At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Kristen Stewart walked the red carpet in support of two movies, Woody Allen’s Café Society and French director Olivier Assayas’ provocative mystery Personal Shopper. Now, at the 2016 New York Film Festival, she’s done herself one better, appearing in three pictures in the prestigious lineup. In addition to the U.S. premiere of Personal Shopper, Stewart stars along with Michelle Williams and Laura Dern in Certain Women, directed by Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) and plays the title character’s sister in Ang Lee’s highly anticipated Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
She’s been acting since she was a kid (David Fincher’s Panic Room, where she played Jodie Foster’s daughter, is an early credit) but in recent years Stewart has risen to the top ranks of America’s most challenging, fascinating, and serious actresses. Check out her layered, idiosyncratic performances in Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, or Camp X-ray for proof of her commitment and range.
She would probably blush a bit at being called the belle of the ball — but on Wednesday, 10 floors about the NYFF’s main venue Alice Tully Hall, Stewart was feted at a special dinner organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. While guest sipped coffee and ate cronuts a la mode, she sat with fest director Kent Jones for a funny, self-deprecating, highly verbal conversation about her career and the three pictures — or rather three and a half — that she’s excited to support.
Assayas, who directed Stewart to a French Caesar Award (the first ever for an American actress) three years ago in Clouds of Sils Maria, reunited with her for this semi-supernatural thriller set amid the Paris fashion world.
“I’ve rarely been wrong about those feelings,” she said, referring to her rich, fruitful relationship with the director. “If I meet somebody who I really like and we don’t fall in love with each other, I’m like, ‘Wait, wait, wait, you tricked me, you’re a sociopath.’ But those experiences are rare.”
“So that would include Olivier?” Jones asked.
“He’s a sociopath,” she deadpanned, as Assayas giggled with laughter at Stewart’s table. “But he’s doing really good things for my career.”
Her wry sarcasm died off as she spoke more deeply about the director. “What Olivier does astonishingly well is show all this other stuff coming to the surface in his film. And these things just kind of blew my head off. We agree when things are right and we agree when things are wrong — and so we can be so much more focused on our intentions. I feel this dude. It’s the conversations that occur at the wrap party that are the most interesting, but throughout film it’s just glances between us and it’s almost like we’re both thermometers — and usually kinda the same temperature. ”
“Kelly Reichardt makes movies about things that people brush over all the time,” Stewart said of the director of this film about the lives of three different women. “I hate doing the whole ‘Let’s talk about women!’ stuff. Most female-centric stories are about the adversity that women face, and the three women in this film are really struggling, but there’s no resolve. To focus on mundane things and let people sit and be is so vulnerable. I love Kelly’s perspective. Her movies are so natural and she’s a steel train, so composed.”
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Stewart explained that she’s fascinated by the process of filmmaking (while admitting that she felt bashful to say so), but even her curiosity was tested by Ang Lee’s game-changing new war drama, which is shot in a super-crisp 120-frame-per-second format that’s never been attempted before in a feature film.
“Joe Alwyn, who plays Billy Lynn, this was his first movie,” Stewart said. “I love working with first-time actors, especially when they’re curious. I’m like, “Yeah, man, let’s f—ing talk about it!’ But he often would be asking questions to me and I was like, “I have no idea what’s going on.’ It was hard. Every actor went home saying, ‘I have no idea what we did today.’ But that’s also a great place to be. It’s just not normal. But I would never do anything if I knew how it was going to end up.”
Stewart also just completed filming a short film called Water, which she wrote and directed. “It’s pretty painterly,” she said. “I’m not hiding behind anything by making the film sort of avant garde, but what I hoping everyone in the audience will stop thinking until the end. I wanted it to feel like something that washes over you.”
She described the short as “the most satisfying thing I have ever done.”