When this writer walks into a Beverly Hills hotel room to meet Kristen Stewart, we notice she doesn't have that forced effervescence other actresses of her age (that'd be 18, fellas) project - the "look at me" attitude that can become irritating in less than a minute. Instead, she's earnest. Fidgety. Uncomfortable in her skin or at least still trying to figure out how to wear it out in public.
I witnessed the same qualities when she was in the hot seat and doing interviews for the sluggish horror film The Messengers in early 2007. Back then, they seemed like jitters of a young woman shouldered by uncertainty. When I wrapped that interview, I thanked and commended her on giving me some solid material to work with. "Yeah?" I recall her asking, brow furrowed in genuine concern followed by a sigh of relief. Today, Stewart's demeanor begs for re-interpretation. She's confident. Wiser. The uneasiness comes with the bite of a lip or, again, the furrow of her brow as she lingers in mid-thought to find the right things to say because she knows, when it comes to Twilight, every word counts to the legions of disciples who follow Stephenie Meyer's novels.
Unless you've been holed up in a bomb shelter devoid of some medium to keep you in the pop culture loop, Stewart stars in Twilight (an adaptation of Meyer's first book directed by Catherine Hardwicke) as Bella, a teenager relocated to Forks, Washington who falls for a vampire named Edward (actor Robert Pattinson) in spite of the danger that comes with the territory. I catch the actress at the end of a long press day to talk not just about the film but to roam around inside her head a bit.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Now, we just stepped out of a roundtable discussion with a handful of other journalists using words like "phenomenon" and "blockbuster" when talking about this film - is that strange to you?
Kristen Stewart: I suppose so. It is when people ask me that. But when people don't ask, I don't think about it. My job is done. If it bombs, then I get to go back to doing what I'm used to doing. Small movies that I get the opportunity to do. If it's really successful as everyone thinks, then it will make it so much easier for me to do projects that I feel really passionate about but won't get money. Like, maybe now I can finance a movie. I'm proud of the movie, so at the end of the day, it's fine.
Shock: You're obviously maintaining a healthy balance of studio projects and indie projects, so what was the appeal when Twilight came along?
Stewart: I read a synopsis of the story before I read the script or the book 'cause I was working on something else. I just needed to focus. Give me two weeks to finish this movie and I'll read all of these scripts. But they told me it was being cast right at that time and it's a really big deal. The synopsis was terrible: "Girl's life changes when she meets the perfect man in a vampire and perilous adventures..." Oh, so there's a completely shallow story. Not exactly a great thing about girls - that they're wholly satisfied and are willing to devote their lives to somebody who's super attractive and can take care of you. Brave when you don't have to be. Bella wears the pants in this relationship. I read the script and it completely differs from the synopsis! The power balance is very interesting. You have this guy who should be fine with himself and he hates himself. He's self-loathing and afraid and just being shook up. Then Bella, who doesn't know anything about vampires, trusts herself enough to subject herself to anything. She trusts herself to give up power, which is one of the most powerful things you can do. That's why I wanted to do it. It's very character-driven, it's not a big movie.
Shock: After reading the book, did you use it as an emotional blueprint for a lot of the internalized things going on in Bella or did you let Hardwicke take you through the character?
Stewart: Yeah, [the book] is a complete detailed first-hand account. If there was any question of what I was going through, it's all there. I could open the book. Absolutely, we lived with the book. But at some point it was easy like I didn't need it anymore. It is weird starting out with something that already exists. You're not creating it for yourself. But I feel that way about every script, it does already exist and I feel a responsibility to what's already on the page. That's why I wanted to do the movie.
Shock: And did you find a strong connection with Bella from the outset?
Stewart: I feel like every girl who reads this book projects herself onto her. And in this case it's a really self conscious role for me because I didn't have a really distinct character. She wasn't entirely different from me. She basically could have been me. I overanalyze things a bit more than she does. She's pretty self-assured. I identify with her in that she doesn't think she's anything... She doesn't understand why this is happening to her. But she goes with it.
Shock: You're not self-assured?
Stewart: I am, but it takes me five more hours to get self-assured than it does her.
Shock: In that case, if you had written Twilight it would have been a lot longer.
Stewart: [laughs] Probably.
Shock: If the book was the bible on set, what was Hardwicke's role? Can you talk about working with her a bit?
Stewart: She's so weird. She's very - and I'm sure this is going to sound different than what I mean - is very child-like in a way that's very wise. She doesn't have to over-complicate things because she's already done it and penciled it out and gotten back to basics. She expresses very simple and wise ideas. And accepts them and isn't ashamed of them. I was always so self-conscious: "The lines are so trite and lame, it's crap, let's throw them out!" And she'd be like, "No, this is really fundamentally what you want to say deep down. So just get to a place where you can f**kin' say it." It worked and worked really well. I completely agree with her. She doesn't lack enthusiasm either. She just goes and goes and goes. She never leaves you alone. Some directors set the stage and sit back and see what you do. She's with you every step of the way.
Shock: Are you afraid of growing with Bella if they continue to do more films?
Stewart: When it monopolizes my early '20s? I'm going to make Summit give me lots of time in between 'cause I've been doing films that are so different from this movie and I've been getting roles that are so different from this movie. I'd like to make them wait so I could do this other movie before I do the second one. I look forward to it. I never wanted to do a TV show, so I feel like there's a grieving process - I miss characters I want to play, like I don't get to play them long enough. In this case, I've got time, I could do it forever. Literally, I could do it forever. As long as I could do other things, I'm ready to do this for a while.
Shock: You admitted earlier today that you take yourself maybe too seriously. Is that from your love of "the craft"? Is acting the it thing for you to do?
Stewart: I think to say, "If I can't do this, I can just go on to something else," that's just guarding yourself. I feel like this has been the one outlet for extreme emotion. A lot of times if you don't have something to say but you just feel something, it's a good thing to do. You don't have to sit in front of a notebook and say, "What is this that's going on?" It's like running, exertion. You push yourself to a point then you get to clear your head. That's why I do it? I have to keep doing it. I don't know what I would do with myself if I wasn't an actor.
Shock: Are you seeing a growth in yourself with the roles your choosing?
Stewart: Since I was nine years old I was only doing movies I really wanted to do. I've gone in and blown every audition on purpose for a movie I didn't want to do. "Kristen, you have to go in, you have to meet these people." Okay. I just sabotage myself. I look at movies that I did when I was younger and I want to throw the TV out the window. I feel better and better about what I do as I get older. The process of choosing won't change. Talk to me if I decide to make a movie. That's like you're saying something now. It's not just a responsive thing.
Shock: Are you working towards directing?
Stewart: I'd have to want to say something. Or if you write something and you don't want to give it to someone else to ruin.
Twilight opens in theaters on November 21st.