Kristen Stewart on growing older, feeling freer and the importance of telling queer stories

BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE, IMAGE BY GETTY IMAGES

It’s been quite the decade for Kristen Stewart, don’t you think? In fact, as the curtains drew to a close on 2019, the 29-year-old Los Angeles native was named “Actress of the decade” by the Hollywood Critics Association for her “impressive filmography”. And impressive it is, with over 40 acting titles under her belt. 

Today, as we toe the fresh tide of a new decade, Stewart finds herself looking ahead at the 20s – and her 30s – still glowing after an explosive return to the world of Hollywood blockbusters with the recent, reboot-of-a-reboot Charlie’s Angels, all the while promoting indie-drama Seberg – the highly anticipated biopic of American actor and political activist, Jean Seberg, in which she takes on the lead role. But what of Stewart herself? The woman outside of the frame?

Thumbing through her more intimate, recent interviews, it seems that the “sooo gay” Stewart of the Twenty Tens (or is it the Teens?) is ready to embark on a new journey – both artistically and personally. All throughout 2019, she continued to move further and further away from the stiff stereotype that’s often portrayed her as the serious, stuttering “good bad girl”, as The New York Times has labelled her. “The real Kristen Stewart – funny and fiercely open – is only just emerging,” and it seems that, along with this new decade, the real Kristen Stewart has finally arrived.

As a matter of fact, while doing the rounds at both the recent Venice and Zurich Film Festivals, Stewart revealed she was surprised that Charlie’s Angels director and creator, Elizabeth Banks, sought her out for a role that called on her to show a “goofy side” that she has rarely, if ever, offered up on screen. “I’ve made many dramatic films and I think of myself as the last person who you would think to do anything comic,” Stewart says. “But fortunately, Liz Banks saw my comic and funny side – which I would describe more as my clumsy side. She saw my goofball side and she shows that side of me […] no one had ever done that before.”

It was Banks, best known as director and producer of the Pitch Perfect movies, who was responsible for convincing Sony Pictures to green light this latest iteration, intent on bringing a much sharper feminist perspective to the story. “We worked really hard to honour the legacy of Charlie’s Angels,” Banks has said. “I think it was so revolutionary to say that women could solve crime. I mean, that show called out sexism in the opening credits.”

Equally, it was she that attracted Stewart to the role.“I’m so proud of the movie. [Liz] told me that she wanted to bring Charlie’s Angels back to life and I jumped on the project – not just because I’m a huge fan of the films, but also because she had this crazy idea to imagine me in this role. Liz took this world that we’ve all gotten familiar with and expanded it. She hit fast forward and thought about where these characters would be in the present time. There’s more of us, and the film also reflects this resurgence of women and the distinct sense of self that women of this generation are developing and how you become more formidable as a group. [She was] the perfect person in my eyes to make this movie.” 

What of Stewart’s self-described “goofball” character, Sabina? “Sabina is kind of the wiser, older sister character who looks after the other girls and would do anything to protect them,” Stewart reveals. “But she’s also someone who’s kind of disorganised and hopeless in her own life and, it was fun to play her because that’s part of who I am, and I’ve never shown that in my films.”

The opportunity to play a character who portrays part of who Stewart is, comes at a time when the actor has spoken more and more about feeling “true” to herself, both in her films and the public sphere more generally – a space she hasn’t always felt so comfortable populating, particularly following her role in the Twilight saga which unceremoniously catapulted the young actor into an international spotlight. Now, she says, she feels the “desire to be accepted” as she is. “I’m proud of who I am, I’m less insecure, and I’m not afraid to express my ideas, even political ones… I’m not intimidated by [celebrity] anymore, today I feel ready for all of it. [In the past], I thought, I have to protect myself. Now, however, I have this beautiful feeling [of freedom] in stark contrast with how I felt when you are initially exposed to something. The onslaught of that type of attention can really put you in a hole… It’s not like I’m going to start a public Instagram and start yelling at people about what I think, but I feel like I kind of do that anyway, in a different way.”

To what does Stewart credit this freer, evolving outlook on life in the public eye? “I’ve discovered that I am very happy to be older. Two years ago, I was in a difficult place in my life where I felt overwhelmed, to the point of not knowing who I was or with whom I wanted to share my time. I wasn’t sure how I fit into it all, and in what way I wanted to present myself to the world… Now I feel much more unguarded.”

Another area in which this new outlook seems to have played a significant part? The actor’s love life. Speaking to US radio host Howard Stern at the end of 2019, Stewart – with her now signature flopped, bleached crop of hair and softly-edged, grunge look – told him, “There is nothing like feeling sure about anything because we don’t know anything… and the only thing you can feel like you know, is that if you’re in love with someone.” After being asked whether she was “in love right now”, Stewart responded, “Yeah, like… I mean the answer is yes.” The person on the other end of the actor’s love and affection? Screenwriter Dylan Meyer, whom Stewart met on a film set some six years ago but only began dating much more recently. Asking if she planned to propose anytime soon, Stewart replied, “Absolutely. I can’t fucking wait… I want to be like, sort of, somewhat reasonable about it, but I think like, good things happen fast.”

Though she hasn’t always experienced smooth-sailing in terms of being so public about her personal life – including having being advised not to hold hands with girlfriends by superiors in the film industry in the past – today Stewart looks as if she has a much tighter hold on where she’s headed and how, rather in contrast to the focus of her latest feature length, Jean Seberg, whose life in the public eye took a tragically dark turn. 

What was it about Seberg’s story that caught Stewart’s attention? “[Jean] had this hunger behind her eyes that made her jump off the screen. But she was also a really compassionate humanitarian at a time when people didn’t want to stomach that.” And for her audiences? “She was real in front of the camera. There was something naturalistic about her acting, it was like shouting to the world ‘Look at me, I’m real’. I think that was the source of her popularity in France, in particular.”

Despite falling for Seberg’s (undeniably boyish) charm, Stewart hadn’t really known much of the actor before taking on the role, she admits. “The only film of hers that I really knew was Breathless, and I remember the scene where she’s selling the New York Herald Tribune in Paris and also the last scene where she’s with [Jean-Paul] Belmondo and she asks him, ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est, dégueulasse?’ Those moments really stuck out with me and I thought she was so cool. It’s not hard to see why she became such an icon in France and is still considered a legendary figure of the Nouvelle Vague. It was only when I started reading the script and researching her that I became fascinated with her life story, although I was shocked by what she went through. I was very impressed with how she was determined to live her life on her own terms.”

Seberg’s downfall followed her support for civil rights organisations, including the Black Panthers, which she continued to voice support for publicly, despite the fact that she ended up effectively “blacklisted” from Hollywood and harassed by the FBI for doing so. Is backlash something Stewart considers herself when expressing her views publicly? “There’s this really sort of polarised climate that we’re living in right now, so it’s not hard for me to wear my politics. It shows up in the work that I do and the people I associate myself with and the conversations that I have with individual journalists, day in and day out. I like that interaction. I’m so lucky to have it.”

And of the parallels between Seberg’s and her own past struggles between the private and public self? “That’s something that’s troubled me and confused me for the longest time. That internal struggle, that continuous exposure… I know what you experience when the way you present yourself in public does not necessarily align with how you feel inside. For much of the time I have been terrible at giving interviews – I was just not very good at presenting myself. But I don’t think I was necessarily creating a false impression. It was more that I didn’t know or understand who I was as clearly as I would have liked to and that made it more difficult for me to project a definite image or self. When I was young, many of my friends told me, ‘Come on, relax. Just go out there and give the public and the press what they want.’ But I can’t. And that’s terrifying. I know a lot of people who are so good at interviews and giving the impression of being cool and charming. But they are so predictable. They say what is expected of them at every moment. Everyone loves them. And it’s ironic, because often what they appear to be and what they say is not true.”

As well as being “so fucking in love” with fiancée-to-be, Meyer, for Stewart, one of the biggest helps she’s had in terms of her personal and creative growth over the years has come via her “strong relationship” with her mother. “[My mother is] a woman who loves cinema, who has always given me lots of books to read and advice. I grew up in the movie business and I spent a lot of my childhood on film sets. I always liked the energy of the set and one day, to my great astonishment, I discovered that acting was what I really wanted to do. I love acting.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, alongside an unexpected love of acting, Stewart has recently discovered directing, working on short film Come Swim, first shown at the Sundance film festival in 2017, and she’s also planning on directing upcoming feature film, The Chronology Of Water, based on the autobiography by bisexual, American, swimmer-turned-writer, Lydia Yuknavitch. Was the queer aspect of that project a draw? “As time goes by I realise that there are many outstanding stories to be told. I’m always looking for stories and often when I watch a period film, I wonder where the gay characters are because gay people have always existed. But those stories were being very narrowly told and it’s only been lately that we’ve started to tell those stories. During my own journey of self-discovery, I’ve been able to play gender fluid characters and I’m happy to be able to defend and tell those stories as a director. I don’t see a big difference between being an actor and a director, the two activities overlap.”

Stewart captured this sentiment quite perfectly in a recent interview with The Telegraph: “Being able to be closer to people through strange little stories is the sun my Earth revolves around,” she said. “It’s my favourite thing, literally – excavating and meditating on a subject with just a few people that care, and everyone else doesn’t. And it’s just us together. It’s the best feeling.” 

As we lean a little further into this new decade, it looks as if the best of Kristen Stewart – and the stories she’ll go on to tell – is still to come. Lucky us, eh?

This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of DIVA – you can grab your digital copy right here!

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