura [Dern], and I thought that that really reflected the way that Savannah and Laura Albert’s characters related to each other. Though we have a pretty healthy relationship, comparatively.
Laura Dern: Yeah!
KS: But who knows, it hasn’t been as long.
LD: Just give us time. [Laughs.]
Kristen, can you speak more about this kinship you felt with Savannah? Because having followed your career, she does seem similar to you in a lot of ways. You’ve spoken in the past about your own uncomfortability with press, with red carpets, with leading a public life, and about your own sexuality —
KS: While we were making this movie, Savannah identified as “she,” and now they identify as “they.” In terms of the process and the evolution of being a person and being a self, I can relate to that unarticulated nature — of [not having] answers to very, very demanding questions. It’s something I’ve always been a little weird with — not opposed to, because that makes it sound like I’ve really articulated it. But I’ve had this physical aversion to nailing things down in a way that’s digestible for other people. There’s this misconception that, if you’re able to state something as simple and easy and confidently, you’re more self-possessed or more realized. That’s not true. I only recently became comfortable with that idea.
And fuck, thank God — I think it just happened in our current times, too. It’s easier to have a longer conversation that requires patience, versus fucking five years ago, when people were demanding that I come out as gay. And I was like, “Dude, how do you know? I don’t even know!” It was crazy. For me and Savannah, I do relate to the idea that they’re a complex person who’s never going to stop changing. Not changing as in, “becoming who you’re supposed to be.” You’re always who you’re supposed to be. There’s just an evolution there. It’s not that easy to know people, and I think we’re all [developing] better intentions in terms of knowing each other. We’re gaining patience with that. It’s not an easy thing. I have a very easy relationship with identity, I just don’t have an easy relationship with conveying that identity to the masses.
LD: This is some amazing and articulate dialogue.
KS: I’m really on a tear. [Laughs.] My progress has been kind of retroactive. Maybe I was really frustrated [in the past], trying to conduct interviews that I was clearly, like, failing miserably at. But I think the kids watching those interviews probably looked at me and thought — and the reason why I’m now [looked up to] by them — “We’re a generation that doesn’t have to identify as one thing if we don’t want to.” I’ve been involved in a narrative that I wasn’t aware of. And I feel that way about Savannah. I look up to them in such a foundational way. If you consume any of their art, look at their fucking Instagram, you’ll know why I look up to them. They’re a courageous, authentic, unique person. It’s not always been easy to be that.
I do think things have changed drastically in the past five years in the exact way you’re talking about, Kristen. It’s much easier to exist in that in-between space. Your career has, too — you’re playing a lot of roles where women are either openly or subtly queer. What’s behind that choice?
KS: It’s not conscious or intentional. But I think it’s natural. We’re all drawn to the things we’re drawn to. I didn’t call my agents and say, “This is my direction now. All of my choices have to reflect my — you ready for this? — my fucking TRUTH!” [Laughs.]
LD: But [that] also speaks to Kristen’s boldness, which is a rare gift. You know better than anybody as a film journalist — it’s rare that the artist is matched by the human. That’s what I fell in love with in Kristen. She matches it by saying, “This is who I am. These are the things that interest me. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s make a film to ask more questions, not because we need to shove a moral down anyone’s throat.” She expresses herself as an individual, and that’s a rare, beautiful thing.
KS: This is Laura Dern. I take her everywhere I go. [Both laugh.]
Can you guys talk about how you developed this friendship? What’d you do on the set when you weren’t filming?
LD: We talked about this movie when we weren’t filming! And when we had social time, Kristen adopted my teenage son, who is obsessed with her. They became besties. That made it easier. I had a built-in nanny, co-star, love interest — an all-in-one. The film is a love story; it’s complex, it’s about intimacy, there’s love-hate. But in real life, we get to be buddies. Plus the nanny thing. It’s a small, indie movie, so we couldn’t really fly a nanny out. [Laughs.]
Laura, how old is your son? And why was he so obsessed with Kristen?
LD: He’s now 17, so he was 15 at the time. Turning 16.
KS: I travel with my best friend [Suzie Riemer] when she can, and Laura does, too. So we had a little crew. And we were just like, “Ellory, come over here!” I know what it’s like to grow up on a set, because my mom was a script supervisor, and you want someone to grab you and make you part of the fold, because we’re all stuck here. Also, by the way, Ellory is incredibly fucking cool. When I was 16, I was a serious dweeberson. We were obsessed with him, to be honest. Me and Suzie were marveling at how dope he was for his age, and how dorky we were. Now he’s cooler than our friends.
LD: My compliment back to Kristen is she comes at it with truth. She allows him to be an adult in the room. It’s not like, “Oh, what are your interests?” She was like, “Dude, what are you feeling? What’s happening?”
KS: And he answered everything!
LD: He likes to go deep too.
KS: It was an amazing experience. And we got to wear wigs the whole time.
I’m curious if you guys find the performance inherent in this movie similar to the performance of fame. Do you ever feel like you’re more of a persona than a person, or that the public is trying to craft your narrative for you?
KS: I’ve always really fervently fought against that. But I felt it an immense amount. I’ve had people really close to me for years be like, “Why don’t you make it easier on yourself? When you go to a press day or do an interview or a red carpet — you’re an actor! Can’t you do things that won’t make people write weird shit about you, or have conversations that are hard?” And I’m like, “No, I would rather have them.” I’d rather not be, or not be an actor, if I was just a big lie.
LD: I feel the same. Interestingly, it’s how our friendship developed. Because we met doing press. We met on a Kelly Reichardt movie, Certain Women, having been in different stories [within the film]. But we were paired together for press. And we were like, “Whoa! It’s somebody who wants to answer in the same way, and try to be very available, and maybe even vulnerable in press.” Ten years ago it was easier to be at a junket and hear an actor do what Kristen just said. “Hey, you gotta do your press, just create a story.” But now [actors and the press are] on the same team. Not that we weren’t, but we have a mission. The artist and the press are equally in that “fake news” category, and we want the truth to be exposed through art and through journalism. We have an opportunity to talk about real things, so let’s use it. It feels like we’re part of a tight-knit community now. And it’s a gorgeous feeling you didn’t really have before.
Can you both identify when you felt that shift, when you felt like you could be vulnerable with the public?
LD: I prefer to not identify it! [Laughs.] No, I’m kidding. We’re on a roll here.
KS: Did you play the game more when you were younger? Or you were always the same?
LD: I’m literally staring at my publicist I’ve had since I was 19 years old. And I think she’s thrilled that I’ve finally started to want to be a little bit more aware of self-preservation. [Both laugh.] I was raised by hippie vigilante actors to just say what’s true, speak your political truth, talk about global warming. I made a comedy about abortion! I didn’t require a shift, but I think I thought we were supposed to answer all of the questions, even the ones about relationships. Now I don’t answer those questions. I’ve become a grown-up. For me, it took having kids. I don’t think I was as wise as Kristen. Now I’m protecting them, so I create false narratives to make things sound a little bit kinder at times. I’ve loved everyone I’ve ever loved and worked with! [Laughs.] Other than that, I tell the truth about all else.
KS: This goes right back to what we were talking about with the — fucking Goddammit — the sexuality, the gender stuff! It’s the same — relationships, personal stuff. You feel a responsibility to not be this fake thing, sitting in front of people, thinking you have anything interesting to say outside of trying to sell a movie. People ask you questions, and it’s your responsibility to answer those questions, right? Because I’m not just fucking here to be famous. So yes, I want to give you myself. But when people start asking for things that aren’t you, so they can take you, and morph you into a commodity and sell you? That is not your responsibility, to provide them an income. Like, fuck you! But when you’re little, how do you know which questions to answer, and which to not? It takes growing up, and going, “I know what matters to me and what I care about.”
LD: To go even deeper — because we’re on a tear! — how about the fact that we’re the only girls in the movie? We were with five guys doing press, and the five guys weren’t asked the same questions. I’ve dated musicians and actors, and I’d be like, “Oh my God, [this reporter] asked me so many questions about us.” And the guy would say, “They didn’t ask me anything.” But now that we’re working together as a community of actresses.
KS: We’re all talking, guys!
LD: We’ve all had the same experience. If a man said, “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know?” The journalist would say, “Oh, isn’t that adorable?” And then if we said, “Oh, I’m not comfortable with that question,” the journalist would say, “Really? Why aren’t you? Why aren’t you?”
KS: “What are you hiding?”
LD: There was bullying in a different way.
Speaking to this idea of a persona, do you guys follow the internet discourse around you at all?
LD: No. Oh, God, are you gonna tell me?
KS: You’re shining! Everything I ever see about you is very un-sordid.
LD: I will share things about my views or whatever, but I don’t read anything. I’m unaware. Are you aware of how you’re talked about?
KS: I used to be so aware when I was younger. Because it was so … so bad.
LD: Even I knew! It was everywhere.
KS: I was really curious. I needed to not have people know stuff about me that I didn’t know. At a certain point, I stopped that. Because I actually, genuinely — if there was a way to turn myself inside out, or say this while being X-rayed, you’d know I was being honest. I stopped caring. And it got so much easier. I genuinely stopped giving a fuck what the headlines were, what the articles were. And now, if I Google my name and I read the stuff, I look at it like it’s absurdist art. “Oh, cool, look at this weird thing!” I’m not saying everything is not real. Everyone’s opinion and perception is their own, and if you see a picture of me, walking down the street, that happened. But I used to be aware of it because I cared, because I wanted to control it. And now I control it by not caring. Which is ironic, but it works.
When and why did that change? KS: I think a couple years ago. I got busy. The further I got away from being a kid, it got easier. And this sounds so, literally, such a circle-jerk — but I’ve also been famous for a long time. The first couple years, I couldn’t understand how many people were in the room. When I put them all out of the room, I realized I could just be myself.
Kristen Stewart says her new film JT LeRoy, which is out Friday, can help teach about the journey of gender identity.
The film, based on a true story, follows author Laura Albert (played by Laura Dern) who writes books under the pen name JT LeRoy, the son of a truck stop hooker. When the popularity of the books grow, Laura enlists her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop (Stewart) to pretend to be the male persona and make public appearances. (Knoop, who uses they/them pronouns, released their memoir in 2008 titled Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy, which is the basis for the film).
“It's a journey and it's one that requires patience and actual care for other people," Stewart told The Hollywood Reporter at the ArcLight Hollywood premiere on Wednesday about the story. "I think if you become confused and therefore righteously indignant that you're being judged for not understanding, it just means that you don't want to. If you really want to understand and care about other people, it might take a minute, because maybe there's not one word for it. Maybe it requires 10 sentences and that's fine, too.”
Stewart added that the shift toward understanding gender fluidity and identity has only become “a thing” in the past couple of years. “God, like I was answering questions that negated this point two years ago and feeling like I had to answer them, when I'm like, 'Dude, can we not get to the point where we don't?’” Stewart told THR.
“You should have room to find it for yourself,” Dern added to THR. “Maybe it's the individual who doesn't know. Beautiful thing.”
Director Justin Kelly stresses that it’s both “bizarre” and enlightening how Savannah is learning more about “who she is as a person” by playing a fictional male character. “If anyone were to see it and think that they could be whoever they wanted to be — that's not the goal of the movie in terms of lying to people, but in terms of embracing who you really are as a human being — then that can be one great thing to take away from it,” Kelly told THR.
“Everything is way more fluid and way more gray than anyone wants to believe,” added co-star Kelvin Harrison Jr., who plays Sean (Harrison describes the character as "kind of like queer ... I kind of wanted to have a masculine femininity.”)
Stewart said she realized after reading the script how much more “wild” and “insane” and “salacious” the story must’ve been than it looked on the outside. “Obviously, it was this elaborate story that wasn't necessarily representative of a black-and-white truth, but I found so much truth within the conception of that story involved with Savannah and Laura,” Stewart said. “It's really an epic tale and it's really worthwhile because it concerns identity and finding your own agency as an artist.”
Dern agreed: “It's about finding yourself and to find your truth through lies is a really fascinating journey.” She believes, in her character’s case, that she was creating veils in order to be the artist she wanted to be and to express that she had been traumatized and abused — “and didn't know how to say it for herself, as though she was almost not entitled to that or would be judged for it. And she learned about identity and freedom of art in a way through this muse that became the body and the being that spoke to this invention that was her pain.”
On the red carpet at the premiere, Dern and Stewart displayed their friendship, greeting each other with a hug and doing joint interviews together. “She's so brilliant and eloquent,” Dern gushed of Stewart. “[It] was a very intimate and amazing experience to do with a fellow actor and buddy.”
Like most actresses, Kristen Stewart is ready for a sea change in Hollywood. In the years leading up to her coming out officially on “Saturday Night Live” in 2017, Stewart made some of her best work — (“Personal Shopper” and “Certain Women” both came out in 2016) — but it is only in the last few years that she has embraced playing overtly queer characters. In last year’s “Lizzie,” Stewart played impressionable lover to Chloë Sevigny’s murderous Lizzie Borden. She plays another real life character in “JT LeRoy,” in theaters this weekend, which capitalizes on early aughts nostalgia by dramatizing a literary heist that fascinated the world.
Stewart served on the 2018 Cannes Film Festival competition jury alongside Cate Blanchett and Ava DuVernay; that year the women of Cannes loudly condemned the festival’s dearth of women filmmakers. The actress has never been afraid to speak her mind, especially when it comes to questions of representation in Hollywood. When asked how she thinks Hollywood is handling queer stories during a recent interview with IndieWire, Stewart said “Still, it is exciting,” but said she saw room for improvement.
“It’s weird, because so many of the people creating the content are queer or are not straight, down the line straight,” said Stewart, with a caveat that she did not want to generalize. “Yet, I think that a lot of people who have grown up and are not as young, and who have been trying to make their art and have it be consumable and have it be in a commercial setting…a really common prevalent reaction has been to be quiet. I think that their shame has been regurgitated back on them. So only now are we going — ‘oh wait, OK we do our jobs really well, but can we tell our own stories? Because we tell your stories all the fucking time.’ And it’s like, we got really good at that.
Stumbling over her words a bit, she added: “Again, not to generalize, but it’s like our business is, like full, like we’re all, it’s just a ton of gay people!”
While recent period dramas, including “Lizzie,” “Colette,” and Oscar winner “The Favourite,” have shed light on queer lives of yore, Stewart pointed to historical dramas as one of Hollywood’s blind spots.
“It’s also crazy if you think about the stories that already exist. Even historical dramas,” she said. “Stuff that’s based on factual accounts of situations. Those stories are only being told very narrowly because queer people have existed forever. Just because we’re now talking about it. And really…it’s been such a tiny little bit of time that we’ve actually been talking about this story. I would love to go back and pick all your favorite movies and then go: Where are the gay people? And what are they doing, and what are they hiding, and what are they not talking about in those stories? It’s gnarly.”
Stewart will have a chance to correct the balance when she makes her feature directorial debut, “The Chronology of Water.” Based on the sexual coming-of-age memoir by Lydia Yutkavich, the movie is currently in pre-production. So how will that film stack up against other queer stories?
“‘Chronology of Water’ is in terms of that, really it’s a strong swimmer and it’s entirely fluid,” Stewart said.