I WILL bet my ticket to the opening night of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 that you’ve got an opinion on Kristen Stewart. I’m not going to countenance for even one second that you don’t know who she is. It’s not like you need to be one of the millions who have read Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-versus-werewolf books. Nor do you need to be camping outside the multiplex for a front-row seat for the latest instalment of the movie franchise. The fact is, since appearing as Bella Swan in the first of the Twilight Saga series, when she was just 17, Stewart has been surrounded by a media maelstrom that would drive most people to take up residence in either a very public meltdown or the silent seclusion of a psychiatric ward.
Is she with RPatz. Or not? Is she miserable. Or not? Is she pretty. Or not? Is she the same one who was in Panic Room with Jodie Foster? It sounds straightforward enough in a simple list but multiply these questions by a billion websites, fan forums and glossy magazines and the cacophony grows ever louder. In Stewart’s case it’s been at ear-splitting level for the past four years. I’m not about to pretend I’m not interested in the answers, (let’s take the most pressing first, shall we, according to insiders it seems she is with Robert Pattinson, although neither of the pair will confirm or deny it) it’s just that it’s clear that living with the endless scrutiny must take a toll.
But miserable? Not when I meet her. That said, she’s doesn’t seem dementedly happy either. She’s not the bubbly LA sort who blinds you with their dental work and beats you into submission with their impossibly skinny and tanned limbs. Stewart is slender, but she’s also pale, vampire-pale if you must. She’s very pretty, much more so than she looks in photographs, but even still, it’s in an understated way. Smoky eyes is about it on the make-up front, her hair is glossy and long, but worn loose; she pulls her fingers through it as she talks. Her clothes – a dark, sheer blouse over skinny jeans, well-worn Converse on her feet – complete her look. How can you describe a person as cool without sounding hideously uncool? Perhaps it’s impossible, but Stewart seems cool, as though she knows her own mind, knows her own style, chooses her own clothes and recognises that six-inch heels are for photoshoots, not real life.
In the midst of fever-pitch film promotion, she slopes into the hotel room like it’s just another day at the office. Carrying a coffee cup that’s been completely over-filled, it slops onto the table cloth as she sets it down.
“That’s not good,” she says, wrinkling her brow. “Someone just gave it to me. It’s probably anthrax-filled.” She raises an eyebrow and does that squinty thing with her mouth, that’s kind of a smile, kind of a world-weary grimace.
And with that I think we may have got to the source of the “miserable” rumour: Stewart has a dry wit. Underwhelmed by frenzied media attention and completely unsuited to being a giddy, giggling poster girl, she’s thoughtful and smart and, more than that, she’s serious about acting. And why shouldn’t she be? She’s done enough to show that she’s good. Sean Penn, who directed Stewart in Into the Wild, described her as “a truth machine… She is a real force with terrific instincts”. There’s more than a hint that she takes the promotional side of her job with a pinch of salt and if I had been the subject of as many wild tabloid paparazzi extravaganzas as she’s been, I would too.
At 21, Stewart has been aboard the Twilight juggernaught for four years. Being a teen idol is not easy. Your young, sometimes hysterical, fans either want to be just like you, or they want to actually be you, which soon transforms into the fact you are the only one standing in the way of their desire therefore they hate you. The words “poisoned” and “chalice” come to mind.
Chris Weitz, who directed the second Twilight movie, New Moon, said that Stewart had had to build up a toughness because otherwise the legions of Twihards would rip her to pieces. That may be true, but it’s clear that if she’s done that, she’s also managed to keep a sense of self-awareness. Being interviewed by Dennis Hopper for Interview magazine in 2009, Stewart said “Twilight is literally how every conversation I have these days begins – whether it’s someone I’m meeting for the first time or someone I just haven’t seen in a while. The first thing I want to say to them is, ‘It’s insane! And, as a person, I can’t do anything!’ But then I think to myself, ‘God damn it, shut the f*** up.’”
It’s obviously an approach that worked because here, two years later, astonishingly when Stewart talks about Twilight it’s with more than a little fondness.
“Usually it doesn’t feel like you’re closing a chapter of your life when you finish a film – a project’s a project’s a project. But it does with this. Although I don’t think it’s going to feel over until everything we get asked in interviews is retrospective.”
Breaking Dawn is split into two parts, the first contains a scene that legions of fans have quite literally been dreaming about for years. Edward and Bella make it up the aisle.
“It was two days at the end of the shoot and it actually felt like a real wedding, it felt like a ceremony,” she says.
Was it emotional?
“Yeah, god yeah. Especially when I got to set and everyone was there waiting. The whole cast of characters in the pews. At times, oddly it felt like I was a real bride. It was such a big deal. And for the bride it’s really your day, there’s so much pressure. I loved the dress. A lot of people decided what it was going to look like, we all weighed in, but I was really happy with it. But in between takes I couldn’t feel elegant and pretty because I had to be cloaked in a cape because there were helicopters hovering trying to take pictures.”
And what about Pattinson, who’s known for his shyness as much as his rapport with Stewart, did he feel the pressure too? She smiles and laughs.
“He’s ridiculous. Honestly, he’s such a sap. That day was so strange. At every point one of us was always being filmed. I couldn’t laugh through his stuff and him through mine because we were never completely off camera. The first shot was him, which I thought was crazy because I’d been building up to this massive thing. When I walked down the aisle I covered my face because I knew I wasn’t going to manage to duplicate what I was going to feel at that moment. It all worked and it all found its way into the movie too.”
Stewart’s been making movies for ten years. She grew up in Los Angeles connected to the movie business by a mother who was a script supervisor and her stage manager father. She was 11 when she was cast with Foster, since then there has been Speak, Into the Wild, The Cake Eaters, Adventureland and The Runaways as well as the Twilight movies. It’s an eclectic body of work but two things are consistent: firstly, Stewart chooses characters who are damaged or struggling; second, she can play those characters because although she looks young, there’s something about her that suggests she knows things most young people don’t. Often, when you watch her, she looks like she’s carrying the weight of the world. She captures the confusion and complexity of being young by having an old head on young shoulders. It’s true for her next project, in which she plays the titular heroine in Snow White and the Huntsman, alongside Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.
“I’m really excited to find a proactive female protagonist. Female-led films are either full-on chick flick, with all the girls just being girls together, or all the guys are helping them on the way.
“In this we have a girl who’s broken in the beginning and she needs to build herself. There’s an identity that needs to be found and it’s intimidating to her because she’s a real girl, but she’s got this lineage, she’s got years and years of leadership in her blood so she’s not afraid of things that people are typically afraid of. She’s able to channel her fear into forward motion.”
But what of Bella? As well as the abstinence line that Meyer’s books have taken flak for, plenty of voices have suggested that Bella’s focus on Edward, her desire to do anything to be with him, isn’t a portrayal of a young woman without its problems. Stewart isn’t having any of it.
“All Edward wants is for her to stay human,” she says. “He pushes and pushes her away. It takes a pretty valiant human being to be able to say to the person you love, ‘You’re being weak and we can do this.’ It’s her own doing, it’s not something he forces on her, ever.”
Stewart is full of praise for Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon, who she said never made the actors feel like “hired hands” but gave them a chance to contribute and be creative. It’s obvious that for Stewart that’s important. But I wonder if the work that she gets to do is enough to compensate for having to be flanked by burly security?
“I love what I do.” Even the bodyguards? “I love him too,” she says, smirking.
“To be honest with you it’s hard to describe because I find acting such a strange thing to be drawn to do. I can sit here and intellectualise it, but it doesn’t always add up. Sure I want to be other people but I don’t want to escape my life, I’m fine with my life. It’s weird. It’s a weird hybrid of living life. If you’re doing it right, when I find myself in situations when I really think this is what acting really is, it’s just kind of when you’re living something that you can learn from and you’re getting to know people on a strange, ulterior level. And then you can give it to the world. It’s fun.”
In early interviews Stewart talked of wanting to write and go to college. Has Twilight changed things?
“I’m still writing. I love to write. I had huge aspirations to go to school [university] – I lost them. I’m not a very rigid person. I don’t have good self-discipline to be honest. I have to be forced to do things. If there’s not a production start date, I won’t do it.”
“I’m so happy though. I’m truly challenged and that was really my aspiration as a kid but you don’t know where you’re going to find that when you’re that age. I’m all good with where I am.”
She slopes off, leaving the spilled coffee on the table.
• The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is in cinemas now