The November issue of British GQ is out 6 October, priced £3.99
Hollywood is a tough place to hide. Especially when all around you seem willing to shop their own grandmother to be seen, heard, filmed, paid, then seen, heard, filmed, and paid (double) to do the sequel (in 3-D) with Jason Flemying (playing the bad guy). Andy Serkis (as the curiosity intelligent ape with a grudge against humanity) and Hans Zimmer (mastering the score). But as any number of Audi R8-leasing LA agents would argue; if it’s the gentle, quiet life you’re after, then you should stay as far away from Hollywood as your pretty little green legs will carry you. Get out of the Game. Go back to your pig-rearing half-cousins in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Go home. Have kids. Teach. Forget about your silly little movie-star fairy tale …
But you want to be a star? You want to be famous? Then jump off the couch, sugar pie, and I’ll see you — without your enabler — tonight at the Chateau, room 69, to go over your “motivation”. Oh, but you want to be an actor? Someone respected for your craft? Well, I hear there’s a duplex going begging next to James Lipton’s condo in TriBeCa. After five years of failed go-sees and audiences I’ll see you at Mel’s Drive-In, on Sunset Boulevard, where you’ll be waiting tables for the rest of your jumped-up, sad, lonely, precious, little life. Take my order down! Fresh OJ, wheat pancakes, a plate of huevos rancheros with two eggs over-easy and a side of nevergoingtohappen. So long, toots. And close the door — on your career — as you leave.”
Such a scene might be somewhat purple, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. To be a star in Hollywood takes a lucky break, a reality TV show, a pit bull for an agent, redemption from addiction, several DUIs and a spectacular relapse or, at the very least, a generous slice of hard-fought nepotism. To be a great actor, however — no matter how skeptical you might be about this industry — still takes talent. Thankfully Kristen Stewart — the beautiful 21-year-old star of the Twilight franchise — is not from Albuquerque, has no cousins who rear pigs (who we’re aware of), has never knowingly “hopped off an agent’s knee” (unless, of course, it was to reach his face with her fist — with three older brothers that kid can look after herself), nor been anywhere near the industry rubbernecking Mecca that is the infamous Chateau Marmont. In short, other than her bank account (Forbes has her earnings listed alongside Julia Roberts earlier this year) there’s nothing remotely “Hollywood” about Kristen Stewart.
Actually, that last bit isn’t true. Kristen has been to the Chateau. About a million and half times. And to say it isn’t really her kind of place would be like saying Dominique Strauss-Kahn is going to struggle to hire home help. It’s just a given.
“I just think if we went there [the Chateau], I’d be looking behind my shoulder the entire time,” agrees Kristen as we take our seats in a dusty Mexican eatery about an hour’s drive from anything that remotely resembles civilization. Found in the mountains of Topanga Canyon, the diner is a homely shack where each cold beer comes with a red, plastic basket of warm nachos and sweet, homemade salsa. The place reminds me of every Disney roller-coaster ride waiting room I’ve ever been in. “It’s about the only place I can still come in LA where I have an iota of invisibility. And” — her delicate, beautiful, refined features losing all humor suddenly — “I’d prefer to keep it that way.”
It’s clear Kristen is fiercely protective over her home turf. Even as this safe house, her voice ever so often drops to a whisper as another customer clatters through the shack’s back door. I wouldn’t call if paranoia, but she obviously gets a little twitchy around strangers. Especially journalists. It’s hardly surprising. Ever since it was announced back in 2007 that she would be taking on the role of Isabella “Bella” Swan in the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s sensationally successful Twilight books, Kristen has been watched.
And watched. And trailed. And stalked. Chased. Hunted. Harangued. Online. By paps. By fans. By haters. By besotted Mumsnet members and their cats. By sign-making, prepubescent girls desperate to get their claws into Edward Cullen, the character played by Robert Pattinson. In LA. In Hollywood. In Britain. Scotland. The Isle of Wight. While driving her grey Mini. In taxis. At premieres. While on holiday. Working. Not working. While she’s sleeping. In her dreams. In her nightmares. To say the success of the vampire franchise has turned Kristen’s life upside down and inside out (in ways both brilliant but also terrifying) until she doesn’t know which way round her own guts go any more is an understatement. But now, finally, just as it was this past summer for those damn Potter kids, “It All Ends”.
“Yes, we’re finished. Filmed every scene.” Next month sees the release of Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, while Part 2, in true modern franchise, cash-sucking style, will be released in November 2012. So is Kristen relieved it’s finally all wrapped? Her tell is a wry smile, which then breaks out into a grin you could park a canoe in. “It’s so rare in a career to feel that a chapter is closing but there’s something final about this. No more epic, iconic scnenes…”
Unless you’re one of the millions of Twilight fans – or “Twihards” as more fanatical followers are known – then you’re no doubt entirely unaware of all the hysteria. For the Twihards, however, this final movie is the giant red-button moment, when cruel abstinence gives way to wanton abandonment (ie when Bella and Edward get to do it in a waterfall). First up, there is “the Wedding”; in Breaking Dawn, Kristen’s character Bella Swan finally ties the knot with alpha-vamp Edward. Next, “the Conception”; after one slow-mo, softly-lit night of love-making with her immortal, blood-sucking heart-throb, Bella falls pregnant with their half-human, half-vampire, wolf-cub child thing.
“I was nervous for the wedding scene,” she admits. “When I looked at the set, with the pews and the lights, and I could see everyone was there in all their outfits, I cried. God, that f***ing dress!”
Although she can rock a mean short – short – dress for a premiere, Kristen’s go-to-emsemble-of-choice is so-skinny-they-look-sprayed-on jeans, scuffed Converse and an old Rob Zombie T-shirt. “I was stuck in that thing for a week; I could hardly move. But it felt incredibly ceremonial. It felt like a real wedding.”
There’s no doubt that the young woman sitting across from me, sipping a beer quietly, with the smoke from her cigarette trailing up into the tress, is somewhat transformed from the teenage girl who set out a little naively (her words) on this whole joinery more than four years ago. Lessons have been learnt. “The main moment, when we knew it was going to be a big deal, was at Comic-Con in Sand Diego in 2008. It was the first piece of promotion for Twilight that any of us had done, so we had no real expectations. There were thousands and thousands of people waiting for us. That was the moment when we felt how powerful this thing was going to be. It was me, Rob [Pattinson], Ashley Greene, Taylor [Lautner], and we just looked at each other and were like, ‘What the hell is going on’”
All their hopes (and fears) were soon to be realized. Twilight was destined to become a full-blown trans-global youth culturequake and Kristen, along with British-born Pattinson, the main stars at the centre of the maelstrom, not least due to the are-they/aren’t-they off-camera relationship rumours. The momentum ignited by the huge fanbase was soon plundered by those at the top of Summit Entertainment, the company at the helm of the cinematic adaptation. Nothing gets movie executives foamier around the mouth than the prospect of cashing in on the young, easily influenced and truly obsessed. Or, as the most ardent fans of Pattinson are known amid the darker recesses of the internet, the “Robsessed”. “From that moment on, the guys from the studio were walking around with dollar signs in their eyes. Like, kerching! And then it began. The insanity. The schedules. The demands. The interviews.”
The deeper into the franchise the young stars were flung, the bigger the Twilight phenomenon ballooned. Soon, every aspect of their lives was being affected by the bloodthirsty cultural juggernaut. “The big jump for me, I guess, was having security. And I mean, going everywhere with you. Just a big guy standing next to me the whole time. JB is his name — that’s my guy. And he would kill me for saying this, but even he has a goddamn fan site. All these girls have identified him and he’s now known as ‘HBG’ — Hottie Bodyguard.”
As Twilight, New Moon, the second installment, hit multiplexes in 2009, Kristen and Pattinson fount they couldn’t even leave their hotel for fear of being mauled by a flash mob of screeching Twihards. Scenes of the stars fleeing down New York streets pursued by hundred of teary, shock-haired fans were beamed across the globe. Did the actress ever fear for her life? “Sure. I mean, people are crazy. Everyone does what they have to do to protect themselves, but it would be fake for me to sit here and say people are not crazy. I’m sure lots of people shy away from this question as they want to make sure they look 100 per cent appreciative all the time and that everything is the most amazing thing always … But at the end of the line, people are fucking crazy! I would have been very happy just working from job to job, paying my rent one movie at a time. I never wanted to be this famous. I never imagined this life for myself.”
Kristen Stewart, a Californian, has been working in film since the age of eight. Right from the gun she knew she was prepared to fight her corner and do the sort of work she believed in, rather than take the fast buck and be seen in a cereal commercial with a talking monkey. It’s not that she knew what sort of actress she truly wanted to be, more she knew what kind of actress she never wanted to be.
Her first proper role was in the independent film The Safety of Objects, originally an AM Homes book about dysfunction and turmoil in small-town America. Kristen played the tomboy daughter of a troubled dingle mother (Patricia Clarkson). “I got Safety … towards the end of that period where I thought I should keep acting. As a little kid, you audition for so many fucking goddamn embarrassing parts — and my words would have been pretty much the same at that age too …”
You may have noticed, Kristen enjoys a good curse. Some women suit swearing, others don’t have the piss’n'vinegar to back it up. With Kristen, the blue-hued language fits neatly her wily independent spirit. “I would be like, ‘No Way.’ Which is why I never got offered very many of those roles. I would just go though the motions. Even while starting out I took things very seriously; I wasn’t the sort of kid that would do a doll commercial or do a series for Nickelodeon. They asked me to do silly things, and I wasn’t a silly kid.”
Kristen’s notoriously sulky, slacker vibe and reported ill-temperament is often commented on — she gets it. “It’s funny. I picked an old backpack out of the closet the other day, one I used to wear all the time as a teenager. It’s covered with anarchy signs, all these quotes and these metal studs. I was like, ‘Wow, you must have really liked how that looked!’ Despite what people think, I was such a rule follower at school. I loved the whole slacker look, like, ‘Hey, I don’t care, whatever,’ but if I didn’t turn my homework in, I would panic.”
Come 2001, and Kristen got her big Hollywood break opposite Jodie Foster, cast by influential director David Fincher in Panic Room. It’s a dark, violent, smart thriller about a botched burglary on a sprawling Manhattan brownstone. “It was tough, and the takes were endless, as you’d expect from David. He has a daughter around the same age so that made our relationship a lot easier — he knew how to deal with this. He’s intense, but I didn’t know any different.”
After Panic Room came a host of parts, mostly calling Kristen to play the complex, clever teenage girl shielding her face with her long brunette hair while going through some sort of crisis, either real or existential, hormonal or otherwise. Speak (2004) was a television movie about a high-schooler who — after being raped at a part by a popular jock — stops all verbal contact with those around her. It garnered the then 13-year-old actress huge critical praise, not least for her mature handling of such a sensitive subject.
“I was definitely aware of the film’s subject matter,” she says. “And it wasn’t because of anything that had happened in my own life — not at all. I grew up in a happy household.
Another was Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, a 2007 film about the real-life adventures of Christopher McCandless, a young man who hitchhiked across America in the early Nineties — heading north for Alaska — in a bid to become one with nature rather than do his parents’ bidding and go to college and get a job like everyone else. McCandless was played superbly by Emile Hirsch, while Kristen was cast opposite as the teenage sweetheart who develops a crush on the young dreamer. “Those good roles are a testament to the scripts I’ve been given. You would have to be a brick or a piece of wood not to be able to engage with some of that material.”
As she talks, it’s clear this isn’t merely a media-savvy actress practising some iota of self-deprecation for the benefit of our interview. Kristen has, in fact, a startlingly grounded view on her work, and on acting in general, perhaps indicative on how easy she finds the very idea of becoming someone she’s not. “I don’t want to discredit people’s individuality, bit I think people are pretty much the same. People are very similar. If you have a good enough imagination then you can feel things that you personally have never done before. That’s acting.”
Such a view of her chosen professional art form (not that Kristen would ever call acting an “art form”, one suspects) mirrors her rather dim view of her trade when just a rookie. Aged just 13, she told one magazine she though acting was “living a lie”.
“I think when I was younger, I was trying very hard to sound unpretentious. At that age, I was so bitterly self-conscious, and so desperate not to sound like a total douche. I don’t feel like that at all now. I think it was something I heard my parents say.”
Kristen’s parents work in the film industry, as crew members, solid blue-collar liberals, behind the camera. “My folks have always given me hell for how easy I have it,” Kristen admits. “My dad would say stuff like, ‘Oh, just go and sit in your trailer, practise your lines, and go lie for a living.’ It was something I said as a kid. Don’t worry, I have a much more pretentious view of acting nowadays.”
To be perfectly honest, I could have quite happily sailed through life without ever enduring a single minute of the Twilight phenomenon. The undead don’t do it for me, you see. As it happens, I did sit through them all, some of them perhaps more begrudgingly than others, but then they weren’t made for me so much as for my niece. If I had a 14-year-old niece hooked on abstinence porn. As Kristen admits, “Twilight is a catnip for those young innocent girls.” Talking to Kristen about the next steps in her career, however, she too seems more happy to turn the page.
The adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is set for release in January next year and Kristen has been cast as the beautiful “sharp talk” Marylou. Although obviously an entirely different literary beat to Meyer’s Twilight, once again it’s a book with somethign of a sizeable fanbase. Not to mention it being one of the more seminal works in modern American literature. No pressure, then.
“It’s a pretty big deal for me,” she explains. “Of course, all the actors took the responsibility of bringing such a work to visual fruition incredibly seriously. But we knew our stuff; Walter [Salles, the movie’s director] demanded it. We had a four-week rehearsal period where we did sort of beatnik boot camp – sound a little corny, but it was awesome. There was dancing and listening to music and he had us watching Shadows a bunch of times. We had Kerouac biographers come over and give us talks, and Marylou’s daughter – or rather the daughter of LuAnne Henderson [who Marylou is based on] – came to spend time with us all and that gave us such brilliant insight.” Was Kristen already a fan of the book? “It was my first ever favourite book.”
Kristen decided to quit regular schooling in her early teens and switch to home-schooling, partly because she was away filming so much and partly because she didn’t feel the school system was supporting her. “School became genuinely uncomfortable,” she explains. “I was feeling a little self-conscious about the acting thing with my peers, but also my teachers became a problem. They didn’t want to do the extra work or put packages together so I could keep up while away. They failed me. My teachers failed me. Not one, but all of them. I’m always slightly ashamed, in a way, about what I do. I’m slightly embarrassed as I had such serious ambitions when I was younger, I just never imagined that I would ever have a reason not to go to school. But then this happened.
This for Kristen, currently, means riding around on horseback in the English countryside while wielding a huge sword in the face of Charlize Theron. Theron is the Evil Queen to Kristen’s Snow White, in a Gothic interpretation of the famous story that’s been reworked for the big screen. Kristen has had to shape up and get fit for her part, something she’s never had the desire or impetus to do. “I’ve never worked out before. Now I’m only allowed to eat stuff out of a box. I’m It works. Also, I feel more energised and stronger. It took me a long time to realise that I was a girl as a teenager. At that point I never really believed it. I looked like a boy for a long time. Now, finally, I feel like a woman.”
Snow White and the Huntsman is filming in and around Gloucestershire, although Kristen is spending a good deal of time in a rental in Notting Hill, London. The day before, while at the GQ shoot, she had explained that she was looking forward to seeing more of the UK, as “my boyfriend is English”, although when I bring this up again the blood drains into her boots. “I never would have said that if I knew you were going to be interviewing me.”
I honestly hadn’t expected such a defensive reaction, but it’s clear when she feels her privacy is being breached, Kristen is quick to transform into “Tiger Mom”. The whole issue, if you don’t already know, has to do with whether or not she’s dating her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, the subject of which has seen more speculation than the origin of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. I tell her I’m surprised this is such an issue seeing as the evidence is already out there for all to see on the web – the photos, the stolen moments, the Christmas getaways… “Yeah, I know it is,” she admits. “So much of my life is so easily googled. I mean, it’s like, come on guys, it’s so obvious!” Her mood tights, perhaps all too aware of how much she’s already said. “But this subject, I don’t think you realise what a big deal it is for people. Well, it is a big deal. They would be ‘Oh. My. God’ There would also be still a 50/50 split. Some people would still be, ‘See, told you they’re not together.”
Kristen is acutely aware of all the gossipmongers. Far more so than I am, it seems. She knows about names: the “Robstens” (those who think K-Stew” and R-Patz” are together); the “Nonstens” (those fans who think they aren’t) and the “F***stens” (those who say they don’t give a monkey’s either way – but actually really do). I ask her who it is such a big deal to? These deranged fans? To her and Rob? What is it she’s so worried about?
“I don’t worry about it at all. It’s just one of those things. I’m selfish. I’m like, ‘That’s mine!’ And I like to keep whatever is mine remaining that way. It’s a funny little game to play and it’s a slippery slope. I always say to myself I’m never going to give anything away because there’s never any point or benefit for me.”
I say that perhaps after the last installment of Twilight is out it will get somewhat easier. “Yeah, maybe. I mean, right now it really is not a nightmare, it’s just one of those things. I guarantee whenever I get married or have a baby, everyone is going to want to know my kid’s name and I’m not going to say it for ages. That’s just the way I want to do it. It’ll come out but it won’t have come from me. They’re going to be really pissed off that I won’t say it and I’m just going to say, ‘No!’ I also have that desire to blurt stuff out, but I’ve learnt I can’t do that. Not when you realize the whole world is listening. That’s why perhaps I look so uncomfortable in interviews at times. I mean, we’ve talked about hiding things and I’ve had to get much more adept at that, sadly. But I’m glad I’m not one of those actresses who is just so ready to open up for everyone.”
Is there any advice that she would go back and give herself, before Twilight made her a global superstar? “Genuinely don’t worry about anything quite so much. Don’t beat yourself up about those big scenes that don’t belong to you; things are going to be the way they’re going to be. And the whole interview thing, talking to the world … It wasn’t ways for me at first. Doing this …” She smiles and points a finger accusingly. She’s only half-joking. “You say things every day that are going to be forever, they are about things in your life that matter the most, you’re caught off guard, you react weirdly, and you feel that people hate you. Sometimes people do hate you.”
Really? You felt journalists hated you? “The first time around people were definitely aggressive with me. I know it was a response to my energy. I could feel them thinking, ‘Come on, what is wrong with you — play the Game.’ But I didn’t know how and I didn’t know I had to, nor whether I wanted to. But I wasn’t being defiant, I just wasn’t prepared. And I think people responded to that in a negative way. I was just young and caught off guard. It got people so angry. They think you’re a fraud. ‘She’s just saying she’s young as an excuse: get it together or get out of the business.’ I had people say that to me. How about, er, I’m an actor and I really don’t give a fuck what you think? How about that?”
She laughs, lights a Parliament Light and breathes out, looking more composed, content and less hidden than she had done all afternoon. How’s she feeling? “I’m a 21-year-old woman having a beer with GQ. I’ve arrived.”