Sunday, 6 September 2009

Twilight actress Kristen Stewart on New Moon

At only 19, Kristen Stewart has already starred alongside Jodie Foster, Sean Penn and Robert De Niro and is the lead in the scarily successful Twilight series

I think she has a much bigger rack than I have.” Kristen Stewart is pondering her Twilight action figure — the little plastic doll that represents Bella, her character in the film franchise — while checking the proportions of the bust. “I also think she looks much older than me,” she adds, before setting the figure aside. I pick it up and, on closer inspection, the doll does look a little older than its real-life progenitor (as to the “rack”, closer inspection would be inappropriate). “It’s strange,” continues the 19-year-old actress, “but people often think I’m a little bit older than I really am. A French journalist asked me earlier on how my teenage years had affected my later life. I’m still in my teens.” She smiles. “Really, even if I was older, how could my teenage years not have shaped my life? I don’t know how to answer that.”

The French journalist should have done his research, although, to the uneducated observer, Stewart might well seem beyond her years. Her conversation, for example, most certainly belies her age. Not many teenagers are quite as articulate or as self-aware — although not many teenagers are carrying the world’s biggest burgeoning film franchise, the teen vampire series Twilight. With JK Rowling’s much-loved characters pottering into their final big-screen chapter, Twilight will soon stand as the top teen-movie franchise, and with their leading lady, the film-makers have snared a supremely talented and highly intelligent young star.

Stewart’s most recent movie, the understated indie comedy Adventureland, is a case in point. In this semi-autobiographical tale, the writer-director Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers, Superbad) draws upon his experience of working in a theme park during his teens in the 1980s. Stewart plays the troubled Em Lewin, the main character’s love interest. The film took only $16m at the US box office, but is better than those figures suggest, working as an ensemble piece (the Saturday Night Live favourites Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig provide hilarious support, while The Squid and the Whale’s Jesse Eisenberg shines in the leading-man role) — although Stewart’s character is, quite deliberately, granted plenty of screen time.

“Kristen was one of the few people I cast without even auditioning, even though she’s younger than the character she plays in the film,” Mottola tells me. “But I think she’s the best actress in her age range. She can make thinking look dramatic.” Mottola’s favourite scene sees Stewart deliver a story about her father having an affair while her mother was dying of cancer. “She tells it in this very matter-of-fact manner and instinctively knew that someone who hasn’t processed those feelings yet wouldn’t know how to talk about them,” he says. Other people he auditioned for the role transformed the speech into what he describes as “some of the most melodramatic monologues I’ve ever heard”.

Stewart looks bashful when I relay the compliment. “I am not a terribly introverted, damaged girl at a theme park in the 1980s,” she smiles, “but I can imagine what it would be like to not like yourself very much, and to be kicking it alone. Also to feel like you're sort of smarter than everybody, but nobody gets it. I get all that, and then the masochistic aspects girls are good at. Also, I guess I have always felt older than I am. I felt I should have been an adult at the age of five. And I thought I was an adult when I was 12. I wasn’t like a warrior, but I have never been that kid who doesn’t care a fig about anything. It’s just the way I’ve been brought up.”

Stewart’s full-time education in her home state of California tailed off when she hit 14. Both of her parents are familiar with the film business (her father, John Stewart, worked as a stage manager and television producer; her mother, Jules Mann-Stewart, as a script supervisor) and trusted her to continue her education via correspondence while she concentrated on her fledgling acting career. The move has paid off, and, as Stewart has already noted, these early years have informed the rest of her life. At only 16, she had already worked with arguably the best actress and actor in Hollywood today, appearing first with Jodie Foster in 2002’s Panic Room (as Foster’s sullen daughter) and then, in 2007, as Tracy, a waif-like trailer-park teen who falls for Emile Hirsch in Sean Penn’s directorial hit Into the Wild. Foster and Penn have proved invaluable mentors.

“Those two have had a massive influence on me, of course,” she offers, “and in Sean I have seen something that I have never seen in someone else — this huge sense of conviction. It kind of kicks you out of the room.” It sounds intimidating. “Yes, definitely, and it is also gently persuasive. Sean takes things so seriously. If he is doing a part, he never stops until it’s done, whereas Jodie takes it a little less seriously. She is able to do the same thing without killing herself so much. But that’s what he needs. So from both of them, I get the same thing: they only do what they feel strongly about, and there is never anything to be ashamed of.”

In between her films with Foster and Penn, Stewart earned strong notices for 2004’s Speak, in which, at only 13, she starred as a young teen who is raped and stops speaking. She also worked with Mike Figgis and Sharon Stone (Cold Creek Manor, 2003), Jon Favreau (Zathura, 2005), Griffin Dunne (Fierce People, 2005), the Pang brothers (The Messengers, 2007) and Robert De Niro (What Just Happened, 2008). “I’m glad I could do those films, and I was glad to leave school,” she recalls. “I couldn’t relate to kids my own age. They are mean and don’t give you any chance.” Does she feel as though she missed out on anything? “No, I think the social aspects I haven’t missed out on. I am around people constantly. I meet hundreds of people at work. Once you have done with school, you realise it is just a smaller version of life. When I was there, I was never the type of girl to be walking around talking about acting, so I didn’t get a whole lot of hassle for that, until someone found out, until someone saw some old movie and realised. I was trying to play it down, but I definitely got, ‘Oh, she’s such a bitch.’ They’d never spoken to me, but instantly they were, like, ‘You are so rude.’ I am not rude.”

She’s right. In fact, Stewart is thoroughly engaging. Admittedly, some journalists find her a struggle, but I’d suggest that, like the Frenchman, they have underestimated their subject. In person, she is bright and quite charming, an eager smoker who regularly curls her knees up under her chin while talking. She is uncomfortable with the interview process — “I’m not very good at self-analysis” — and any poorly thought-through or ill-informed questions are given short shrift.

In securing the role of Bella in the Twilight series, she stands as one of the most sought-after teen stars in the world. The first film in the franchise, released last November, snaffled more than $380m at the box office (recouping 10 times its original budget); the second instalment, New Moon, will most likely fare even better. In the second chapter, the hunky vampire of the series, Edward Cullen (played by a big-eyebrowed Robert Pattinson) leaves Bella Swann (the two are hopelessly in love), allowing another male, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), to enter the scene and form a sticky love triangle. Cue plenty of soul-searching and teen-tinged heartache. “There’s also a bit more action in this movie,” she offers. “The werewolves are introduced, and you have the character of Jacob. The way it all pans out, it’s quite tragic, really.”

Given the first film’s popularity, has the Twilight saga transformed her life? “Well, I never worked to some grand plan,” she says, “but I’d be lying if I said Twilight hadn’t afforded me other opportunities. Most of the films I like to make are tiny and barely see the light of day, but after Twilight, people are more likely to go, ‘Oh, let’s go see Bella in that stripper movie.’” The stripper movie is Welcome to the Rileys, a low-key emotional drama she shot with James Gandolfini after making the first Twilight film. She has also recently finished The Runaways, which charts the early years of the eponymous 1970s all-girl rock band, fronted by Joan Jett (Stewart’s role) and Cherie Currie (played by her New Moon co-star Dakota Fanning). “Joan is the ultimate role model,” she beams. That Stewart bonded with the spiky rocker herself on set should come as no surprise. “While Cherie struggled a bit with the fame, Joan knew how to handle the pressure and knew what it could do for her career.”

Like Jett, Stewart must now live her life in the glare of the media spotlight, and there are persistent rumours of on-set shenanigans between Stewart and Pattinson, although the actress has always brushed away the tittle-tattle. When the first film hit cinemas, she was already dating her Speak co-star Michael Angarano. “He’s cool with the whole thing,” she had told me at a previous interview, earlier this year. “I think he likes the first movie. I don’t really know, but he is not a jealous guy. He is fine. He can handle that.” And what were her thoughts on true love at first sight, a keynote of the movie? “I guess, for Bella, her feelings for Edward Cullen almost change the chemical structure of her body, like heroin. And now that has happened, she’d rather die than be without him. Maybe that happens for people — I don’t know. As for me, I haven’t left my boyfriend for Robert Pattinson.”

Bar the gossip, has fame fostered any other troubles? Twilight fans, for example, are notoriously zealous (indeed, the “Twihards” are positively fanatic). “Really, people don’t recognise me often. I think I just look different in person or something. I'm also not very approachable, and maybe they’re just thinking, ‘Ooohhh, she’s scary.’ It is weird seeing all the marketing, though, and the billboards. I like burgers, but do I want to see my face all over the burger cartons? Not really.” And what if the marketeers bring out further additions to her line of Bella action figures? “The doll?” She smiles. “Well, I guess I can live with that. In fact, I’m getting used to the bigger rack.”

Adventureland is released on Friday; The Twilight Saga: New Moon is out on November 20


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