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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Kristin Stewart talks Twilight

She begins with a disclaimer. ''I usually don't look like such a skank,'' Kristen Stewart says, fanning out 10 dirt-caked fingernails. Fresh off her star turn as innocent, lovestruck Bella Swan in Twilight, the 18-year-old actress — best known as the hippie chick in Sean Penn's Into the Wild — is researching a very different movie role at the moment, that of a young stripper. She's been spending time at a run-down strip club in New Orleans' French Quarter called Dixie Divas, taking in the show and learning how to gyrate around a pole, though she doesn't shed many layers. ''I danced on the bar there three nights this week, and my legs are covered in bruises,'' Stewart says proudly. ''Hopefully, the Twilight fans won't totally freak out.''
Stewart has every right to be concerned. Ever since
Stephenie Meyer's best-selling series of supernatural romance novels spawned a nation of Twilighters, millions of girls (and their moms) have followed the first book's journey to the screen. Casting the schoolgirl was every bit as perilous as casting the vampire. Fortunately, director Catherine Hardwicke was roundly cheered when she zeroed in on Stewart to play Bella, a shy, ordinary 17-year-old every-mortal. The actress' agents, of course, were doing backflips when they heard the news. Stewart herself wasn't so sure how she felt about being at the center of a cultural tsunami. She's still not. ''It's just surreal to be a crucial part of a machine like this,'' says Stewart, over a lunch of raw oysters and po'boys. ''I'm sort of the vessel. The book is what it is because of these girls' obsession with [Edward] through me. If I wasn't right, I'd be persecuted, and put on a cross.''
Not exactly the breathless enthusiasm you might expect from a young actress in the kind of big, splashy blockbuster that could launch her onto young Hollywood's A list. Stewart is
Kate Winslet on the eve of Titanic's release or, at the very least, Shia LaBeouf pre-Transformers. But then again, she isn't much seduced by hype. ''I don't want to do something that's just a big moneymaker,'' says the actress, who has worked steadily for nearly a decade but hasn't appeared in a genuine hit since her breakthrough role, at age 11, as Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room. Instead, she's built up indie credibility by working with an impressive array of top-tier directors like Mike Figgis (Cold Creek Manor), Jon Favreau (Zathura), and Doug Liman (Jumper), among others. She also scored a moderate success with last year's paranormal horror flick The Messengers. ''I just want to make sure Twilight's worth the ginormous attention it receives,'' says Stewart. ''Everyone said this is a big-deal movie. But I hate when people celebrate before you have something to celebrate about.''

Stewart says she was drawn to the Twilight role not because of the books' ginormous popularity — ''I figured it was a little cult vampire movie with a built-in fan base'' — but because she loved the idea of playing a teenage girl experiencing animal attraction for the first time. ''What I love about the story is that it's about a very logical, pragmatic girl who you think would never get swept into something that has this bizarre power.''
After being cast, Stewart performed a pivotal love scene on Hardwicke's bed with the four leading contenders for the role of Edward, including
Robert Pattinson. ''Catherine liked a couple of the guys, and I was like, 'Are you joking? I can't do the movie unless Rob does it,''' Stewart says. ''He got it, and we could, like, see each other.'' As Hardwicke puts it, ''She would have strangled me if I didn't pick him.''
During the shoot, the pair ended up taking the roles — and themselves — a little too seriously. They spent hours deconstructing what it meant to be a vampire, and what it meant to be in love with one. The result: big-time angst, both on screen and off. At one point, the studio began to worry their young stars had mistaken this for a Bergman movie instead of a romantic teen fairy tale. ''We were like, 'We're going to play this real' and the studio was like, 'But it's fun. Lighten up!''' says Stewart, who launches into an imaginary rant at the studio suits: ''You knew what you were getting when you hired actors who aren't Disney kids! We're actually going to consider the characters, and not just smile on our marks, and hope we're in focus.''
Stewart, who was just 17 when she shot the movie, was uncompromising about what she'd allow her character to do and say. ''We had to rewrite and improvise a lot of the most intense scenes, because Kristen will not say something if she doesn't feel good about it,'' recalls Hardwicke. ''Kristen is very tough and she does not tolerate bulls---.'' Stewart just feels like she was doing her job. ''I had some of the corniest lines I've ever had in this film,'' says the actress, who was keen to tone down some of the over-the-top declarations of ''I will die for you!'' love. ''We were so awkward saying those lines. Catherine was like, 'Just feel it and say what comes to you.'''
All this might sound like arrogance in someone else, but after spending time with Stewart, she seems like a genuine rebel spirit looking to do good work. Even now, as Twilight threatens to elevate her to the top of the marquee, she's not that curious about how far fame will take her. She'd prefer to chart her own course. ''Look what I'm doing here in New Orleans,'' she says. Playing a stripper in a film that doesn't yet have distribution. ''I told my agent, 'I'm not doing a big movie after Twilight.''' Because she's got that kind of offhand confidence, it's easy to forget that Stewart's barely old enough to vote. She has an eerie calm about her for someone about to undergo a high dose of sudden celebrity. ''For no real reason,'' she says with a shrug, ''I just feel like it won't be a problem.''

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