This interview appeared in the September 2015 issue of ELLE
Have you ever seen Kristen Stewart take a selfie?
The answer to that question speaks volumes. She's the only millennial A-lister who has built her career entirely on being a mysterious, kickass brand of cool. In a sea of giddy all-access-granted starlets, Stewart has the mysterious persona of a rock star – much like the Joan Jetts, Kim Gordons and Patti Smiths of the world.
At 18, she became the most famous actress on earth for playing an angsty, lip-biting teenager who falls in love with a vampire. As Bella Swan, the central part of the £2.14 billion grossing Twilight cash cow, she topped the annual Forbes list of highest-paid actresses in 2012, earning over £8 million per film (there were five).
For most actresses, this kind of box office win would be a blessing and a curse. It can be hard to escape such a defining role. And a lesser actress would have been stuck in tween hell forever. Not Stewart. She broke the mould, and then every rule, to find her cool.
She chose the indie parts more akin to a Hollywood rebel – Joan Jett in The Runaways, wild child Marylou in Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and Julianne Moore's sulky daughter in last year's harrowing Still Alice. And she worked with the most rarefied of fashion houses, Balenciaga and Chanel. Now there's her latest, American Ultra, an offbeat action thriller centred on two stoners, played by Stewart and her Adventureland co-star Jesse Eisenberg.
In many ways, Juliette Lewis, a fellow Los Angeles-native who understands what it's like to reluctantly grow up in the spotlight, was the Kristen Stewart of her time. She received an Oscar nomination for Cape Fear at 18, then went on to star in critically adored films such as Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn. And Lewis too dated the big star, Brad Pitt being to 1990 what Robert Pattinson was to 2010. But she rebelled – and found new life with her band Juliette and the Licks.
After first meeting on set 13 years ago, the two reunited in Lewis' LA home to discuss refusing to compromise and the power in 'keeping it dangerous.' ELLE listened in.
Juliette: I'm just going to introduce Teddy, my dog, on this tape, he is smelling Kristen. He usually doesn't approach people [he doesn't know] right away, but he's being really nice to her.
Kristen: I can't take any credit for that. I have three dogs.
J: Are you a dog person, or a cat person?
K: Well, I have three dogs [Bear, Bernie and Cole]. They make me feel safe. But I love cats, too. I had a cat for a while who I was really obsessed with, but when my dad, John, got cancer, he took him, and I didn't really have the heart to take him back when my dad was better. They'd become so close.
J: You have the same energy from when I worked with you 13 years ago [on the set of Cold Creek Manor].
K: I thought you were so cool when I was a kid.
J: You have a distinct voice. Not just in the way you talk, but in your nature – it's empowering. I'm just going to be goofy and say you're the female James Dean.
K: Oh, f*ck you.
J: But you're actually a little bit rougher. Like if you and James Dean got in a fight, I feel you might win. I think you're a scrapper. You could throw a punch.
K: I like to make people think that. I don't know if I actually could. But if it came down to it, and someone was actually like, 'We're doing this,' I'm confident I'd want it more. I'd be like, 'You're going down. There's no way in hell I am.'
J: You and I have a certain thing in common and that is our strength. I've had a lot of people think I'm really strong, and talking to you, well, you come off really strong. [A person] wouldn't want to f*ck with you. ButI feel like people who are strong on the outside have a lot of softness, too.
K: You actually sound like you're describing Joan Jett. Getting to know her was the most interesting thing for me – I was fully intimidated, and totally ready to prove to her that I could absolutely step into her shoes and I could f*cking take it. She is very precious.
J: Was The Runaways a real turning point for you?
K: Playing someone who you really respect – I don't want to say idolise, because it's an overused word – is a big deal. There is something fundamental about Joan Jett. Meeting her, she is such a good person, soI couldn't have asked for a larger fire to be lit up my ass. I was in the middle of doing the Twilight movies and doing five of those back to back was so crazy that I was willing to just bust my ass to do things in between.
J: The Twilight movies were such a huge part of your life. I think we're a good combination to talk today, because you too don't walk the easy path. The easy path for someone like you would be to do Twilight, then others where you trade on your looks, and do love stories that make everyone weep. But you intuitively knew: 'I have to find a weird. I have to grow. I have to make sure I'm not shackled to this system or what it predicts of me.' How does that happen?
K: I grew up in LA and I started auditioning when I was nine. My mom, Jules, was a script supervisor and my dad did live TV, he was an assistant director. So when I first started acting, I just wanted to be in the crew. But I ended up auditioning for stuff and was turned away from anything remotely commercial. I got indie after indie – and all the weird, quirky stuff. And then Twilight came along. We didn't know we were going to do more than one film, but Catherine Hardwicke was directing and I was like, 'This is cool, actually.' Then it just turned into something completely different. But it was never decided: 'Right, I'm going to balance the commercialism of my career.'
J: Not to make it seem like we're little twinsies, but my dad is a character actor and so I also grew up on movie sets. Do you think now, with social media and people creating their own art, is a good time for film?
K: It's hard for me to talk about how difficult it is to get good movies made because I've been asked to participate in the sickest stuff. But I do fully recognise that everyone is so obsessed with making money and that nobody's willing to make a movie unless it absolutely equals dollar signs.
J: What about your new film American Ultra? I want to know all about it.
K: It's a stoner-comedy-love-story-thriller-action movie. It's like a violent, in-your-face Bourne film, but with Jesse Eisenberg and me getting incredibly high.
J: You threw me with thriller. What a great clash of genres. It sounds ambitious, and that's the only way to go. There are people whose job it is to just sell boxes of Raisinets [chocolate-covered raisins] at the cinema.
K: I actually think we're going to sell out of Raisinets on this film. This is the first time that I've ever done something where I was like, 'There is no reason why this should not make a lot of money.' Usually I finish a movie and I'm like, 'Oh god, what if no one ever wants to see this?'
J: Here's what I want to tell the people reading this, who have not experienced it: There's a thing with women who become famous where they lose their anonymity and they start to think, 'Do I have to please you?' I've now learned that I don't always have to. And so when photographers approach me in the airport at 7am, I'm like, 'Dude, would you want to get your picture taken at 7am at the airport?' But I'll say it with a smile. It's been a big learning curve, but you can say no kindly.
K: Totally. There's something so natural about saying yes. I think with women there's some natural inclination to want to satisfy people.
J: I actually don't look at anything in the press. For me it's all books, music, people and living life. I had to get out of that judgment place. My social media world is where I get that connectivity, and I find it really beautiful.
K: I agree with you. I'm not anti social media, I just haven't decided to do it. I have Instagram to connect with my friends, but the idea of addressing such a massive group on social media? I can barely do a televised interview. I know how to talk to you now, and when I sit in a chair in front of Jimmy Kimmel, I know how to talk to him. But I have to zone in on him, because if I don't know who I'm speaking to it doesn't make any f*cking sense to me.
J: I've read little bits of horsesh*t about you in the press, where people are judging you about the whole not smiling thing. You should never have to defend yourself, but what I love about you is that you have an uncompromising nature, but you're not an asshole.
K: The whole smiling thing is weird because I actually smile a lot. I literally want to be like, 'Dude, you would think I was cool if you got to know me!' But so many people make so much money off these character traits that they have assigned me, and so many articles are written every single day about them, if they change my character, it wouldn't make sense.
J: It's almost like they will get pictures that will feed into that. I get fearful of the people who are plastic and are perfectly fitted for this public culture, like politicians. To me, that's scary.
K: I'm not a politician. People think that they have to do it, it's as if they're providing a public service. But you don't have to – you just have to do your job.
J: What about close childhood friends? Do you have any left?
K: I have a bunch actually. I have five or six. There's a small group of us who have known each other forever.
J: I find the hardest thing is how others › deal with fame. Some people want to protect you. Some people get agitated and a few show some odd colours that you didn't know were there and that's their reaction to fame. Were there shifts? Did you have a change in your group dynamic? I've never dealt with that level of idolising, like when people see you so firmly as something and you made them feel and put all their hopes and dreams on you.
K: Because I got really, really famous in literally a day, it was a bit like, 'What the f*ck?' Everyone was graduating high school and I'd stopped going, so I kind of fell out of touch with the group. I was just with my boyfriend all the time. But then I made a really conscious effort of gathering them and being like, 'I need you.' Now they are really awesome, they're all really protective.
J: That's nice. It sounds like you knew you needed to nurture the friendship foundation rather than get isolated and pull away from it. Instead you gravitated towards it. How do you let off steam? Do you like to go to raging dance parties? That's how I like to do it.
K: I play guitar.
J: Damn! You're cooler than me. I just couldn't get into the fingering. Did you learn guitar for The Runaways?
K: I started playing when I was younger. My dad played, so I was lucky to learn basic chords when I was little, and obviously I sit in trailers and have time to practise.
J: Do you use it to relax?
K: I love playing my guitar, but it doesn't relax me. It drives me crazy. I'm like, 'Ah, no, that's not what I wanted to play.' I have no rhythm either. But I love it.
J: What skill do you wish you could have? I want to learn to fight. I wish I continued with karate when I was little.
K: I think the most far-fetched thing is if I could do something like be a f*cking great dancer.
J: Are you talking hip-hop, street dancing, breakdancing or ballet?
K: I don't want to be a professional dancer. I just want to be able to go out on the dance floor and be sick. I want the ability to allow my body to move. I just want to tear that sh*t up. I'd also like to speak French, because I have a lot of French friends and then I'd be able to haveconversations with them.
J: Well, the good news is, as long as we're here, we can do it all: we've got time. So you're wearing a Dwarves band T-shirt. My first guitar player in my band was a guy named Clint who was in the Dwarves.
K: That's weird, because I looked at this T-shirt this morning and I was like, 'I don't know this band, so is it f*cked up to wear it?'
J: It's a cool top! You know we have to do dress up, but do you feel you have found your own style? Do you have designers you gravitate towards?
K: I mean, I work with Chanel. But generally speaking there are a couple of designers I've always liked – Nicolas Ghesquière is someone I'm a huge fan of. Fashion can be fun, I get inspired by it. I like being around anyone who's compulsively making things.
J: Who is a mentor of yours? Mine is Amy Schumer. I love her. She's like, 'Girls just need to quit saying sorry so much.' I'm playing a detective in a series called Secrets And Lies and she doesn't say, 'I'm sorry, I just need 10 minutes of your time.' She has no social niceties whatsoever. And I respect that.
K: I apologise constantly, incessantly. As for mentors, I admire my mom, she has always been a worker.
J: I love how you said 'worker'.
K: The women that I've always been drawn to are those who are unable to focus on things that don't matter because they're so taken with their interests and the things they like to create. Patti Smith is a friend of mine and her whole thing is: 'Just get back to the work.' Find the source of what's keeping you going and it'll focus you.
J: How did you become friends with her?
K: We were in the Boom Boom Room [in New York] for a movie's after-party, I think it was for On The Road. I was kind of in a f*cked place and she came up and said, 'Hey, you doing OK?' She was like, 'I just want you to know that your people care about you, that we're here for you, and I'm your people.' And we kind of stayed in contact. Then I was in New York again and she walked up to me at another after-party – it had been a long time since we'd talked – and she said, 'It's a full moon tonight and I heard that you were in town, so I came out to find you and here you are!' And I was like, 'You've got to stop saying the coolest things ever!'
J: She's like your Yoda, which is fantastic. She's one of the greatest writers ever. She is the most uncompromising, the most radical, the most fearless. She walks her walk and nothing else influences that. I'm so glad we have her. So in the spirit of Patti Smith and all renegades, I say, 'Keep it dangerous,' and, 'Don't let fear swallow you.' That's the message. Goodbye.
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