NOW THAT SHE’S PROVED SHE CAN ANCHOR A MULTIBILLIONDOLLAR MOVIE FRANCHISE, KRISTEN STEWART – ACTRESS, POET, SEASONED ROAD-TRIPPER, AND THE VALLEY’S COOLEST REBEL – IS MORE THAN READY TO TAKE SOME SERIOUS CHANCES
Girl on the edge Kristen Stewart
kristen Stewart lights a Camel filter, slides open the glass doors beyond which her dogs, Cole, Bernie and Bear, are whimpering and scratching, and she sits, twitching her feet in a vain attempt to burn off excess energy. She has powered a multibillion-dollar movie franchise, and will power as many more as she chooses. It unspools from her – manic, kinetic, romantic energy; an intense desire to do more and act more and write more.This is how she lives, exploring who she is at any given moment by making herself feel unsafe.The choices she makes, the projects she takes on, are based on what frightens her. ‘Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing, and that’s kind of how I love it,’ Stewart says. ‘I had no idea The Twilight Saga was going to be huge. Certain movies I’ve done that I thought were going to be amazing did nothing. So it’s fun not having so much control. It’s kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle – it’s fun, but it’s scary as f***. If it’s not scary, it’s usually – you kind of have to step back and go, “You’re probably making this decision because it’s right on paper.” But unless you get that irking fear, it’s not right.’
She’s perched on a sofa in her tiled living room with dazzling views of Los Angeles.She’s dressed more like a skater character from an Avril Lavigne video than one of the highest paid actresses in the world (reportedly earning $22-million – about R220-million – in the year ending June 2013) – blue Vans, hoodie, white T-shirt, khakis, dog tag necklace, hornrimmed glasses, baseball cap emblazoned with ‘Mercenaries.’ After moving out of the Los Feliz house she shared with Robert Pattinson in 2012, she looked at four houses before deciding on this one in a gated enclave, which doesn’t feel lived in so much as inhabited. There’s mission-style furniture, TV still not hooked up to cable, bookcases crammed with books – John Steinbeck (her favourite author, though her favourite book is Cormac McCarthy's On the Road), Sylvia Plath – and a small sculpture that reads ‘F***.’ It’s a 23-yearold’s crash pad.It’s not a style statement; she’s just passing through: ‘I don’t really feel like I need to be stuck to a place, necessarily.’
Though she has been acting since she was nine years old, it was her emergence as Bella in Twilight (the first of The Twilight Saga series) at 17 that propelled her into the stratosphere. No other actress so young has been the anchor of a mega-blockbuster movie franchise (Angelina Jolie was 26 when she did Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; Jennifer Lawrence was 21 in The Hunger Games). Stewart’s performance was so effortless and natural that, when she made it big-time in 2008 with the first in the vampire-romance fantasy series, it seemed as if she had always been here.And in a sense, she had.She so perfectly represented every teen-girl quirk and mannerism – the snort when she means ‘no,’ the resigned shrug and stare into her dinner plate when she wants to change the subject – and reflected them back onto her source material and audience of young females. Five Twilight films and 26 movies in total later, she finds herself in the coveted position of being able to choose her film projects – and fashion houses. Since 2012,she has been the face of Balenciaga’s Florabotanica, and most recently of the brand’s new spicy floral perfume, Rosabotanica. In December, she was also announced as the new face of Chanel’s Pre-Fall collection, with the ad campaign launching in May.
‘I did a photo shoot with Bruce Weber when I was 14 for Interview magazine. I met Nicolas Ghesquière [Balenciaga’s then creative director, now at Louis Vuitton]. I was blown away – fashion became less superficial in my eyes, though it wasn’t my thing. A couple of years later, he called me up. He had stuck out [to me] as an artist. Fashion has the best and worst people. The gems stick out. He was a designer I wanted to be around. He was so creative. If I have to walk red carpets, if I have to be in fashion, then I want to be with him.’
But those feel like safe choices – fronting fashion labels is what starlets do now, as much a part of the business as enduring press junkets and swanning down red carpets. Does Stewart want to create another mega-franchise, building 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, in which she played the title lead heroine, into another juggernaut? Or strike out into the unknown, as she has done with riskier fare like
The Runaways (2010), On the Road (2012) and Camp X-Ray (which premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival), in which she plays a soldier at Guantanamo Bay detention camp who develops an unlikely friendship with a detainee? While a Snow White and the Huntsman sequel is far off, ‘it’s not where I thrive,’ she says. ‘I really like being thrown into the unknown and then finding my way. I don’t want to show someone something. I want people to watch me find something.’
camp X-Ray director Peter Sattler was impressed Stewart took on the film. ‘This is a minimalist role, a very internal performance,’ he says. ‘What she responded to was choosing a role unlike anything she’s done before. She needs to find new territory, she needs to be hanging off a ledge. It takes a lot of courage to say, “I don’t care what people expect of me or what they think about me doing this role.” It’s about how she wants to define herself, not how other people want to define her. She wants to grow, that’s what she’s about right now. She is incredibly creative – she totally needs to direct a movie, write a book and start a band.’ Juliette Binoche, Stewart’s co-star in the drama Sils Maria (scheduled for release this year), calls her ‘a soul explorer. She knows she wants to take risks and doesn’t always know where it is going to take her. She has genius, and that makes her shy sometimes. Acting is about fire, and Kristen has a lot in her. Her need to know and explore is as high as her passion. She likes to be in dangerous places and see if she can survive.’
Stewart laments that she doesn’t come across many projects that ‘really get me going,’ part of the reason she didn’t work for most of 2013. Instead, she took road trips with her friends to New Orleans and Nashville, worked on her poetry and played guitar, and reconnected with the posse of Valley girls she used to hang with at the AMC Promenade in Woodland Hills, California, back in middle school. She is fiercely proud of her Valley upbringing. Her tight-knit family, which includes three brothers and industry parents (father John Stewart is a stage manager; mother Jules Mann Stewart is a script supervisor), is still from that ‘other America, ’as she considers the Valley, ‘riding bikes on flat streets … it’s hot as f*** and the air sucks.’
Her break up with Pattinson in 2012 may also have instigated her year of partial exile. During long road trips she ruminated over life and how perhaps the biggest mistake you can make is to try to control your own heart. ‘You don’t know who you will fall in love with.You just don’t. You don’t control it. Some people have certain things, like, “That’s what I’m going for,” and I have a subjective version of that. I don’t pressure myself… If you fall in love with someone, you want to own them – but really, why would you want that? You want them to be what you love. I’m much too young to even have an answer for that question.’
On a road trip through Texas a year ago with a friend, Stewart wrote a poem.She often writes intense little verses or strings of words and this poem, written after the Twilight films had officially ended, is typically raw and candid. Before she reads it to me, she says, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so embarrassing. I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ Something Whilst the crackling stare down sun snuck Through our windows boarded up He hit your flint face and it sparked. And I bellowed and you parked We reached Marfa.
Her poetry, she says, comes from the same place as her acting. ‘I like being able to hit on something, like, “There it is.” I don’t want to sound so f***ing utterly pretentious … but after I write something, I go, “Holy f***, that’s crazy.” It’s the same thing with acting: If I do a good scene, I’m always like, “Whoa, that’s really dope.”’
A few old friends from the 818 [California area] have dropped by. They are talking about their book club – they just finished Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and are now on Henry Miller’s Sexus. Stewart has been an avid reader since she was a kid reading scripts. Her one regret is forgoing a college missed something. ‘There will always be stories to tell, and there will always be this drive in me to seek them out.’ She’s already on deck for Equals, a film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, opposite Nicholas Hoult. And soon she’ll start shooting American Ultra, an action-comedy that reunites her with Adventureland (2009) costar Jesse Eisenberg. ‘She’s actively unpretentious,’ says Eisenberg. ‘She is in a system that is doing everything in its power to make her arrogant and overly guarded. And she fights against that, to her credit. She couldn’t be more accessible and socially generous and caring of other people. She’s easy to have a rapport with because her first priority is not her own vanity or reputation.’
Stewart lights another cigarette, and I’m reminded of something she said earlier: ‘I have an embarrassing incapability, seriously, of summoning fake energy.’ And that’s what is required of her, she explains, whenever she
From left to right Stewart (left) with Jodie Foster in breakthrough movie Panic Room, 2002; as mountain climbing fanatic in Catch That Kid, 2004; In the Land of Women, 2007, playing angsty teen Lucy; in horror movie The Messengers, 2007; reprising her best-known role as Bella in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, 2009; as vocalist Joan Jett with fellow bandmate Currie (Dakota Fanning) in The Runaways, 2010; with Chris Hemsworth in Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012.