There's something simultaneously light and dark about Kristen Stewart. The elusive actor rose to worldwide fame in the Twilight saga before emerging as a rebellious silver-screen icon with an impressive filmography under her belt. Adored by the public, lauded by the industry, Kristen Stewart made an impact on Cannes in no fewer than three In Competition occasions, first in On the Road by Walter Salles, and then with Olivier Assayas in Sils Maria and Personal Shopper. Last year, the Festival followed the actor's first forays behind the camera with her début short Come Swim, a poignant, heart-wrenching film.
Festival de Cannes, Olivier Assayas, a César, Chanel… are you French at heart?
Almost! I’m getting as close as I can. I’m playing Jean Seberg in Benedict Andrews’ Against All Enemies. A lot of the dialogue is in French, although her accent is terrible. So I have to learn more than I ever have, which will be fun. I’m getting a little closer to being even more French!
Did you go on a French film binge?
Not as much as I should have. I’ve watched a lot of movies but I wouldn’t describe myself as a film buff. My experience has been really incredible because I literally feel like I’m attending film school. Everyone can have an emotional response to a film. It's a universal language. I don’t feel intimidated. French film is home to a really diverse group of people who are all very different, yet all really eloquent and informed. They're kind of like my teachers.
Olivier Assayas says you create a sense of space in the way you act. How do you feel about that?
That space is something he gives me. I made five movies in which I felt the opposite of free. I think an environment that gives you the room to create something unexpected actually takes a huge amount of planning and preparation, and a brilliant mind who knows how to put it all together and make sure everything's working together as it should. Once you have all those ingredients in place, you create space that actually provides you with the room to completely lose control.
I don't try to generate any specific emotion, I never felt like he wanted me to achieve anything in particular. It’s a different way of working and it’s great, although I prefer feeling more directed, having someone waiting with a safety net ready for me to fall into.
In Personal Shopper, you blur gender lines, it’s like you could be either a man or a woman…
That’s perfect because I think that the loss of my character's brother is so central, it’s almost like she wants to be him in order to have him closer to her, in order to not have to miss him and she’s going through this really difficult grieving process. I love that there in an ambiguity in the character, you really never quite know who the fuck she is because she doesn’t know herself.
Could you play a man?
Totally! Gender is a bit of a myth if you ask me. Everyone’s individual relationship with gender is totally theirs to define. But I really think because of the flexibility inherent to gender, there's room for all types of approach.
What's your dream role?
I have a hard time defining what I want to do as an actor. As a filmmaker, as a director, the question is easier. As an actor, I want to never know. I want to be present in something and have it feel so real that I feel like it’s not made up, like I’m honouring a part of the story. It’s always a surprise. As soon as I start having a hand in shaping things...like, I’ll never produce a movie, I promise you. I will never set up a production company. I want to write and direct. And act for people who write and direct.
Your first short film, Come Swim, was revealed here in Cannes. What did it teach you?
Thierry Frémaux has been nice to me. To be honest, it kind of closed a chapter for me. I had this kind of awakening. The thing that I took away from it was that I want to fucking make movies because it feels good, because it really is the best way to capture something, to put your finger on something and to bring a group of people together who feel the same way. Movies can educate, they can bring us together, bridge gaps, make us feel less alone. At the end of that movie I just felt totally fulfilled.
What will your first feature film be about?
I’m adapting a memoir. It’s called The Chronology of Water. Lidia Yuknavitch is from Portland. I love her novels but her memoires… it’s deeply personal to her. She’s in my blood and I knew that before I met her. As soon as I met her it was like we started this race without any sense of competition. I'm making the movie this summer but other than that, my only goal is just to finish the screenplay and hire a really spectacular actor: I’m going to write the best fucking female role. I’m going to write a role that I want so badly but that I’m not going to play.