Los Angeles—“It’s funny—my favorite directors don’t talk very much,” said Kristen Stewart with a smile. She’s blonde and looking lovelier in our recent interview in New York. In her relatively young career, Kristen has been directed by some of cinema’s best. That list now includes Ang Lee.
“It’s this environment that Ang creates that really makes you stand at attention in a way that is intrinsic,” the actress added about the Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker who directed her for the first time in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” She’s dressed in a black jacket and bellybutton-baring blouse and green pants.
In the drama adapted from Ben Fountain’s novel, Kristen plays Kathryn, the sister of the titular character (newcomer Joe Alwyn), who comes home a hero from the Iraq War in 2004. But cracks unfold as Billy and his Bravo Squad are honored in a spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game. Kathryn thinks Billy is suffering from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).
“Ang doesn’t have to say a lot,” Kristen continued about the director known for giving few directions. The star herself is always an articulate interviewee, but this morning, she was more spirited than usual.
“The script is perfectly put together but further than that, there’s a pressure that is immense but actually gentle. Because there’s a lot of faith in the script.”
The pressure was from the film being shot in groundbreaking 120 frames-per-second 3D, resulting in clarity that magnifies everything on the screen, including the actors’ faces. (But the movie will be shown in 2D in the Philippines.)
“The pressure was hard,” Kristen admitted. “This movie was scary for everyone. Not just because of the technological implications that we were being seen in a way that we’ve never been seen and that we were going to have to let our guards down, or else they were going to seem like facades.
“That’s what you’re always trying to do in a movie—be seen, not lie.”
Other than the challenges of acting for the first time with two separate 3D cameras, Kristen relished her director’s quiet style. “Ang is very calm. He’s incredibly Zen. There’s something about the way that he sees things and his encouraging desire to find the truth, which sounds cliché.
“And I’ve never seen a group of people work harder. It was like, everyone was terrified—not in a bad way, but in a really good way.”
For the actress, it helped that her pal, Garrett Hedlund, was in the cast as Sgt. Dime, the leader of the Bravo Company men who develop strong bond after surviving deadly skirmishes.
“I’m good friends with Garrett,” said Kristen. “I’ve known him for years. He was on this movie much longer than me. I got there, and I could see these people who had been through so much, it felt so real to me. I felt like an older sister. I felt protective of these boys. It was real. They love each other.
“It’s remarkable. He’s (Ang) one of the greatest directors of our time.”
Views on war
On her own views about war, Kristen reflected, “This movie highlights the idea that nobody, or that very few people, go further than what they’re told. And it depends on who’s telling you and what media outlet you’re watching at a given time. That frustration for my generation is real. It repels people from wanting to understand, because it’s hard to. We’re kept in the dark about certain things.
“The other thing is, the movie encourages you to actually think for yourself. It’s not overtly opinionated in any way. I know my character is a pacifist. And I am, up to not an ideal extent, but just on the fundamental level. That’s how I function—and I stand behind that.
“I’m not the most political person, but in these times, it’s not a matter of claiming to know how you would do things better to make things work. It’s a pretty good time for this movie to come out, because whether you want to fall on this or that side, it’s pretty clear which side I do. Just own what you believe in and please vote.”
Writing and directing
As for her own experience writing and directing the short film, “Come Swim,” described as “a poetic, impressionistic portrait of a man underwater with heartache,” our budding auteur enthused, “It went well. I love it. That’s a great pleasure. You don’t always love what you do. I’m coloring and finishing sound design. In this particular movie, half the story is all in sound.
“I found the next level, honestly. I don’t draw a huge distinction between acting and directing. For me, they go hand in hand [with] the way I’ve always approached acting. But the difference between the two would be, there’s something more immediate and flippant about acting that I like. But you can do something and walk away from it. Daily. Even by the hour. It’s momentary and more like a knee-jerk reaction.
“Directing is navigating a city. But it’s still instinct. Also, the thing that I get from making movies that I really love is that we can talk about stuff, in order to not feel so crazy. I feel like we can become closer to each other, do that visually and affect people. And say things together to say them louder.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. I’ve never been happier doing anything. I can’t wait to make more video art. I can’t wait to write my feature. I feel like I am more stimulated, feel more driven than I’ve ever felt. I feel like my eyes are wide open. Sometimes, in life, there are certain stages where everything feels possible. I’m really feeling the possibility right now. I definitely credit that first experience.”
Can she be more specific about the short’s storyline? “Oh, it’s pretty impressionistic, and you’ll see,” she teased with a grin. “I don’t want to blow it. It’s 15 minutes. It will speak louder than what I can say right now.”