Kristen Stewart, whose performance in the title role of Amazon’s Seberg has garnered no shortage of buzz from Venice through this weekend’s Toronto premiere, sees no way to separate politics from art.
“I think it’s kind of dense,” she said of the notion of making a “de-politicized” work. “There’s no way to avoid it. Every person you associate with, every word or step, that’s presenting how you function. Everything you do is human and political and there’s no difference between those two things.”
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Stewart made the comments during a press conference Sunday at Toronto, accompanied by screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse as well as director Benedict Andrews. Seberg weaves together the personal and the political, recounting two years in the life of actress Jean Seberg, who endured extensive and invasive FBI surveillance due to her ties to the Black Panthers and similar groups.
In terms of politics, a brief mention was made of Stewart being the subject of repeated jabs on Twitter by President Donald Trump back in 2012, which she turned into a Saturday Night Live monologue in 2017. “That was fun to laugh at that because so much is not fun to laugh at. It’s like laughing at a funeral,” she said.
Andrews observed that the very tools that a movie star uses to communicate through the medium of film — cameras and microphones — were used against Seberg by the FBI.
Stewart, whose emergence as a screen star through the Twilight franchise put her in the eye of a celebrity storm, said she related to her character’s experience in some respects.
“When that is stolen and distorted and used against you, I’ve tasted that in the most superficial way compared to her,” she said. “But that was one thing where I was like, ‘Girl, I got you – I know that feeling and it’s terrible.'”
Stewart, who explored similar terrain of paranoia and anxiety and image-making in Olivier Assayas’ widely admired 2016 film Personal Shopper, said she believes Seberg’s spirit had a productive presence on set. “We weren’t making a film,” she said. “We were hunting ghosts.”
Seen in the modern technology-controlled landscape of today, the period story of Seberg has additional resonance, even though the FBI agents are using reel-to-reel tape and bugs on rotary-dial phones.
“We’re so used to it,” Waterhouse said. “The world has changed enough now that we assumed we’re being listened to. You think that if you have a phone in your pocket then someone can hear you.”
Andrews said the film is “an analog version of the surveillance culture we now live in.” In a shoutout that might not endear him to the corporate brass at a Amazon, Andrews added, “Alexa is recording everything you say.”
Stewart, though, took a slightly different view on Big Tech. Social media, for all of its ills and constant pitfalls, offers celebrities an outlet through which to control their image, an option Seberg and her contemporaries did not have, she said. Stewart also said she has an Alexa device. When she thought about it data-mining her use of it, she recalled saying to herself, “I was like, OK cool. ‘What are you listening to?’ I don’t know. Go for it. If you find yourself being persecuted for something, as long as you’ve done it from a true place, you’re like, ‘OK, cool.'”