Photographed by Kevin Scanlon in Los Angeles
By BROOKS BARNES
We know, courtesy of Us Weekly, that Kristen Stewart spreads butter on her blueberry bagels. People magazine just chronicled her alleged romance with her "Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson, in an entire issue devoted to the movie franchise. And everyone from “Access Hollywood” to The New Zealand Herald has chewed over her supposedly “moody,” “mopey,” “melancholy” demeanor. What hardly anyone outside Hollywood knows — or at least recognizes amid the tabloid frenzy, hyperventilating fans and cheesiness of the “Twilight” movies — is perhaps the most interesting thing about her: At 19 Ms. Stewart is considered one of the most promising actresses of her generation, with Oscar winners like Sean Penn and Jodie Foster lining up to offer praise.
“I do wish that people would focus more on the work, and I can’t say that I don’t take it personally,” said Ms. Stewart, who reprises her role as Bella Swan, an ordinary high school girl who falls in love with a sensitive vampire, in the forthcoming film “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”
“But I understand it because what you do as an actor is so tied up in who you are as a person,” she continued with a deep sigh. “What really kills me — it really rips me up — is when people think I’m abrasive, inconsiderate or ungrateful because I don’t go outside in a bikini and wave to the paparazzi. Come on!”
Life as a teen idol has never been easy. But navigating the obsessive attention of young fans amid today’s media landscape — all Twitter, all YouTube, all TMZ, all the time — can be particularly harrowing. And Ms. Stewart in some ways has it even harder. Because of the grip the “Twilight” franchise has on young girls — the first movie raked in $384 million at the global box office and the books, by Stephenie Meyer, have sold over 70 million copies — she is not just an actress playing a popular role. Instead “Twi-hards” have come to project their version of romantic love on her; Ms. Stewart’s shyness and hints of awkwardness make her accessible to fans in a way Megan Fox is not.
Ms. Stewart has coped with the suffocating attention by giving off an air of inapproachability, a tough exterior that Chris Weitz, the director of “New Moon,” said she has methodically adopted. “If she didn’t, every teenage girl would see her as their best friend,” he said. “They would tear her completely apart.”
In contrast, Mr. Pattinson, who plays the too-tender-to-suck-blood Edward Cullen, acts sheepish and “tries to implode in on himself and turn into a human mumble,” Mr. Weitz said.
The actors of Ms. Stewart’s generation — Zac Efron, Chris Pine, Selena Gomez, Shia LaBeouf — have witnessed the carnage that fully embracing the limelight in the digital era can bring: Britney, Paris, Lindsay. As such, they have tried to reclaim some of element of mystery, something that results in a lot of foot stomping from a nonstop celebrity news machine.
“The key is not to become a reality show,” said Ms. Foster, who co-starred with Ms. Stewart in David Fincher’s “Panic Room” and was herself a teenage star. “That kind of attention might seem fun right now, but it won’t in 10 years.”
Smoking a cigarette on a 14th-floor balcony of the Four Seasons here last week, Ms. Stewart was animated and funny — until a question about whether her family really keeps wolves as pets. Her eyes narrowed and she nodded warily. She calls people who demand to know aspects of her private life “fiends.” As to whether or not she is dating Mr. Pattinson, she recently told Entertainment Weekly, “I’m not going to give the fiending an answer.”
Sure enough, it took only about an hour for her cigarette break, captured by a telephoto lens, to be splashed across the Web site PopSugar.com.
The “Twilight” series reflects a new super-strain of entertainment born of Hollywood’s desire to build movies around existing brands, whether books (“Harry Potter”), comic book characters (“Iron Man”) or toys (“Transformers”). “Twilight,” which Summit Entertainment is rereleasing in theaters for one night only on Nov. 19, is the No. 1 DVD of 2009, with over eight million copies sold. The soundtrack has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. And the “New Moon” soundtrack, released four days early because the songs were already leaking, had its debut as the No. 1 album in the country.
You can now buy “Twilight” makeup (staining lip balm, $18); a Barbie-like Bella action figure; and the themed Volvo (the pitch: “What drives Edward Cullen May Soon Drive You”). “New Moon,” which opens on Nov. 20 and had already sold out more than 1,000 screenings, is expected to be one of the biggest movies of the fall. But the success of “Twilight” has blurred if not buried Ms. Stewart’s blossoming reputation as a skilled actress. Aside from the overtly commercial nature of the franchise, the subject matter — vampires that sparkle, gym-sculptured werewolves and computer-generated effects — tends to turn the noses of cinema’s auteur elite skyward.
“I realize that it may seem funny to be discussing her seriousness as an actress in the context of the ‘Twilight’ saga, but the kinds of things she has to do are kind of amazing,” said Mr. Weitz, whose credits include “About a Boy” and “The Golden Compass.” “It’s not easy to make falling in love with a vampire look real.”
Ms. Stewart said she handles the fantasy elements of the movies in part by imagining that the “creature” characters are different not because they have supernatural powers but because they have human afflictions — that Edward is not a vampire, for instance, but rather a heroin addict. “You give them issues that a normal person might have and play off that,” she said.
“A truth machine” is how Mr. Penn described Ms. Stewart. Mr. Penn, who cast her as a folk singer with a raging crush in “Into the Wild,” said she was “magically easy to direct,” adding, “She is a real force with terrific instincts.”
Mr. Penn, who called the kind of probing Ms. Stewart is enduring as a result of the “Twilight” phenomenon, “an obscenity on anybody’s life,” was not overtly critical of “Twilight,” but got his point across. “If you can avoid a hit movie early on,” he said, “you might not choose one later in your career.”
In contrast to how teenage stars are usually manufactured, Ms. Stewart did not systematically chase fame. An agent spotted her as an 8-year-old in a holiday show at her school in Woodland Hills, Calif. (She was singing “The Dreidel Song.”) Her mother, a script supervisor, and father, a television producer, were wary about sending her on auditions, knowing the toll of Hollywood can take on young actors. But she ended up landing some nonspeaking parts and, at 11, was cast in “Panic Room.”
Many people compare Ms. Stewart to Ms. Foster, in part because they share a remarkable physical resemblance. “Kristen isn’t interested in blurting out her emotions all in front of her, and that results in really intelligent and interesting performances,” Ms. Foster said.
Ms. Stewart picks characters that are, almost without exception, difficult or damaged. In “Speak” she played a high school freshman who becomes a selective mute after being raped. Mary Stuart Masterson cast her in “The Cake Eaters” as a terminally ill teenager. Even in “Adventureland,” a dramatic comedy directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), Ms. Stewart found a way to add a dark depth to her sexually adventurous carnie. “It’s not because I’m a miserable person or sad or whatever,” she said. “The honest, complex roles tend to be serious.”
Honesty is a theme she returns to repeatedly. “I’ve worked with actors who are just professional liars, and it eats away at them, and they are miserable people by the end of their careers,” she said. “If you’re ever needing to lie when you’re acting, that’s just because you’re having an off day and your mood is getting in the way of really playing your character.”
Ms. Stewart recently finished filming “The Runaways,” directed by Floria Sigismondi and based on the true story of Joan Jett’s groundbreaking first band. She had only two weeks to learn songs like “Cherry Bomb,” something that she described as “so enormously scary.” (She also plays electric guitar in the movie.) Her next indie project is “K-11,” a film directed by her mother, Jules Mann-Stewart, about a special prison dorm. Ms. Stewart plays a transsexual named Butterfly.
But long before “K-11” reaches theaters, Ms. Stewart will be back with the third “Twilight” movie: “Eclipse” is scheduled to open on June 30. (A date for the fourth installment, “Breaking Dawn,” is expected in the coming weeks.)
Ms. Foster, who said that she trades Christmas cards with Ms. Stewart, said that oscillating between two movie worlds — one indie, one commercial — will help her cross over from teen wunderkind to mature star. It’s what Ms. Foster did: After “Taxi Driver,” for which she earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination, she did two family movies, “Freaky Friday” and “Bugsy Malone."
“It allows her not to get stuck with the shelf-life problem,” Ms. Foster added.
Ms. Foster, along with actresses like Natalie Portman and Julia Stiles, also took a break to attend college as a way to sidestep the spotlight, at least temporarily. But Ms. Stewart, who was home-schooled starting after the seventh grade, worries that college might be too structured for her.
For now, Ms. Stewart is just focused on getting through that mall tour in one piece. “It’s not even like I’m scared that they are going to rush the stage, “ she said, “although they could totally assassinate me at any time if they wanted. When so much energy is thrown at you, it has to throw you for a loop.”
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