Kristen Stewart is due at the Venice Film Festival tomorrow for the world premiere of Seberg, a political thriller inspired by true events and a movie that represents one of the boldest choices the erstwhile Bella Swan has increasingly made since she burst to worldwide stardom in the Twilight saga.
Stewart has demonstrated an art house sensibility — even becoming the first American actress to win a César Award, France’s equivalent to the Oscar — showing range in a diverse array of films while not shying away from big studio fare either, with Charlie’s Angels coming in November.
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She is passionate about her work, gender equality and telling “confronting” stories. Stewart is also conscious of the reach and influence she has as a celebrity, particularly one who broke out in a global franchise. “Everything that I do, every conversation that I have, the way that I vote, the projects that I’m drawn to creatively… It would be impossible to go to bed without being really clear and open and honest in these times,” she tells me below.
Seberg (which previously went by the title Against All Enemies and is directed by Benedict Andrews) plays into that. The film is centered on Jean Seberg, the titular Breathless pixie, an American actress who spent half her life in France. In the late 1960s, she was targeted by Hoover’s illegal FBI surveillance program COINTELPRO. Because of her political and romantic involvement with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie in the film), she was also a target of the FBI’s attempts to disrupt, discredit and expose the Black Power movement. Seberg died at the age of 40 in what was deemed a probable suicide. That was 40 years ago tomorrow.
Of the film’s resonance to today, Stewart says, “I mean, this is America and a bunch of dudes in power are never going to be cool with you taking it away.”
Bearing a striking physical resemblance to Seberg in the Amazon Studios presentation, Stewart has more in common with the actress than a great haircut.
DEADLINE: In some of the acting choices you’ve made in the past few years, there seems to be more of a European sensibility than where you started out. Was it a deliberate choice to go in that direction?
KRISTEN STEWART: Well I started acting when I was really young and I definitely never got any commercial jobs (laughs). As a little kid, the first few things you audition for are commercial work or TV work or parts for children which tend to obviously be a little less complex. I was seriously, like, thrown out of every “cute girl” audition that I ever went to.
At that time, there was no way for me to be aware of my sort of ultimate trajectory. But it makes total sense. I was always a very sort of over-serious thoughtful kid. I was definitely not afraid to tell confronting stories and was much more interested in that.
DEADLINE: You worked with Jodie Foster early in your career, how influential has that meeting been later on?
STEWART: I think I grew up with this default admiration because of her, because I always felt a kinship with her. I sort of consistently used her as an example of something to strive for, so that detail was always very attractive.
You know, there’s just something classically more existential and realistic in terms of what it feels like to actually live a life and have a brain and live amongst people that might have different ones rather than telling these compact perfect stories. I was always into that.
But (working with Foster) was like the coincidence that luckily put me in a few correct places. I definitely kind of aggrandized that whole world before I even knew about it.
DEADLINE: When I first moved to France 26 years ago, I worked at the International Herald Tribune and that famous photo of Jean Seberg from Breathless was a source of pride for us. But I was surprised how little I knew about her life and the circumstances this film reveals. What did you learn about her?
STEWART: I really only knew her as the Herald Tribune girl as well. I hadn’t seen anything other than Breathless. I knew the dégueulasse moment (at the end of that film). I always found her to be iconically cool. I thought it was rad that this actress had been ingratiated into this culture that I also am really interested in, but I really never went into it any further than that. I read the script and was really shocked, I had no idea about the story about her sort of tragic end. I was interested in the complexity of her life, but I only knew her as an image before.
DEADLINE: Beyond being an American actress who has found success in France, were there any other aspects of Jean that you identify with?
STEWART: I think Jean was really committed to telling not the most commercial stories, it was why she was attracted to the people she was attracted to creatively. It was why she was drawn to the causes that she was as well — they weren’t digestible in the country that she was living in, they weren’t something that people wanted to hear both creatively and politically. So I think it makes total sense that she found a more sort of welcome home in France.
DEADLINE: Jean was also a very strong woman, but one who had a tragic end. How would she fare in today’s Hollywood?
STEWART: We’re living in such a polarized time I think, that luckily there are fewer — I mean I can’t justify this because there are some people functioning in order to preserve their careers and not necessarily reflective of how they feel as a human in a compassionate sense or in a political sense — but I do think that people are less afraid in a way because it’s just so pertinent right now. Not that it wasn’t then. We were just out of the ’50s; there was more of a cookie-cutter conformist mentality especially in the States and especially for someone who wants to maintain their success.
But I think now, I don’t know, Jean currently would probably have more of a crew to substantiate these ideas. I think that now the political climate doesn’t leave much room for middle ground, so I’d like to say she would fare better.
I would like to think there wouldn’t be a f*cking oppressive conglomerate out there to destroy her life. But at the same time, that’s absolutely the world that we’re living in. I think it would depend on what she was getting mixed in with.
Cautiously optimistically, I would like to say it would be better. But at the same time, the reason it would be is really jarring right now because I think we all feel like there is probably someone over our shoulders ready to take us down if we say the wrong thing.
DEADLINE: There are indeed parallels to today. Sort of a meet the new boss, same as the old boss?
STEWART: I think this oppressive energy is so ironically the foundation of our politics now. I mean, what was happening then is happening now and it’s gonna continue to happen. I mean, this is America and a bunch of dudes in power are never going to be cool with you taking it away — I don’t think they really care who they bowl over to maintain that.
DEADLINE: How important do you think it is today, and in a position like the one you occupy, to take a stance and speak out and use that celebrity to get a message across?
STEWART: I feel quite strongly. Everything that I do, every conversation that I have, the way that I vote, the projects that I’m drawn to creatively — I think that I wear my feelings and my stance and my politics. I think that some people are really inclined to stand on soap boxes and I think that they should, and some people are more inclined to do it quietly, but with intention and wield your power in different ways. But, yeah, I think it’s absolutely essential that you represent yourself, knowing your influence and the reach that you have. I think that it would be impossible to go to bed without being really clear and open and honest in these times.
DEADLINE: There was a perception about Jean that audiences wanted “the girl in the T-shirt.” As someone who was so closely identified with a role early in your career, do you feel like you’ve shed that connection? Would you want to?
STEWART: I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I think every step I’ve taken to this spot on the now I can say I feel lucky that some of the footprints are gouged out, I’m proud of that. I’m cool with that.
I think the whole Twilight thing is pretty entrenched, which is funny and kind of crazy for me to think about now because it has been a really long time. I remember it like it was yesterday and at the same time it was another life. So it’s funny to have it consistently be the foundation of who I am in a cultural sense. But in a literal one, I couldn’t be further from it. But I’m down with it. It’s so trippy. I’m so proud to be part of it, I like the crew. I look at it really fondly and endearingly and silly, sort of like opening a sophomore yearbook, like, “OMG! Wow!”
DEADLINE: You were on the jury in Cannes in 2018, which was a pivotal year there in the fight for gender parity. What was that like?
STEWART: It was such a good year for me to be there. I’ve attended the festival a couple times with films and, oh man, I don’t know, it digs up feelings that I hold in such reverence and ones that not everybody does, quite rightfully, because that would be strange — the world is a lot more than just movies.
But being there the year that it became really undeniable and really buzzy and fervently activated in terms of being a woman, I’m so lucky to have been there in that energy.
Cate (Blanchett) was the president of the jury, and honestly I think that if we had to represent the earth and send one of ours out to an alien race and be like “Hey, this is us,” I think it would be Cate. So I was just so completely activated that whole time, I went home so inspired and turned on. My on switch was just slammed, so it was wonderful.
DEADLINE: Venice is getting some heat for a lack of female directors in competition. Would you sit on a jury here?
STEWART: Obviously I am a huge proponent of having more women and making films that are accepted… I guess if they asked me to be on the jury in Venice, it would be a step in the right direction.
Sometimes if you act selfishly, your intentions and your politics sort of are in tow, so selfishly I would want to do that because I have everything to learn from that experience — and I think it makes a really solid statement.