9 Reasons to Reconsider Kristen Stewart
April 28, 2016 \ Movies \ 6 Comments
Kristen Stewart is not the most popular actress in Hollywood. There are a lot of jokes, media, speculation, and opinions surrounding this young woman trapped in Twilight‘s shadow. But I’m not convinced any of that gossip is representative of her acting ability.
I’m not saying Kristen Stewart is a spectacular actress and I wouldn’t try to convince anyone otherwise, but people tend to form quick, unwaivering opinions about whether or not they like an actor. Though it’s difficult to tear down those iron caged opinions I’d at least like to rattle the cage a bit and give you nine reasons why you should reconsider Kristen Stewart.
1. Co-Workers Applaud Her
Kristen Stewart has been in thirty-five feature films, her first when she was eleven years old. She’s worked across from David Fincher (who directed her in Panic Room), Michael Shannon (who acted across from her in The Runaways), Jon Favreau (who directed her in Zathura), Meg Ryan (who played her Mom in In the Land of Women), and Sean Penn (who directed her in Into the Wild). All of which were before Twilight. Since Twilight she’s worked across from Juliette Binoche (in Clouds of Sils Maria, Julianne Moore (in Still Alice), and under director Woody Allen (Café Society).
Most people she works with have wonderful things to say about her. Jon Favreau said to her in Interview Magazine:
"You really bring your lunch pail to work, so to speak. You’ve got a really strong blue-collar ethic about acting that I like to think I have, too. We auditioned a lot of people your age for Zathura, and I have to tell you, you really stood out as having a presence, and a look, and chops, and poise. Most young girls or boys have sort of an unfocused, scattered energy. You have a very still energy to you."
More recently, director Richard Glatzer said:
Kristen is a force of nature … working with her is like working with Brando. She’s molten, impassioned, resolutely truthful. She doubts herself constantly and is the last person to recognize how great she really is. Maybe that’s the key to her genius.
2. Stewart’s Range of Roles is Eclectic
In The Cake Eaters she plays a girl with a rare disease that causes (among other things) slurred speech, and loss of coordination (impaired walking, balance). Of Stewart’s performance, director Mary Stuart Masterson said, "Every screening I’ve gone to, somebody says, ‘Where did you find this girl with this disease?’" Stewart’s physicality is impressive, but she projects a rare empathy as well. In the film her character says she is eager to have sex. We disapprove of, and applaud this idea; we want to protect her from rushing into her first sexual experience and understand that she really doesn’t have a long life, so why wait? It takes a particular screen presence to capture these nuances while holding our interest and Stewart tethers us nicely.
In Speak, Stewart plays a freshman in high school who is raped by a senior, abandoned by her friends, and is ostracized from her classmates. Stewart’s performance in the film is carefully controlled. There’s a scene where she creates an art piece for class out of bones, forks, and other random items. Her teacher is impressed and says, "Do you want me to tell you what I see? I see a girl caught in the remains of a holiday gone bad. Her flesh picked off day after day. The palm tree might be a broken dream, it definitely has meaning, a lot of pain." As he says "pain," Stewart looks up at him longingly, as though he understands and she can talk to him. But she doesn’t speak. That’s a lot for thirteen year-old Stewart to be able to convey without words.
3. She Often Plays Understated Roles
In most of her films Stewart doesn’t tend to dazzle, but then she often has roles that don’t require her to have the loudest performance in the ensemble. Audiences and critics tend to respond best to intensity, but as Christian Bale said in his Golden Globe acceptance speech for his role in The Fighter, "You can only give a loud performance like the one I gave when you have a quiet anchor and a stoic character. I’ve played that one many times and it never gets any notice." When people accuse Stewart of being "emotionless," I would call that "understated."
Unfortunately, "understated" is easy to dismiss, which is a precarious place in the realm of public opinion. The public thinks it knows best and the persona surrounding an actor can affect the roles they take. But should it? Consider what the world would be like if Hollywood indulged every prejudice the audience had.
4. Audience Prejudice Works Against Her
Remember the public outcry when Daniel Craig was announced to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond? There was even a website created in protest: danielcraigisnotbond.com. Many felt that Craig didn’t exude the class Bond required, that he lacked sex appeal, and that he was simply "too blonde" to be Bond. Just think, no crane chase in Casino Royale, no shirtless beach stroll. No Skyfall.
Think about Will Smith starting as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Would we allow him to leave that goofy comedic role and throw that first punch in Ali? Believe him capable of Tom Hanks-like feats (Cast Away) and carry a whole movie on his own in I Am Legend? Or make us feel that lump in his throat in The Pursuit of Happyness?
The list goes on. Clint Eastwood would have remained a TV actor instead of becoming The Man With No Name. Romantic comedy actor Heath Ledger would never have been allowed to go beyond his roles in Ten Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale — no one thought he could play The Joker in The Dark Knight. Ben Affleck’s career would have died after Pearl Harbour, Daredevil, and Gigli. We laughed at the idea of him being Batman in Batman v Superman. After people saw it, though? Not as funny.
5. We Don’t Treat Celebrities like People
It’s hard to empathize with celebrities because we hold fame and wealth to a different standard. In 2012, thanks to the ending of the Twilight franchise and Snow White and the Hunstman, Kristen Stewart was the highest paid actress that year. That’s a difficult fact to ignore when people are watching Stewart fidget and verbally fumble through interviews. Jodie Foster, who worked alongside Stewart in Panic Room had some insight into Stewart’s mannerisms in an interview: "I just love Kristen Stewart … Because she’s very much like me: She’s not comfortable in life being a big externally, emotional person, beating her chest, crying every five minutes."
That’s the kind of introverted nature people target with Stewart. One of the women on Good Morning America even said, (and I’m paraphrasing here) "if you’re an actress being interviewed, can’t you just act like a normal person in front of the camera?" A lot of people share this sentiment. We want our actors to be monkeys that dance for us — we forget they are human.
But people in Hollywood are human and it takes a strong person to choose a life in the spotlight when they are so introverted. Regardless of how much money they make or how successful they are, actors are still people — strong people. We see a star’s wealth and don’t consider what their environment is like, or what they must overcome. In Dave Chapelle’s Inside the Actor’s Studio interview he does a good job of humanizing actors. He talks about filming Blue Streak with Martin Lawrence, about Martin’s stroke during filming, and Martin’s arrest when he was screaming at people in the street with a pistol in his back pocket.
"When we did Blue Streak we were promoting it and Martin had a stroke. He almost died. And then after that I saw him and I was like ‘Oh my God, Martin, are you OK?’ and he said ‘I got the best sleep I ever got in my life’, That’s how tough he is. So let me ask you this — what is happening in Hollywood that a guy that tough will be on the street, waving a gun, screaming ‘they’re trying to kill me’? What’s going on? Why is Dave Chappelle going to Africa? Why does Mariah Carey make a $100 million deal and take her clothes off on TRL? A weak person cannot get to sit here and talk to you. Ain’t no weak people talking to you. So what is happening in Hollywood? Nobody knows. The worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person so they’re crazy. That’s bullshit. These people are not crazy. They strong people. Maybe their environment is a little sick."
6. She Has Emotions
It’s a lack of empathy that allows us to reduce Kristen Stewart to this image:
It’s witty, I admit. Not just the idea, but the number of emotions they chose and the variety. The “wistful” emotion is perfect; “wistful” is an absurdly specific emotion that is difficult to convey in a still picture.
But here’s what it should look like:
Some emotions are a bit tricky to match a picture to, but I think most of these images match perfectly. In the “Aroused” screenshot Stewart lowers her eyes and presses the tip of her knife against her lower lip. In the “Mischievous” screenshot you can see the glare she’s giving Jesse Eisenberg (who is off-screen), taunting him. In the “Terrified” picture she is suitably panic-stricken.
7. Twilight is Silly and It’s not Her Fault
Whatever else she does, Stewart will be known for her role as Bella in Twilight, which is unfortunate. No, she doesn’t do an amazing job in Twilight, but who does? Michael Sheen has been nominated for (and won) multiple awards, including BAFTA and various Film Critics awards. In Twilight, however, he seems silly. How can such an actor be considered a goofball? Here’s an excerpt from the source material:
"Bella, I’ve already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive. I’m not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can’t even walk straight. Besides, friends don’t let friends drive drunk," he quoted with a chuckle. I could smell the unbearably sweet fragrance coming off his chest.
"Drunk?" I objected.
"You’re intoxicated by my very presence," he was grinning that playful smirk again.
8. She’s Won Some Awards
Sometimes I think the only awards that matter to people are the Oscars, which is funny considering how often people disagree with them. But I think for our purposes, there is value in recognizing that Kristen Stewart has some critical acclaim. Mostly around two films, though she has received (at the time of this publication) 53 nominations for roles in films. Her wins center largely around two films: Welcome to the Rileys and Clouds of Sils Maria.
For her role in Welcome to the Rileys Stewart received a Milano International Film Festival Award, and for Clouds of Sils Maria she received an award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a Boston Society of Film Critics Award, a Florida Film Critics Circle Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and a César, which is like the French Oscars, making her the first American actress to ever win one.
9. She Doesn’t Care What We Think
While the internet made jokes about her and the media focused on the Robert Pattison gossip, Stewart kept working. She’s a self-proclaimed workaholic and it doesn’t matter what we say about her, she’s going to keep going. She used the international recognition (the only valued currency in Hollywood) from Twilight and moved onto the blockbuster Snow White and the Huntsman, then onto the Jack Kerouac inspired On the Road, and roles in indie films like Camp X-Ray (where she played soldier at Guantanamo Bay), Clouds of Sils Maria (a movie that won her a lot of acclaim), and Still Alice (where she played the daughter of a mother who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease). Next month she has two films coming out at Cannes and has been referred to by the festival director as the “Queen of Cannes.”
Stewart just keeps going.
So you can leave Kristen Stewart there, forever trapped in gossip and Twilight‘s shadow, but the next actor that gets pigeonholed might be your favourite actor. Maybe you watch them on TV and think they could do more, but it’s rare for a TV actor to transcend to TV and even rarer to do so successfully. Perhaps part of the reason for that is our rigid, unwavering opinions about actors — those opinions limit us.
When asked about how he chooses his roles Tom Hanks said, “Our job is to hold the mirror up to nature … We must be constantly examining who we are, how we got here, and how we’re getting through all of this.” He wasn’t just talking about choices for himself, he was talking about the choices we should all make. He’s saying the next time you see Kristen Stewart don’t look away, look straight at her. She is not (nor is any actor) a foregone conclusion. Each film, each role she’s in is an opportunity to reflect on ourselves. All we need is the courage to do so.