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.

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