Playing amateur psychologist based on a 15-minute interview and a Google search (an extensive Google search, mind you) isn't the wisest of moves, but I'm going to give it a whirl anyway: Kristen Stewart is nowhere near as surly, withdrawn or detached as the Twilight star's naysayers would have you think.
There have been a fair few articles and opinion pieces about the 22-year-old actress' demeanour, particularly when she's on the publicity trail (sample headline: 'Kristen Stewart Is Trolling The World'), but get her talking about what draws her to a project or shapes her performance and Stewart is forthcoming with ideas and impressions. Not all are completely formed but the fact that she seems to be considering her answers rather than relying on ready-made anecdotes and platitudes is actually kind of cool.
Along with co-star Chris Hemsworth and director Rupert Sanders, Stewart was in Australia this week to promote her latest film, the revisionist fairy tale Snow White And The Huntsman, a big-budget fantasy that adds a slight shade of darkness to the story of the 'fairest of them all' princess. (That said, have you read the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale lately? Some pretty gnarly stuff in there.)
She plays Snow White, imprisoned and victimised by her wicked stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a witch who retains her beauty by literally drawing the life out of the young women of the land. When Snow White escapes, Ravenna dispatches Hemsworth's boozy, brawling Huntsman to bring her back. But it's not long before the two outsiders join forces to take the battle to the evil Ravenna, aided by a band of dwarves played by the best-of-British likes of Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Ray Winstone.
Stewart believes that most people's notion of Snow White is the sweet, demure Disney version of the character (“unless they read a lot of fairy tales as a kid, which I didn't”), and so she admits that she didn't really see the potential of a new Snow White story when she first heard about the film.
“I didn't really see why anyone would want to join her cause,” she says. “Back when the Disney version was made, being a caretaker, being delicate and sweet and maternal, was kind of an ultimate goal. But to do the story today, I think she has to do a little more than sweep house. When I read it, I could totally recognise Snow White within this very dark context as someone really, really trying to retain light and not harden.
“Right now, a lot of female characters that are trying to be strong are promoted as 'Yeah, female empowerment!' but in this case I'm glad she remained a girl, someone trying to find her strength and her steadiness and her compassion and her trust in herself. You know, we rip her heart out and stomp on it, put it back in her chest and see if it still beats... and it does. So I thought it was really impressive, the darkness and the light of this world.”
It was revealed this week that Stewart topped the Forbes magazine list of Hollywood's highest-paid actresses, her paydays for the last two Twilight Saga movies earning her more than $12 million (and her cut of her profits ramping it up even more). But her tastes seem to be run more towards the independent end of things, with the actress taking on roles in critically-acclaimed films like Adventureland, Into the Wild and The Runaways.
So she was happily surprised when Snow White And The Huntsman offered her the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the creative process than she imagined it would.
“It's a big movie with a lot of people involved and a lot of money invested in it,” she says. “The type that's done by committee...or at least I've heard. On this, it was really me and Rupert and Chris – me and Charlize didn't work much together but sometimes we did – and it felt so intimate. There was a handful of us holding this thing very delicately in our hands. And it changed every day - it was shaped and moulded and rewritten and we were constantly discussing about what we'd be shooting the next day or the next week. And that's very rare on a big movie like this. I don't have much experience of big movies but my impression was that smaller movies were a bit freer. But we had a lot of freedom here.”
Her next role offers an interesting contrast – in On The Road, Walter Salles' much-anticipated adaptation of Jack Kerouac's novel, she plays Marylou, the young wife of freewheeling Dean Moriarty. It's a project that's been in development for decades, based on a book that many, many readers are greatly invested in.
“I've always felt a self-inflicted pressure,” says Stewart when asked if she feels an added sense of responsibility when attached to such a project. “And as soon as you raise your hand and say 'Yes, I will participate', you're putting yourself in a position to either satisfy or let down a lot of people who really love this thing. A movie takes a lot of passion and a lot of investment, and the greatest part of the job is being able to share that with people. It's great to share a love for something, and doing that on this scale is so remarkably unique. It will probably never ever happen to me again. When we first started, we didn't know what was going to happen - it was something we all loved and were invested in. It was this small, quirky movie that blew up and we were lucky enough to take the ride.”
I was thinking about how that last statement seemed a little incongruous when talking about On The Road when Stewart exclaimed, “Wait, were you talking about fuckin' Twilight or On The Road? I don't know why I inserted Twilight when you said On The Road!” She laughed to herself before starting over, and there's now a greater enthusiasm and sincerity in her voice than before.
“On The Road was my first favourite book. It ignited something inside of me when I read it, and when I sat down with Walter it was clear we loved it for the same reasons. He didn't even make me audition, which blew my mind. Our expectations are high, impossibly high, as anyone's. The way that book should become a movie is to have it feel found, stumbled-upon, spontaneous. The only way you can do that is by knowing everything – we basically spent four weeks in school studying it – and then forgetting everything. I know there are so many people with so many expectations and opinions and criticisms and I can say to them that everybody involved in this film squeezed the last bit of soul we could into it.”
Snow White And The Huntsman is in cinemas now. On The Road and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 will be released later this year.