WE KNOW, courtesy of the gossip mags, that Kristen Stewart spreads butter on her blueberry bagels and of her alleged romance with her Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson. And everyone from Access Hollywood to The New Zealand Herald has chewed over her supposedly "moody", "melancholy" demeanour.
What hardly anyone outside Hollywood knows — or at least recognises amid the tabloid frenzy, hyperventilating fans and cheesiness of the Twilight movies — is perhaps the most interesting thing about her: at 20, Stewart is considered one of the most promising actresses of her generation, with Oscar winners such as 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," Stewart says.
"But I understand it because what you do as an actor is so tied up in who you are as a person," she continues 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."
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 Stewart in some ways has it even harder. Because of the grip the Twilight franchise has on young girls, she is not just an actress playing a popular role. Instead, "Twi-hards" have come to project their version of romantic love on her; Stewart's shyness and hints of awkwardness make her accessible to fans in a way Megan Fox is not.
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Stewart has coped with the suffocating attention by giving off an air of unapproachability, a tough exterior that Chris Weitz, the director of Twilight: New Moon, says she has methodically adopted. "If she didn't, every teenage girl would see her as their best friend," he says. "They would tear her completely apart."
The actors of 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," says Foster, who co-starred with 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."
The success of Twilight has blurred if not buried Stewart's blossoming reputation as a skilled actress. Apart from the overtly commercial nature of the franchise, the subject matter — vampires that sparkle, gym-sculpted werewolves and computer-generated effects — tends to turn the noses of cinema's auteur elite skyward.
Stewart says 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 says.
"A truth machine" is how Penn describes Stewart. Penn, who cast her as a folk singer with a raging crush in Into the Wild, says she was "magically easy to direct," adding: "She is a real force with terrific instincts."
In contrast to how teenage stars are usually manufactured, Stewart did not systematically chase fame. An agent spotted her as an eight-year-old in a school show.
Her mother, a script supervisor who was born and raised in Australia, and father, a television producer, were wary about sending her on auditions, knowing the toll 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 Stewart to Foster, in part because they share a 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," Foster says.
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), 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 says. "The honest, complex roles tend to be serious."
For her role as Joan Jett in The Runaways, Stewart had only two weeks to learn songs such as Cherry Bomb, something she describes 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. Stewart plays a transsexual named Butterfly. She will also be back with the third Twilight movie, Eclipse, released on July 1.
Foster says that oscillating between two movie worlds — one indie, one commercial — would help her cross over from teen wunderkind to mature star. It's what 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," Foster adds.
The New York Times