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Girl on the Edge
Now that she’d proved she can anchor a multibillion-dollar movie franchise, Kristen Stewart — actress, poet, seasoned road-tripper, and the Valley’s coolest rebel — is more than ready to take some serious chances.
Kristen Stewart has pulped me. A fine dusting of jacket lapels, orangey flecks up and down my chest. She is gazing down at the Gelson’s supermarket-bought juicer, in mouth-slightly-parted befuddlement familiar to anyone who ever saw Bella Swan dumbstruck by Edward Cullen informing her that, say, he is actually 108 years old. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, dude.”
Back in the living room, where a Bugs Bunny cartoon DVD plays on mute, she lights a Camel filter, slides open the glass doors beyond which her dogs, Cole, Bernie, and Bear, are whimpering and scratching and then comes back, exhales, and sits, twitching her feet in a vain attempt to burn off excess energy. She has powered a multibillion-dollar movie franchise and will power as many more as she chooses. It unspools from her — manic, kinetic, romantic energy, an intense desire and will to do more and act more and write more. This is how she lives, exploring who she is at any given moment by making herself feel unsafe. The choices she makes, the projects she takes on, are based on what frightens her. “Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing, and that’s kind of how I love it,” Stewart says. “I had no idea Twilight was going to be huge. Certain movies I’ve done I thought were going to be amazing did nothing. So it’s fun not having so much control. It’s kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle — it’s fun, but it’s scary as fuck. If it’s not scary, it’s usually — you kind of have to step back and go, ‘You’re probably making this decision because it’s right on paper.’ But unless you get that irking fear, it’s not right.”
She’s perched on a sofa draped in a Navajo blanket in front of a cedar trunk-cum-coffee table in her tiled living room with dazzling views of Los Angeles. The sky is overcast with dark clouds looming over the urban sprawl such that if you had to pick one movie setting this most closely resembles, it would be Twilight’s Forks, Washington. She’s dressed more like a skater character from an Avril Lavigne video than one of the highest-paid actresses in the world (reportedly earning $22 million in the year ending June 2013) — blue Vans, hoodie, white T-shirt, khakis, dog tag necklace, horn-rimmed glasses, baseball cap emblazoned with “Mercenaries.” After moving out of the Los Feliz house she shared with Robert Pattinson in 2012, she looked at four houses before deciding on this one in a gated enclave, which doesn’t feel lived in so much as inhabited. There’s mission-style furniture, TV still not hooked up to cable, bookcases crammed with books — Steinbeck (her favorite author, though her favorite book is On The Road), McCarthy, Plath — and a small sculpture that read “Fuck.” It’s not a style statement; she’s just passing through: “I don’t really feel like I need to be stuck to a place, necessarily.”
Though she has been acting since she was 9 years old, it was her emergence as Bella in Twilight at 17 that propelled her into the stratosphere. No other actress so young has been the anchor of a mega-blockbuster movie franchise. (Angelina Jolie was 26 when she did her first Tomb Raider, Jennifer Lawrence was 21 in the first Hunger Games.) Stewart’s performance was so effortless and natural that, when she made it big-time in 2008 with the first in the vampire-romance fantasy series, it seemed as if she had always been here. And in a sense, she had. She so perfectly inhabited every teen-girl quirk and mannerism — the snort when she mean “no,” the resigned shrug and stare into her dinner plate when she wants to change the subject — and reflected them back onto her source material and audience of young females. Five Twilights and 26 movies in total later, she finds herself in the coveted position of being able to choose her film projects — and fashion houses. Since 2012, she has been the face of Balenciaga’s Florabotanica fragrance, and most recently the brand’s new spicy floral perfume, Rosabotanica. In December, she was also announced as the new face of Chanel’s pre-fall collection, with the ad campaign launching in May.
“I did a photo shoot with Bruce Weber when I was 14 for Interview magazine. I met Nicolas Ghesquiere. [Balenciaga’s then creative director, now at Louis Vuitton]. I was blown away — fashion became less superficial in my eyes, though it wasn’t my thing. A couple of years later, he called me up. He has stuck out to [to me] as an artist. Fashion has the best and worst people. The gems stick out. He was a designer I wanted to be around. He was so creative. If I have to walk red carpets, if I have to be in fashion, then I want to be with him.”
But those feel like safe choices — fronting fashion labels is what starlets do now, as much a part of the business as enduring press junkets and swanning down red carpets. Does Stewart want to create another mega-franchise, building 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, in which she played the title lead heroine, into another juggernaut, or strike out into the unknown, as she has done with riskier fare like The Runaways (2010), On The Road (2012), and Camp X-Ray (which premiered at Sundance), in which she portrays a soldier at Guantanamo who develops an unlikely friendship with a detainee? While a Snow White and the Huntsman sequel is far-off, “It’s not where I thrive,” she says. “I really like being thrown into the unknown and then finding my way. I don’t want to show someone something. I want people to watch me find something.”
Camp X-Ray director, Peter Sattler, was impressed Stewart took on the film. “This is a minimalist role, a very internal performance,” he says. “Everything was living and dying on her face — it was a game of inches, not yards. What she responded to was choosing a role unlike anything she’s done before. She needs to find new territory, she needs to be hanging off a ledge. It takes a lot of courage to say, ‘I don’t care what people expect of me or what they thing about me doing this role.’ It’s about how she wants to define herself, not how other people want to define her. She wants to grow, that’s what she’s about right now. She is incredibly creative — use totally needs to direct a movie, write a book, and start a band.” Juliette Binoche, Stewart’s costar in the drama Clouds of Sils Maria (scheduled for a 2014 release), calls her “a soul explorer. She knows she wants to take risks and doesn’t always know where it is going to take her. She has genius, and that makes her shy sometimes. Acting is about fire, and Kristen has a lot in her. Her need to know and explore is as high as her passion. She likes to be in dangerous places and see if she can survive.”
Stewart laments that she doesn’t come across many projects that “really get me going,” part of the reason she didn’t work for most of 2013. Instead, she took road trips with her friends to New Orleans and Nashville, worked on her poetry and played guitar, and reconnected with the posse of Valley girls she used to hang with at the AMC Promenade in Woodland Hills, California, back in middle school.
She is fiercely proud of her Valley upbringing, still representing the 818, the area code for kids who view Los Angeles’ tonier Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Westside neighborhoods as another world. Her tight-knit family, which includes three brothers and industry parents (father John Stewart is a stage manager; mother Jules Mann Stewart is a script supervisor), is still from that “other America,” as she considers the Valley, “Riding bikes on flat streets and it’s hot as fuck and the air sucks.” And that’s what drives her, she says. “The Westside and stuff kind of looks down on it a little bit, like, culturally. I think the smart kids from the Valley have a little extra hustle, because people get stuck there, even though I love it and it’s a great place to raise a family.”
Her breakup with Pattinson in 2012 may also have instigated her year of partial exile. During long road trips — at one point she helped a girlfriend resettle in New Orleans — she ruminated over life and how perhaps the biggest mistake you can make is to try to control your own heart. “You don’t know who you will fall in love with. You just don’t. You don’t control it. Some people have certain things, like, ‘That’s what I’m going for,’ and I have a subjective version of that. I don’t pressure myself … If you fall in love with someone, you want to own them — but really, why would you want that? You want them to be what you love. I’m much too young to even have an answer for that question.” Stewart does acknowledge a desire to someday have children (and believes in adoption) and recreate the happy childhood she had. “I had it too good to not have that, too. If I were to put money on it, definitely, yeah. But you earn that, like, that’s so not here yet.” She laughs. “I mean, at this point, I can’t tell you if I want to hang out on Saturday.”
On a road trip about a year ago, Stewart and a friend drove through Texas, where she wrote a poem. She often writes intense little verses, words or strings of words, rearranging them in a process she herself doesn’t understand but believes is somehow essential to her sanity. This poem, written after the Twilight saga had officially ended, is typically raw and candid. Before she reads it aloud to me, she says, “Oh, my God, it’s so embarrassing. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
MY HEART IS A WIFFLE BALL / FREEDOM POLE
I reared digital moonlight
You read its clock, scrawled neon
across that black
Kismetly … ubiquitously crest fallen
Thrown down to strafe your foothills …
I’ll suck the bones pretty.
Your nature perforated the abrasive
Spray painted everything known to man,
Stream rushed through and all out into
Whilst the crackling stare down sun snuck
Through our windows boarded up
He hit your flint face and it sparked.
And I bellowed and you parked
We reached Marfa.
One honest day up this freedom pole
Devils not done digging
Hes speaking in tongues all along
And this pinion erosion is getting dust in
And Im drunk on your morsels
And so I look down the line
Your every twitch hand drum salute
Salutes mine …
Her poetry, she says, comes from the same place as her acting. “I like being able to hit something, like, ‘There it is.’ I don’t want to sound so fucking utterly pretentious … but after I write something, I go, ‘Holy fuck, that’s crazy.’ It’s the same thing with acting: If I do a good scene, I’m always like, ‘Whoa, that’s really dope.’”
A few old friends from the 818 have dropped by, congregating around a butcher-block island in the middle of the kitchen. Stewart has mixed the pulp from the juicer with brown rice and chicken and passes the bowl around. They are talking about their book club — they just finished Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero and are now on Henry Miller’s Sexus. Stewart has been an avid reader since she was a kid reading scripts. (She landed her first movie, The Safety of Objects, directed by A.M. Homes, at 9.) Her one regret is forgoing a college education. “The biggest struggle I’ve ever had has been about not going to school and working instead. I was worried about turning down specific individual experiences. Like each movie was, ‘Fuck, I have to do that movie.’ I just did a movie with Time Blake Nelson [Anesthesia, which recently wrapped], and he is brilliant. If I were as smart as he is, I could have the most killer conversation with anyone becauseI know I have it in me. I just don’t have the tools necessarily as well-developed as he does. I play this character who is getting her master’s degree in philosophy at Columbia, and I think I’m smart, but I’m definitely not book smart in that way.”
Only in the past year has she become confident that, even if she doesn’t work for a year, she won’t be forgotten or feel that she missed something. “There will always be stories to tell, and there will always be this drive in me to seek them out.” She’s already on deck for Equals, a film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, opposite Nicholas Hoult, which starts filming in July. And next month, she starts shooting American Ultra, an action-comedy that reunites her with Adventureland (1009) costar Jesse Eisenberg. “She’s actively unpretentious,” says Eisenberg. “She is kind of in a system that is doing everything in its power to make her arrogant and overly guarded. And she fights against that, to her credit. She couldn’t be more accessible and socially generous and caring of and interested in other people. She’s easy to have a rapport with because her first priority is not her own vanity or reputation.”
Stewart lights another cigarette, and I am reminded of something she said earlier: “I have an embarrassing incapability, seriously, of summoning fake energy.” And that’s what is required of her, she explains, whenever she does media to promote her latest projects. “I’m just not very good on TV, and it’s not my mail goal in life to get good at it. People are like, ‘She just can’t handle’ — for lack of a better word — ‘the spotlight.’ No, actually, I can’t, and that is totally who I am. I love being an actor, but I’m the last person to want to have a birthday party. I don’t try to force it or turn it into something else or fabricate this personality … so I totally agree when people say I’m, like, the most awkward person.” Stewart has reconciled that with her desire to be true to her poetic self. “If you’re operating from a genuine place, then you can’t really regret anything.”
On almost quitting acting at age 9: “I auditioned for a year before I got anything, and I told my mom I was kind of over it. I was like, ‘I don’t want to make you drive around L.A. anymore. If it’s not happening, it’s not worth it.’ They thought I looked like a boy. I didn’t think it was going to pan out, and then literally that day, I got The Safety of Objects, which was my first movie.”
On directing aspirations: “The idea of making a movie scares me because I want it to be amazing. If people watch it, I don’t want, ‘Oh, how nice, her first little directorial debut.’ I want it to be, ‘Boom!’”
On her M.O.: “I’m kind of, like, an extremist. I really don’t want to be working unless I’m bleeding it. And if I’m not working, then don’t ever try to make a plan with me.”
On being judged as a peril of fame: “I stand by every mistake I’ve ever made, so judge away.”
On being less inhibited: “I was always like, ‘If you put too many walls up, you can’t see. You’re limiting your life so drastically and in a sad way.’ So I always used to say, ‘I’m not putting up any walls, I’m trying to break them down,’ and it seemed kind of defensive — it was definitely coming from that place. But now I’m actually maintaining like I don’t live in a fortress.”
On drugs: “I’m such a control freak. I’m glad I grew up in this era because I think if I grew up in my parents’ age of drugs and discovery and crazy shit, I don’t think I would do drugs well.”