KRISTEN Stewart courted fame as Twilights leading lady, so why does the star still hide behind her broody alter ego?
Admitting you have a boyfriend shouldn’t really be headline news, but then Kristen Stewart is - albeit begrudgingly - used to her life being scrutinised. For more than a year, legions of Twilight fans across the world have suspected that Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who oozes brooding charm as vampire Edward Cullen in the films, were more than onscreen lovers. And now they have proof the romance they’ve seen blossom onscreen has spilled over into real life.
Not that Stewart actually says the words out loud. In a rare slip of the tongue, she recently revealed she was excited to be spending more time in Britain because “my boyfriend is English” - which is as close as the 21-year-old will get to discussing her relationship with her Twilight co-star.
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Talking to her today, it becomes obvious that while acting is her craft, protecting her private life has become her other full-time job.
Looking pretty and much softer than some photos portray, she’s dressed in skinny jeans and a T-shirt, and happy to talk about how it feels to be at the centre of the Twilight storm.
Her life changed dramatically when she won the coveted role of Bella Swan almost five years ago, and as the fourth instalment, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, hits cinemas this week, she says she’s finally come to terms with her superstardom.
Often criticised for being unapproachable, or sometimes moody, when snapped by the paparazzi or on the red carpet, Stewart is sanguine about those moments, especially when she weighs them up against the amazing opportunities that have come her way as part of her speedy transition from anonymous to global phenomenon.
“Yes, I feel more comfortable at times now, but it really is about what mood you’re in,” she says. “If the mood strikes and if you’re feeling unselfconscious that day, you can have fun with it. The trouble with the red carpet is that it’s hard to fake it. So, if you’re having an introspective day or not thinking clearly, it comes across. Then people think that’s who you are all the time, but it’s not - that’s just five minutes of my life.”
She admits she’s had to learn to lighten up. “It’s easier now that I realise people don’t want me to be so serious all the time,” she says. “I used to care so much about certain questions. For instance, sometimes someone will say very frivolously, ‘What does the Twilight experience mean to you?’ And I say, ‘Do you want a quick answer or for me to tell you what I really think? Because that’s going to take a while.’”
This letting go has clearly made life easier for her. “You can only be concerned about what matters to you,” she says. “I approach all of this as a job. Acting is what I do, and I’m lucky to have such an awesome career, but it’s a slippery slope when you start to let things affect you personally. Keeping your head down is much better.”
As for Pattinson, all she’ll say is what’s hers is hers. “I’m selfish. I think, that’s mine, and I’d like whatever is mine to remain that way. It’s a funny game to play. I always tell myself I’m never going to give anything away, because there’s never any point or benefit for me.”
Her iconic character, Bella, is set to give herself away to Edward in Breaking Dawn, with a much-anticipated vampire wedding. There’s been some criticism over the years that Bella isn’t a positive role model for young girls, but Stewart loves playing the character.
“[Bella’s] caught up in something that feels much bigger than her, and she’s in a relationship that’s by no means unequal,” the Californian native explains. “Edward is so invested in their relationship, but he’s weaker-minded and doesn’t think they can overcome such adversity. But she has faith that it will work out, so I think she’s more courageous than Edward. I understand people think her weakness might be that she’s had to give up her life for him, but don’t you think that’s valiant?”
Another fan of Bella - and Stewart - is the film’s director, Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). He campaigned for the job because he was desperate to work with her, even admitting he has a soft spot for his leading lady.
When asked why he took on Breaking Dawn, he was clear: “Because it’s all told from Bella’s point of view.” He adds, “And my Kristen Stewart crush, you know? The idea that she was going to take this journey - it was exciting to collaborate with her on that.”
Starting out as a child actor, Stewart was plucked from hundreds of hopefuls to play Jodie Foster’s daughter in the 2002 thriller Panic Room. The pair has a lot in common, with Foster also having to navigate the choppy waters of show business as she transitioned from child star to fully-fledged actor.
After the two met up again at an Academy Awards after-party, Stewart revealed the Oscar winner had offered to give her any help she might need.
“That was awesome,” says Stewart. “It had been a long time since I’d seen her, and a lot had happened. I think it wasn’t the way she expected my life to go.”
Foster admits she was surprised Stewart chose to continue acting rather than move behind the scenes - something which might seem more natural for the often reclusive star. “I didn’t think she’d choose to be an actor,” says Foster. “She’s a lot like me; she’s uncomfortable being an externally emotional person, beating her chest and crying every five minutes. I felt she was such an intelligent technician, so interested in camera work - I thought that would translate to other things.”
Stewart says meeting Foster during Panic Room was a defining moment in her life. “We got to know each other really well and it means something to me that it meant a lot to her. When you’re a kid and you have an important experience with someone, you have no idea if it was the same for them, or if you were just some kid.”
She’d like to take up Foster’s offer of advice one day. “We’ve never sat down and had a specific conversation about making that transition [from child to adult actor], but we’re both strongly influenced by caring for what we do. When we worked together, she said, ‘I’m never going to act in another movie; I’m going to direct,’ but she continues to act. Like me, she’s compelled to make movies. I’m lucky she was my first experience of what a moviestar is.”
Like many child-to-adult stars, Stewart is keen to look for roles that take her beyond the one which made her famous. Her solid performance as rockstar Joan Jett in The Runaways garnered rave reviews last year, and she’s scored upcoming roles in Snow White and the Huntsman and the much-anticipated On the Road, based on Jack Kerouac’s novel. Would she move to the stage to prove she’s more than a one-role woman?
“I’ve had little experience watching or reading plays,” she says. “I know nothing of what that world is like. I can’t imagine doing something again and again every night.”
She shifts in her seat as she warms up to the subject. “If I find out we have to shoot a scene again, I go bonkers,” she says. “I know I’m going to remember the moment I’ve already experienced and have to get back there. With theatre, you have to find a new moment every night. I think once something is lived, it’s lived. I’m relieved to have it out.”
So maybe theatre isn’t such a good idea? She pauses. “But being in front of an audience would feel really good. If you have a group of people or a good director watching you, you feel naked, and that’s OK. That sensation puts you on edge, so you feel instantly emotional.”
Pushing herself is one reason she took the role of Marylou in On the Road, set for release next year. It’s the first time Jack Kerouac’s iconic ’50s beat generation novel will be on the big screen, and a brave move for any actor, let alone one who’s so closely associated with a vampire franchise.
“Every experience shapes you and helps you build confidence,” Stewart says. “Recently, I’ve had a chance to play characters outside my comfort zone. Not that I’ve ever stuck with anything that feels comfortable, but sometimes you’re drawn to things you relate to. I’ve definitely tested myself.”
She credits her experience on Twilight with giving her the tools to take on the literary classic. “I’ve dealt with the pressures of having a fan base that eagerly awaits the product, but On the Road is a different level - people have waited five decades for it,” she says. “This character is so far away from who I am, I had to push myself. It made me realise I can do more character pieces, instead of just playing the ingénue.”
Work aside, she’s already planning what to do when she eventually has time to herself. Her mum, Jules Mann-Stewart is from Maroochydore, Queensland, and studied at the University of Sydney. “I wish I could go back to Australia,” Stewart says. “I went a couple of times when I was younger, but I was fairly little, so I don’t really remember it. I’d love to see it as an adult.”
With all the craziness in her life, Stewart is grateful to have friends and family as her anchor; buying into the hype isn’t her style.
“It’s rare for me to do anything that betrays who I am. I feel rooted where I am,” she says. “I’d have a real problem with selling out and not being myself."
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 is in cinemas November 17.