Kristen Stewart with co-stars Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley in On the Road.
“How is it weaker to ignore logical, pragmatic, normal behaviour that’s not going to get you what you want, when if you just reach and take a gamble, you might actually realise your dream?” Kristen Stewart sat opposite me, momentarily flummoxed by passion as she defended the actions of her on-screen alter ego, The Twilight Saga’s Bella Swan. She wore a battered bomber jacket, rolled up jeans, Tiffany-blue nail-polish, and the vague aroma of C. indica that follows so many Southern Californian chicks around.
Except that, despite her best attempts to maintain that golden state, Stewart isn’t just any SoCal chick. For the past four months, she’s been tagged as an adulteress, a “trampire” - anything but “Kristen Stewart, noted actress”.
What a difference a day makes, eh? Less than 24 hours after I sat down with Stewart to talk about closing the book on her time as The Twilight Saga’s heroine, Bella, she was photographed in a clinch with her Snow White & The Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders.
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson at The World Premiere of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 at Nokia Theatre L.A. Photo: Eric Charbonneau
A week later, the photos were all over the cover of US Weekly. “KRISTEN CHEATS ON ROB!” screamed the giant yellow letters. Stewart released a statement of apology to People magazine: “This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry.”
A Twilight fan, ‘nuttymadam3575’, howled through floods of tears in a YouTube missive, “If you loved him that much, you wouldn't have done it! The thing is, you were stupid enough to be photographed doing it! Don't be so stupid!" Jeez, at least Britney Spears’ weepy YouTube fans were on her side.
It was depressing (to say the least) to see the articulate, charming Stewart reduced to this strangely public display of penitence. And, in a funny way, it was disappointing: not because I was disappointed in her (my sage advice when it comes to interpersonal relationships tends to be of the “shit happens” variety), but because I had great plans to convey my belief that Stewart is one of the finest young actresses around, and now such assertions would be buried in the noise.
When we spoke, she was at the precipice of a new stage in her career: with both Breaking Dawn Part 2 and Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road on the horizon, Stewart was facing down a clean slate. “I’m throwing myself into more work; I feel like bursting,” she said. “It’s definitely a good time for me to be working. I feel like, especially at this time, being 22, it’s definitely not the time to be taking breaks and thinking about what I’ve done; I should be making, I should be going forward.”
Poignant words considering that until the Breaking Dawn Part 2 premieres began, she seemed to be drifting through Los Angeles in a reclusive holding pattern. But could the momentum of a bright young career really be derailed by such a “scandal”?
It pays to remember what it’s like to be 22: the sketchy decisions you make, the “momentary indiscretions”. When I was 22 I was dating a 36-year-old who liked to do standing backflips inside restaurants and once wore my underwear on his head. I’m sure you have a similar, if possibly more mundane, story yourself.
Now imagine trying to wade through that in the glare of the gossip press’ spotlight. If anything, the whole sorry situation has demonstrated the extent to which we expect stars - particularly female ones - to be perfect.
Indeed, of the many lessons we can take away from “Kristen Stewart’s cheating scandal” (evidently it only takes one to tango, if we take US Weekly’s word for it), is how problematic it is to put young stars on a pedestal marked ‘role model’.
As it turned out, the issue came up naturally as part of the conversation. “They’re not fans of you, they’re fans of the project that you’ve both worked on,” Stewart said, discussing having been part of a pop-cultural phenomenon as huge as The Twilight Saga. “You look up to people that you’ve shared something with, that you have a commonality with, so that’s why whenever people go ‘How is it to be a role model?’ I’m like...” she rolls her eyes dramatically and waves a dismissive hand.
And how is it to be a role model, I ask only semi-satirically. “Well, let me tell you!” she guffaws, leaning forward and stabbing at the air with her finger. “I have lots to say!”
So determined is Stewart to strive for truth in everything she does that she can only joke about this for a moment. “You can’t necessarily expect...” she takes a long pause, considering her response. “It’s not like it’s not on my terms [as in] ‘Oh, I wasn’t ready to be famous, people forced it upon me’, clearly, I mean, you’re in a film, you’re doing it publicly. It’s a strange impulse to follow; it’s the weirdest thing to do! It’s not like I ever went ‘I’m going to try to do this and just remain completely unknown’. But it’s worth it to me.”
This ever shifting relationship with the spotlight seems to have been the aspect of Stewart’s ascent that has most troubled onlookers. “Why can’t she be happy about it?” goes the standard line of questioning. “She looks so ungrateful on the red carpet! Why doesn’t she just smile?”
In the wake of the whole sorry situation, Jodie Foster - Stewart’s co-star in Panic Room - penned a compelling open letter about Stewart’s treatment at the hands of the media. “Actors who become celebrities are supposed to be grateful for the public interest,” she wrote. “Just to set the record straight, a salary for a given on-screen performance does not include the right to invade anyone’s privacy, to destroy someone’s sense of self.”
While Stewart may not especially relish fame, she can appreciate why the public might find it confusing that someone who puts themselves in the public arena might also squirm on the red carpet. “No, it’s not my natural instinct to be at the centre of things, and be a ‘performer’, but what I do is so cool, and gives me so much, that it’s okay,” she told me. “And I think it’s worth watching. I don’t [act] just for myself - I do want to show people something - and I don’t know where that impulse comes from, but I do have it. So I [understand] people’s perception of someone who would put themselves in that position and then shy away from attention in a different light.”
Hopefully the end result of all this will be, well, nothing much. Stewart is too good an actor to stay down for the count. That she “can’t act”, that she’s awkward and unwatchable, is just another monstrous falsehood peddled by the armchair critics. I’m more inclined to agree with actual critics, like the Village Voice’s Karina Longworth, who described Stewart’s Runaways work as Brando-esque.
As Foster wrote in her letter, “Acting is all about communicating vulnerability, allowing the truth inside yourself to shine through regardless of whether it looks foolish or shameful. To open and give yourself completely.”
I asked Stewart whether she pursued truth in her performances, since honesty seemed to be the thread that joined them all together. She squirmed a little bit, drawing breath determinedly through her teeth, like a reverse hiss. “Yeah. Totally.” She nods reverently. “I think you could probably ask any actor that and they’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s truth, it’s all about the truth!’ Recently I’ve had a bit more experience with playing people who really did shock me. When I was younger I was attracted to things that were very naturally relatable for me [as an actor]; you know, I wanted to get to know the parts of myself that were more obvious, because I was younger, and now I’m digging deeper.”
Perhaps if there’s a good thing to come of this rather manufactured scandal, it will be the opportunity to dig deeper into herself and inform her future performances.
With the omnipresent PR type giving the international sign language for “wind up the interview”, Stewart and I quickly discussed the public’s perception of Bella Swan as being a passive character, when the reality - whether you like Twilight or not - is something quite different (“She’s the reason the story exists; the story would have ended after Twilight if it wasn’t for her!”).
Less than a day later, Stewart would find herself pitched into a media maelstrom, and I’d spend months concerned for the emotional well-being of the kind young woman I spent only 20 minutes with who enthusiastically told me “I really like what you’re doing [with your hair]”. But now, listening back to her thoughtful, passionate interview responses, it’s hard not to wonder if she knew what was coming - and that she’d survive it, somehow, and come out stronger.
“Bella wears her heart on her sleeve completely; I only have mine to show. Here’s the thing: that’s why I’m not ashamed of anything in this movie. Everything came from a very natural, explorative place. I could never have let myself down, because I was just trying to find something. Reaching for it is worth just as much. She is comfortable living in the fear of it all, because she knows that that’s how worthwhile and truthful things are born.”