K-Stew’s cre­ative de­sires

Much has changed in the life of Amer­i­can ac­tor Kristen Ste­wart since she played sullen mil­len­nial Bella Swan in the Twi­light series. Still in her 20s, she em­bod­ies a new sort of movie star, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

More than a few writ­ers give the im­pres­sion that it re­quires a leap of faith to ad­mire Kristen Ste­wart. A war is, it seems, still be­ing fought with the 15-year-old male id­iots who re­viled the Twi­light films be­cause they were “girls’ stuff”. There is a sense of crit­ics pat­ting them­selves on their backs for their open-mind­ed­ness.

You get lit­tle such qual­i­fi­ca­tion in France. At 26, Ste­wart is al­ready a stal­wart of the red car­pet at Cannes. She stormed the Palais with On the Road in 2012 and Olivier As­sayas’s Clouds of

Sils Maria in 2014. Last May, she was back with Woody Allen’s Café So­ci­ety, which opened the event, and As­sayas’s Per­son

al Shop­per, which won the best di­rec­tor prize.

The French love her like they love cheese. That long face and those arched eye­brows sum­mon up the very Amer­i­can cool of Elvis. But the on-screen in­sou­ciance would have suited the Nou­velle Vague nicely. In 2015, the Académie des Arts et Tech­niques du Cinéma pre­sented her with the best sup­port­ing ac­tress César award for Clouds of Sils

Maria. She is the first Amer­i­can ac­tress ever to win the French equiv­a­lent of the Os­car.

As we ar­rive at the Carl­ton Ho­tel – the grand­est estab­lish­ment on Cannes’s bossy Croisette – French mag­a­zines fea­tur­ing her im­age are scat­tered on ev­ery enor­mous cush­ion.

“All my favourite di­rec­tors I have worked with in the States are like Euro­pean di­rec­tors. The list of ac­tors that have found a place here from the States are all peo­ple I idolise. So it’s great to be on that list. There is just a risk that’s taken here that stands out. That doesn’t hap­pen so much in the States. It’s ob­vi­ous why that would be cool.”

You would ex­pect Ste­wart to be smart. Like her co-star Robert Pat­tin­son, she used the mas­sive suc­cess of Twi­light to ma­noeu­vre her way into in­ter­est­ing work by in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tors. By 2010, she was squar­ing up to James Gan­dolfini in Wel­come to

the Ri­leys. She and As­sayas, one of France’s most fash­ion­able film-mak­ers, seem to have formed a dy­namic part­ner­ship.

What you might not ex­pect is the amount of en­ergy she spits out. There is no sense of the cre­ative in­tro­ver­sion she’s ex­ploited through­out her ca­reer. Ste­wart hits her con­so­nants vig­or­ously while fir­ing through an­swers as if work­ing to an ever-con­tract­ing dead­line.

So, does she recog­nise that she’s made an un­likely shift from teen vam­pire to art-house vamp? “When I am asked ques­tions like that I can step out­side my­self and say, ‘Yes, I can to­tally see what you guys see’. But I have brought the same en­ergy to ev­ery­thing I’ve done from the get. I have thought­lessly tra­versed my cre­ative de­sires.

“That’s just how I fell off the truck. As I have got older I have re­alised how work­ing with good di­rec­tors pro­vides good ex­pe­ri­ences and good films. But I feel like some­thing psy­chic hap­pens be­tween peo­ple who are drawn to­gether to make some­thing. I have so much faith in that.”

Sullen mil­len­nial

Ac­tu­ally, “vamp” is nei­ther fair nor ac­cu­rate. Raised in Cal­i­for­nia to par­ents who were both in the busi­ness, Ste­wart slipped into ju­ve­nile roles largely by ac­ci­dent. You can spot her in a num­ber of TV projects and as Jodie Fos­ter’s daugh­ter in Panic

Room. Still, she was un­known to most view­ers when she emerged as the sullen mil­len­nial forced to wait for vam­piric con­sum­ma­tion in Twi­light.

Woody Allen re­cently com­pared her to the young El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, but, in truth, no other fe­male star has had quite the same oblique, ret­i­cent ap­peal. “Did he say that? I think that’s what his ref­er­ence points are,” she says laugh­ing. “Those are the peo­ple he really ad­mires. That’s nice of him. It’s in­sane. It’s very cool. I know he ad­mired all the great old Hol­ly­wood ac­tresses. We talked about that a lot and you can see it in his movies.”

Dressed to­day in a great deal of white, Ste­wart man­ages an un- likely com­bi­na­tion of post-beat­nik cool and gleam­ing Cal­i­for­nian good health. You can see why so many ide­alise K-Stew.

Her ca­reer ap­pears to demon­strate that a young ac­tor can tri­umph with­out in­dulging in tri­umphal­ism. She has also proved that it is pos­si­ble to live a life in the glare with­out seem­ing hounded or con­strained. She re­cently con­firmed that, fol­low­ing sev­eral re­la­tion­ships with men, she was dat­ing her former as­sis­tant Ali­cia Cargile. Few got in a tizzy. No cars were over­turned.

“Yeah I don’t want to be too guarded,” she says brightly. “Look I got really, ex­ceed­ingly fa­mous at 17. At that age you don’t know how to re­act with more than a cou­ple of peo­ple. You are al­ready try­ing to fig­ure out what peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of you are with­out all that.

“Can I af­fect all that? Should I think about all that? When it is thrust at you and that con­sid­er­a­tion is owned by the masses – not just by you and the peo­ple close to you – it starts this weird un­nat­u­ral thought process. So, I really shut down and that doesn’t pro­vide a fully lived life.”

In Café So­ci­ety, Ste­wart plays a young wo­man, as­sis­tant to a movie mogul, who ro­mances a young ar­rival (her fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Jesse Eisen­berg) in an ide­alised ver­sion of 1930s Hol­ly­wood. Ac­tors bring con­trast­ing re­ports from Allen sets. Some say he gives barely any di­rec­tion. Oth­ers say he gives no di­rec­tion at all.

“The script was so per­fect that the most di­rec­tion we got from him was: ‘This is pretty self-ex­plana­tory. Go on.’ And it was self-ex­plana­tory,” she says.

“It is all ex­plained quite well. Olivier doesn’t talk to me a whole lot ei­ther. There are di­rec­tors who are them­selves the spark and they then like to see the fire burn. They are both like that. They don’t like to af­fect your thought process that much. What they’ve done is kick-start that process and they just want to cap­ture it. That is awe­some. You do feel that it’s a true col­lab­o­ra­tion. That was shock­ing to me.”

Ste­wart is cur­rently play­ing the game very adeptly. Café Soci

ety has been rea­son­ably well re­ceived. The forth­com­ing Per­son

al Shop­per, a class of meta-ghost story set in suave Paris, had, from an ac­tor’s per­spec­tive, the best pos­si­ble re­sponse at Cannes: bovine boos fol­lowed by egg-head raves. Later this year, she ap­pears in Ang Lee’s much-an­tic­i­pated Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk.

Psy­chic con­nec­tion

So, she is stick­ing with this no­tion of forg­ing a “psy­chic con­nec­tion” with di­rec­tors? “I have so much faith in that. I will al­ways fol­low that. I will def­i­nitely make a few mis­steps and maybe make a few bad movies. I will make things that aren’t so sure. That’s why I like mak­ing films with peo­ple who have reck­less in­ten­tions.”

Is it too much to ar­gue that Ste­wart is a new sort of movie star? Char­lotte Ram­pling me­an­dered off to Europe when still young, but she never had the fol­low­ing that Ste­wart has main­tained.

This re­laxed en­gage­ment with the me­dia also seems new. “There are ways to in­ter­act with me­dia. And there are ways to in­ter­act with the pub­lic,” she says. “Be­yond that, there are ways to in­ter­act with hu­man be­ings. These are dif­fer­ent things. I have found bal­ance of ig­nor­ing the things I find worth­less and let­ting in the stuff that feels hu­man. It’s to do with be­ing hon­est and ac­knowl­edg­ing why some­one might ask that ques­tion.”

She rises to her feet and pre­pares to leave.

“So, go write your ar­ti­cle.”

I feel like some­thing psy­chic hap­pens be­tween peo­ple who are drawn to­gether to make some­thing. I have so much faith in that

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