FROM the outside, looking through that sparkling window that is celebrity, Kristen Stewart seems to have it all.
The Twilight series – an adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s tale of teenage abstinence between broody-vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and broody-human, Bella Swan (Stewart) – has catapulted her into global mega-stardom.
For that, Stewart is on the receiving end of the kind of pay cheque most people only dream of, with reports suggesting she earned about $18 million last year.
She’s young, rich and – if you believe the rumours about her and Pattinson – madly in love. So why so cranky? On red carpets, Stewart appears sullen. In interviews, it seems as if she’d rather swallow razor blades than answer even the most innocuous question.
On a recent Australian promotional tour to promote Eclipse, the latest film in the saga, she showed a hostility to fame that’s clearly an albatross around her neck. Photographers chronicled her range of grumpy expressions, most notably in a memorable shot taken of her on a Sydney hotel balcony, cigarette dangling, both middle fingers held aloft.
Meanwhile, Taylor Lautner, her younger Twilight co-star, appeared at ease with the attention, smiling and chatting to fans while Stewart pouted, sulked and greeted fans through gritted teeth. “You don’t see the cameras shoved in my face and the bizarre, intrusive questions being asked,” Stewart told a British magazine recently, “or the people falling over themselves, screaming and taunting to get a reaction. All you see is an actor lit up by a flash.”
Matters weren’t helped when she likened being hounded by the paparazzi to sexual assault: “It’s so… The photos are so… I feel like I’m looking at someone being raped. A lot of the time, I can’t handle it. It’s f*****. I never expected this would be my life.”Which begs the question, why does she put herself through it? Why not quit? She’s made noises about moving to Sydney to attend university (her Australian mother was born in Queensland), and talks of wanting a “normal” life, of taking a year off to “live”.
Yet in the same breath she says, “I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t do this. I’m sure I’d find something else. The thing about acting [is], you could get into something else. You could write, because you have that mind. If you couldn’t act, it would definitely manifest in different areas. But I’d be devastated. I don’t want to stop.”
Still, it’s easy to forget she’s just 20 years old. Imagine if everything you said or did at that age was reported on by ravenous gossip sites waiting for you to trip up at every opportunity.
Pattinson, who called rumours of their engagement “bulls**t”, is often quick to defend his co-star. “A big franchise like Twilight is a scary thing, because it put me on the map and I’ll have it my whole life. So it’s important to get along with my partner, and Kristen is the perfect partner,” he’s said. “She sets the bar high, so I must deliver, too.”
Such is the pair’s popularity that, this year, in the US, the names Isabella, Jacob (after Lautner’s perennially shirtless werewolf) and Cullen (in homage to Edward’s Vogue-worthy vampire family) have had a significant surge in baby-name popularity. They’ve also spawned a new breed of super-fan, the ‘Twi-hards’, tweens, teens and even proper grown-ups who devour their every move and have been known to break down sobbing at the appearance of their idols.
With all this in the back of my mind, it’s with trepidation that I meet Stewart. When I speak to her, it’s under the proviso it’s alongside Dakota Fanning, her co-star in The Runaways, the biopic of the all-girl teenage rock band that skyrocketed to stardom – and imploded just as quickly – in the ’70s.
Stewart plays rock legend Joan Jett, in a performance that’s eerily spot-on. She has Jett’s swagger, snarl and don’t-mess-with-me-attitude down pat – much how I expect the actor to behave in person.
It’s something of a shock, then, to find her gregarious and open. She laughs a lot, something she rarely does in front of the cameras. What’s more, she’s beautiful and there’s no sulking. Wearing old jeans, a ratty black T-shirt and scuffed boots, she looks more like a rockstar than an actor who’s constantly strutting the red carpet in haute couture.
Stewart takes numerous cigarette breaks and seems as if she couldn’t care less how she’s perceived. Watching her, you get the sense she’s developed a thick skin. Probably because she’s had to. “It seems much crazier from an outsider’s perspective,” she says with a shrug. “People think our lives must be this intense media frenzy, and it’s not like that.
“It’s really only when I’m working. My life involves normal things.”
Er, not quite. There aren’t many 20-year-olds who can command millions of dollars per picture, whose every move is captured by the ravenous paparazzi or who can get a film made purely by attaching their name to it. But this is Stewart’s current lot.
It’s obvious why Stewart and Fanning (pictured, below) relate to the tale of The Runaways – girls navigating the pressures of fame from a young age. Unlike Stewart, however, Fanning, 16, seems thoroughly unfazed by the whole business. “It’s because my family has nothing to do with the movie business,” she says, matter-of-factly.
Stewart, she adds, has become something of a mentor since they acted together in the second and third Twilight instalments.
But entertainment is in Stewart’s blood. Her father, John, is a stage manager and TV producer, while her mother, Jules, is a script supervisor. (She also has an older brother, Cameron.) “I grew up on sets and I always wanted to have a job, because that’s what my parents did, and it was cool and fun,” she says. “As a kid, you can just be an actor, so that’s how I got into it. Then I developed a love of it after I was, like, 13 and started doing other projects I really loved.”
Despite having earned her acting stripes, it’s interesting to note how uncomfortable she looks on the red carpet. Much was made of her pausing to cough while introducing a montage of horror flicks at this year’s Academy Awards. But it was no big deal for Stewart herself. “Sometimes when I’m nervous, I cough,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to finish the sentence if I hadn’t done it. This will baffle some people, but I was proud of myself that night – that I didn’t fall down or anything. It’s sad that people look at awkwardness as something so horrible.”
She certainly isn’t about to conform to what people want her to be, perhaps driven by a desire to prove she’s more than a franchise player. After all, her early career showed no hints of mainstream stardom, with her focus on indie films. Sean Penn’s Into the Wild saw her hold her own opposite Emile Hirsh and Catherine Keener. Post-Twilight, there’s been The Runaways (a labour of love for music-mad Stewart), Adventureland and The Yellow Handkerchief – all small-budget, character-driven films.
One of her early roles was as Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room. Foster, more than most, understands the trials of dealing with fame at a young age. At Vanity Fair’s Oscars after-party, Foster made a beeline for Stewart and a photo was taken that said more than words could: Stewart stands arms folded, as if being chastised, while Foster points a finger in a manner suggesting she’s passing on stern advice. And, according to Stewart, she was: “She said, ‘You know, you could learn a thing or two from me. We should start hanging out. I was like, ‘Really?’”
For now, though, Stewart’s enjoying a break until November, when she begins filming Breaking Dawn, the fourth Twilight movie.
“The past three years have been heavy,” she says. “I haven’t had any plans in a long time, because I’ve been working a lot. I enjoy my downtime and I’m looking forward to it.”
Considering the pressure she’s under, the young actor deserves a holiday. Who knows, she might find something to smile about.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is in cinemas July 1. The Runaways is out July 15.
Source: Herald Sun