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HAVING CONQUERED THE BOX OFFICE AND THE TABLOIDS, KRISTEN STEWART RETURNS TO THE SMALL SCREEN IN WALTER SALLES’S BEWITCHIG ADAPTATION OF ON THE ROAD. AS IT TURNS OUT, THE EPIC TALE OF LOVE, WANDERLUST, AND SOUL-SEARCHING DOVETAILS PERFECTLY WITH THE ACTRESS’S POST-TWILIGHT STATE OF MIND
Kristen Stewart is nothing short of gracious. Upon walking into this interview a few minutes behind schedule, she proffers a hug and an offer to “stay until you get everything you need.” There are no publicists, handlers, ringleaders, or beefcake bodyguards hanging around, and she is dressed in 7 for All Mankind jeans and Converse kicks. For the world’s highest-earning actress—last year she dethroned Sarah Jessica Parker and Angelina Jolie at the top of the Forbes list, to the tune of $34.5 million—the lack of pretense is really quite remarkable…not that this is her favorite part of the job. “I really love people,” she says as she hops into a chair and folds her tiny frame like origami. “You can’t not as an actor. It’s just strange meeting someone and going, Okay, you start at square one and I will try and make up for what you already think you know about me.”
The 10,000-pound gorilla in the room is of course that people—present company included—think they know a lot: how much she earns, whom she dates, and even more intimate details. Since her Twilight reign began, digging into Stewart’s personal life has become a bit of a blood sport. (To wit, a gossip rag recently splashed a photo of her with presumed boyfriend Robert Pattinson and announced that she’s pregnant. She’s not.) The Star Wars-esque emotional force field that she instinctually activates for self-preservation is palpable. In this instance, her armor is enhanced by pulled-back hair, glasses, and an oversize bomber jacket that serves as a kind of cocoon. There’s a slightly feral air to her presence—she’s jumpy and prone to pacing—but all the anxiety is kind of endearing. She’s young and excitable, and having weathered the highs and lows of 2012, she claims to feel stronger than ever before.
“I have realized that you can close yourself off to life if you put walls up, but it’s a difficult thing,” she says. “You can’t see over, people can’t see in, and you also can’t see out. So I’ve gotten quite comfortable with just being unafraid. I keep saying the same thing: it’s not about being fearless but really just embracing the fears and using them.”
It’s of little surprise then that she describes her latest project—the indie adaptation of On the Road—as “a fucking amazing experience.” Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel as seen through the lens of director Walter Salles features Stewart as the shy and somewhat guileless 16-year-old bride Marylou. Her husband, Dean Moriarty (brilliantly portrayed by Garrett Hedlund), takes her on a wild ride as they crisscross the country, living to the fullest and then some. The sparkling cast also includes Sam Riley, as Sal; Tom Sturridge, as Carlo; and Kirsten Dunst, as Camille. Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, and Terrance Howard make stellar cameos.
“I would have done anything, I would have played any part,” says Stewart. “Marylou is remarkable because she’s got a tough core. When you’re a teenager, a year can be crippling to maneuver through. You’re just out there questioning things, and so to be completely okay with that and not think that there’s anything wrong with you, that’s something I’ve recently understood. I’m 22. Marylou started this whole thing when she was 15.”
When it comes to the Beat Generation’s radical ideology of choosing the life you want to live versus succumbing to bourgeois expectations, Marylou is the perfect pilgrim. She expertly rolls and smokes joints, dances as if possessed by a divine spirit, carouses late into the night, and engages in threesomes with her beloved and his best friend, even efficiently issuing synchronized hand jobs while driving cross-country. But to hear Stewart tell it, the part is only slightly more provocative than some of her previous roles.
“It’s a pretty fucking odd thing to want to pretend to be another person,” she says, “and then have a lot of other people who watch you do that. You have this experience of reading something, and if you don’t bring it to life, you’re basically deleting it. Every day of shooting you’re depriving the world of having that. The responsibility is amazing.
“Until you really get to know the woman behind the character, it’s difficult to connect the dots,” she continues. “I’m a contemporary, sensitive, normal girl, and it’s difficult to try and empathize with someone who seems to have a lack of empathy. She seems a bit callous in the book. She’s literally the farthest…I have never encountered a person that had their nerves so fucking close to the surface.”
Any freshman psych student could draw parallels between the fictional Marylou’s demeanor and Stewart’s protective façade. Delicate and darling, the two of them are also tough as hell. But whether the actress realizes it or not, her defensive posture only makes her more beguiling, by revealing how susceptible she is underneath it all. “Oh, I could have worked with her all week, or done a movie with her,” says Inez van Lamsweerde, who with her partner, Vinoodh Matadin, photographed Stewart for this cover story a short while after compromising photos of the actress with her Snow White and the Hunstman director had surfaced. “We worked with her for a Gap campaign in 2006, and even back then she was extremely intelligent and questioned everything. You could say anything to her and she would respond in a wonderful way. She is that delicate blend of masculine and vulnerable. She is unbelievably beautiful, not just on the outside but also in her being. She gets right in, there is no in between.”
The admiration is mutual. “When you find yourself with people like that, you can really thrive,” says Stewart of Inez and Vinoodh. “It was fun. I would follow them wherever they wanted to go. I had a really good time that day, I was kind of shocked by that.”
Photo shoots and fashion in general have become an increasingly important part of Stewart’s evolution. Together with longtime stylist Tara Swennen, she concocts looks that consistently become much-ballyhooed fodder for the style blogs. Former Balenciaga creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, who hired Stewart to be the face of his Florabotanica fragrance, says that “she is never scared of strong fashion choices, which is very exceptional for an actress. For me she is a true heroine. The fact that we had the opportunity to work on an artistic adventure together is fantastic.”
Fashion, of course, is a huge component of moviemaking, an art to which Stewart was drawn from a young age. She grew up on sets; her parents, Jules and John, still work as a script supervisor and stage manager, respectively. (“I started doing the job because I wanted adults to talk to me,” says Stewart. “I wanted to be on set in a different way than just hanging around.”) After starring in bit parts in film and television, she landed the role of Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room. The Oscar-winner was impressed by the chutzpah and dedication of her younger costar, and has remained a fairy godmother of sorts as she learns to navigate the topsy-turvy world of Tinseltown. Stewart was even handpicked to announce that Foster would receive the Cecil B. DeMille award at this year’s Golden Globes.
On the Road is perhaps the perfect segue to the new challenges on which Stewart is about to embark. There are rumors of a Snow White sequel, but with the Twilight chapter closed, one surmises she is ready to start anew, and she is clearly bracing herself for the next thing—in this case a comedy called Focus, in which she plays a young vixen who catches the eye of a veteran grifter. “The script is really fun and I love the writers and directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa,” she says.
Stewart has never conquered the Great White Way, but she’d be up for it. (“Theater is a completely different way of working, but, yeah, I would be very much down.”) She also tosses out the idea of being part of an ensemble cast that would ideally include fellow actresses whose work she greatly admires. (How many starlets do you hear saying that these days?) “There are so many cool girls out there!” she says, name-checking Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and her best friend, Dakota Fanning.
“I am not closed off to anything right now,” she says, smiling. “That is what I was saying about not having any more walls up. I don’t want to deprive myself of any bit of life.” By the end of our conversation, Stewart is a bit more relaxed—hair down, glasses off, bomber jacket removed—and cracking jokes aplenty. That nervousness she was experiencing before has apparently been channeled. Like a true Beatnik, she is embracing life as it comes.