CANNES- France — In the opening scene of “The Clouds of Sils Maria”, presented at the end of the 67th Cannes Festival last Friday, Kristen Stewart’s character, Val, is clearly stressed-out. As the train snakes up the winding mountain route of the Swiss Alps, Val is juggling with her multiple jangling cell phones, cursing the bad connection, and trying to deal with the barrage of undesirable media, pestering directors and dramatic news that will dramatically change her entire schedule.
In the film, Stewart plays the part of a low-key bespectacled personal assistant to the glamorous Maria Enders, a fortyish famous actress, brilliantly portrayed by Juliette Binoche. It’s Val’s job to arrange every infinitesimal detail, from making sure that Maria is on time for her Chanel gown fittings to endlessly walking the actress through the lines of her script.
Highly praised for her subtle performance by the Cannes critics, Kristen Stewart says she’s glad to have had a chance to explore the other side of fame, with all the ambivalence and fascination about celebrity culture that the part required.
“The reason this movie was made was not to make a statement about how superficial media can be, but it was a lot of fun for me to be the one to say it,” says Stewart. “Obviously, I’ve had more experience with the media, so it makes it funnier.”
“I don’t a have a personal assistant right now,” the actress says, “but I have had one in the past and I definitely understand the dynamic. The difference is that I never had such a co-dependent relationship.”
Going on what Stewart has experienced “in real life”, she says, there were moments during the shoot when the actress coached her co-star, Juliette Binoche, to make her performance more believable. “When we were getting out the car to walk up the red carpet, Juliette just like opened the door and started to get out. I said, ‘what are you doing? A star would never do that!’”
At one point in film, Stewart’s character, Val, hotly defends the hell-raising young starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is to play opposite Maria in her upcoming new role in the theater. Contrary to Jo-Ann’s reckless tabloid-baiting bimbo image on you tube, Val tells Maria that she shouldn’t judge the straight-out-of-rehab actress so harshly.
“She doesn’t want to be swallowed up the Hollywood machine,” Val says. How has Kristen Stewart managed to dodge some of the trappings of celebrity culture?
“When I take on a role,” says Stewart, I really like to think, and I do not care what people think about them afterwards. I really want the experience. I think a lot of actors—not good ones—are just product oriented, as is the business.”
“American movies are so packaged and delivered,” she continues. “They think for you. Like the stories in the tabloids—they’re so easily consumable. But that said, I love big American movies—they’re my foundation, what I grew up on—and I still want to do them.”
“Kristen is so powerful and has such a strong presence,” says French director Olivier Assayas. “I wrote a part in this film hoping it would be remotely interesting for her. I honestly didn’t think she would do it. I thought that the subject would be too touchy, but she liked the idea.”
Stewart says that she was thrilled to accept a role in Assayas’ film after such a long dry spell. “I didn’t make a movie for a really long time because I didn’t get offered anything that I liked. I didn’t work for two years.”
“I want to start directing,” the actress adds. “It’s still way down the line but I’m going to start dinking around and making shorts. You learn by making mistakes but that’s definitely what I want to focus on next.”
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What motivated Kristen to take on the role?
“I think the fear that motivated me here was working with Juliette. And with Olivier as well. It’s just such a different setting for an American actress. It’s a very European feeling film. It thinks a lot, it doesn’t package its ideas and deliver them to you. I think it takes its on ride and it’s really complex and what scared me was hitting it perfectly and striking this balance and this was an opportunity to really make the point hit home. I play an assistant to an actress, I comment on the sort of potential for the media to be and it’s very commonly incredibly superficial. It’s not ‘yeah, I’m being nice right now, but basically saying this is so silly and not in an interview, not to you right now, but in a film that really means something that it’s a different thing. So that was definitely satisfying to say some of those lines to her and not scary, just really satisfying.”
Why Olivier thought of Kristen for the part:
“I met her, it’s really via my producer Charles Gillibert, he produced ‘On the Road’ and so I met Kristen through him in a completely, I mean I was not thinking about this film, I had not written it so it’s. But I liked her very much. I thought that was something to her that was extraordinarily powerful and I thought that movies had not used half of it. So I thought that I saw someone who had done great things but had greater things to do.”
Kristen thoughts on working on location in the Alps:
“Actually I must say when we were in St. Moritz, Sils Maria, like that’s where we shot it, I did start to get a little bit of cabin fever. I kind of felt like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ for a minute there. It was like we were all living in this old stuffy hotel and it was just like and we were so obsessed with making this movie and every second of our lives was devoted to focussing on this movie that it becomes this isolated obsessive environment but it’s amazing, that’s what it should be. I’m into that. I really like intense bursts of like take these three months and think about nothing but this but it definitely got a little… I mean at a certain point I was like ‘OK, we need to all relax a little bit.’”
Chloe on how the internet has changed things for actors:
“I think it’s weird because like for me, what’s weird for me is every time I go to a meeting I get asked, ‘do you, are you on social media? And if you are how many followers do you have?’ and I find that really weird because instead of being asked like ‘oh what movies do you want to do? what do you want to approach?’ they kind of ask what is your internet social standing which I find really annoying. It’s become, as a young actor it’s become as a whole part of your career that if you don’t instagram your movies, that if you don’t tweet your movies and stuff like that, they’re not going to succeed kind of thing.”
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