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Toronto International Film Festival : Q&A with Actress Kristen Stewart on ”Spencer” and Her Career

Kristen Stewart started working in the film industry at an early age, starting alongside Jodie foster in David Fincher’s “Panic Room”, among many other roles. She went on to worldwide fame for her role as Bella and the hugely popular “Twilight” franchise. And has since worked with some of the most celebrated filmmakers of our generation, including Walter Salles and Olivier Assayas and Kelly Reichardt. Last year, she started in Clea DuVall’s, trailblazing, queer, romantic comedy, “Happiest season.” And this year she presents her newest film at the Toronto Film Festival, “Spencer,” a collaboration with celebrated Chilean auteur, Pablo Larrain. That has audiences and critics a buzz. We’re so glad that she can join us for this special event in celebration of share her journey.

Q : Welcome, Kristen Stewart. 

Kristen Stewart : Hi. 

Q : Thank you so much for being with us. It’s like such a huge pleasure. Good chat a little bit. I wanted to start cause I love a lot of the filmmakers that you’ve worked with Olivier Assayas and Kelly Reichardt, so it’s incredible, just the diversity of roles that you take on. And when you, when we’re thinking about working with auteur filmmakers, you know, with such a different pacing in their work than a lot of like say Hollywood cinema. There’s a lot of ambiguity, I find in the roles,  not just the narratives, that the filmmakers are presenting, but in the roles that you take. What attracts you to those roles? What attracts you to those characters? f you could talk to us a little bit about that. 

Kristen Stewart : I love movies and primarily ones that are like actually able to externalize an inner life and in a way that even just talking to people doesn’t do for you. Like certain conversations. Sometimes you get close, but it always feels like you need something a little bit more heightened or subjective in order to actually like get across the feeling of what it’s like to have a mind and a body and a heart that don’t always connect. And I think I’m just much more interested in, in films that reflect that inner life versus, you know, plot heavy pedantic. Here’s the, what happened? Let me tell you something. It’s kind of a cliche and definitely how everyone would say, but, I do really appreciate movies that ask you questions versus telling you things.

Q : There’s a lot of details that you imbue, right? Between the big moments of dialogue, like those mannerisms, those gestures, and the way you express through silence. And I have to say personally, like when I saw you in, “Into the Wild,”I just remember that the gestures that you communicated so much in through gestures, and I was like, wow, who’s this actor. And it was so exciting to see you. Like that climactic scene in “A Certain Women,” which is, you know, anticlimactic and how you manage silence and cinema, because I think it’s really impactful. There’s these smaller elements of the character though. How do you work through those? 

Kristen Stewart :  I’m lucky I’ve had a lot of time to, to work on, sounds lame, but my craft, I always feel like the larger communications between us are always wordless and know every little manipulation, the way that you move through the world is so defining. It’s not always what you say. And even sometimes the things that you say betray, what you actually mean. And sometimes the lie is truer than the truth if you’re able to decode it. And I just think as I’ve gotten older, it’s become easier for me to really understand and feel comfortable and confident in silence.

Because as an actor, you’re supposed to tell a story or you’re trying to communicate all the time. And like it without filling every moment. Kind of spoonfeeding and audience something, if you just it’s like balancing whether or not. Cause I’m all, I’m always aware of where the camera is. I’m always aware of what I want the audience to feel, but then at the same time, it’s like, if you can forget that and actually live in a moment, that’s always worth doing. I’m probably an incredibly annoying actor to work with as a director. Unless we’re like totally in love with each other. And what, because I I’m always like, well, how are you going to see this? And where’s the camera going to be in? And  you know, really great directors or people that I just jive with usually are able to shut me up 

Q : I think that what’s so interesting too, about those silences and those closeups is that you never get that close to somebody. You actually like, you know, most people that you don’t have that proximity to, and then having that proximity and film. Yeah, you can communicate so much and it’s so exposed. Like it’s pretty impactful. 

Kristen Stewart :  Yeah. It’s, it’s strange though, because I always think about perspective and I feel like we have zoom lenses in our brains. Do you know what I mean? Like. Yes. I am further away from me right now, but like, you can choose what to focus on. I’ve always thought like, God, it would be so great to have a lens that actually reflected what it was like to be in here. It just doesn’t really exist. It’s frustrating. 

Q : It is. So I wanted to talk about the role of Maureen in “Personal Shopper.” I love that movie. Olivier Assayas is such an incredible director and it looks like you guys work on a point together in so many ways. I wanted to ask you before about talking about that collaboration is, the role of Maureen that you’ve said that you had didn’t really approach her from the, like, think about what she was think more of her backstory,  beyond what’s in the script. Was that like an unusual choice for you? Can you talk about why you chose with that particular character? 

Kristen Stewart : Yeah. I felt like she couldn’t really remember. She’s dealing with such a devastating loss. She’s a twin in the movie, and it’s a smaller, detailed it’s really only mentioned like once. I mean, we talk about my brother all the time, but they were twins. Almost like she lost half of herself when he died. And displace kind of reeling feeling that she’s having in this and this sort of searching that she’s doing is because she just completely lost herself. It was just suddenly she was at sea. And so it didn’t really matter who she was before. I, it didn’t matter to me at all. I think there are shreds little indications that she’s interested in art, you know, she has a fashion job. I think I’ve said it, it just sort of didn’t matter.

Q : Yeah that makes a lot of sense that really fits in with characters. 

Kristen Stewart :  I think her life was fairly normal before, you know what I think I like whether or not I applied, detail’s fine. It’s like, you know, maybe she went to school, maybe she didn’t matter. 

Q : I love the ghostly elements in the film that are not truly supernatural. 

 Kristen Stewart : I know it’s so weird, especially in the beginning, she really proclaims that as well as like, well, I’m a medium, it’s like, that’s a fact like that. What are you talking about? I also think that it’s something that her brother really recognized in her and had more of. And so I think that she’s kind of stealing from him a little bit.

Q :  Yeah. The melding of the personalities and identity. You know, “Clouds of Sils Maria” as well. That was also another one that you worked with with Olivier Assayas as well. And he talks about you directing the film from the inside, having that kind of collaboration, it sounds like a very freeing collaboration.

 Kristen Stewart : Yeah. It’s so crazy what he’s able to do. I can’t tell you in intelligent articulate way. Describe how he infuses himself into everything he does, but really wordlessly like his strips are very concisely drawn. We didn’t have many involved conversations about what these movies meant. I think that he’s so interested and so excited by hearing his words come out of someone else. And like for whatever reason, we just intrinsically our sensibilities match. We’re both kind of weird like wallflowery freaks that also oddly just want to be revealed. And he’s just so curious and he’s so unbelievably intelligent that I felt so unlocked by him and like, just so.

Q : Yeah, we’re going to talk a little bit about “Spencer” shortly, but before we go there,  I love Pablo Lorraine’s works. I think he’s a fantastic filmmaker. And he said it was your performance in “Personal Shopper”, that led to being cast and Spencer. How did you connect with Pablo?

 Kristen Stewart :  He called me on the phone and. At first I hadn’t read the script yet. And he was like, you know, proposed this idea and said that he was doing a sort of weird, ike tongue poem essentially about Diana and, asked whether or not I would be interested in tackling the subject at all before he sent the script and kind of without thinking very irresponsibly. I said absolutely. But the way that I, what I mean is like, I think my favorite kind of movies are explorations and cultivating this like controlled chaos is absolutely how you make these discoveries that are worth photographing.

But it’s also something, you know, when you take a movie, you have to say like, trust me, I know I can do this. Like give me the job. And I did not have that for this. Obviously this was, I you know, I just didn’t, I could have totally fucked it up. Uh, and. In the moment right before I was going to say like, you know, kind of in a word yes or no. I was like, who are you? If you don’t say yes, Just to see and I didn’t want to be that. And I’ve always gotten the impression from this woman that she just comes out to here. She  is such a live wire and somebody who is, you know, she has this incredibly disarming, casual, contagious, beautiful, empathetic, warm energy that reaches out. But at the same time, you always feel like there’s something wrong.

Like she’s protecting something and. Anything I ever saw of her felt like, uh, and this is after I said yes already, but it’s just that she feels like you never know what’s going to happen. Like she walks into the room and the earth starts shaking. And so I knew that there was no way to play that perfectly. And therefore it was actually easier, or at least easier to not be so intimidated. And so daunted, because the only way to capture something wild is to be that. And I could only be my version of that and kind of hope that I learned everything I could learn about her and, and absorb her and then kind of melt and kind of be both me and her in some weird way that it was going to be the best version. And for some reason, Pablo was like, I think you can do this. And I was like you’re pretty smart. Here we go. 

Q : We’re going to show some clips of some of the performances. I think it’s really interesting. We’ll start with the “Personal Shopper” one, which is interestingly, you know, when Pablo saw the, you know, when he speaks about you in the film, it’s those silences that are captured and how that is where cinema begins, which I think is so fascinating. I mean, I’ve, I’ve seen all his films. So it’s a, I think it’s a great collaboration. Can we show the clip now?

( Clip Showing) 

Q : There’s a whole range in, in this very, like very quiet moment, I think is great.

 Kristen Stewart :  It’s very interesting watching them and seeing nine years and all that. That person was like, so walked it’s like, so still stunted. I just remember being there and feeling like this person’s voice was like so hard to get out every single week.It’s like strangled. 

Q :  It’s interesting because when we see the “Spencer,” like there’s such a range there that we get to see. So speaking of Princess Diana, did you have like a strong perception of her before you started the role?  I mean, I know you’ve done a lot of research. How you went into the project and what you discovered about lady Diana?

 Kristen Stewart : My whole relationship with the Royal family, like being sort of markedly detached from that, obviously I was really young when she died. And so I always knew different, but I didn’t know much about anything. My initial feelings about her was that she was incredibly attractive. Like cool. She just seemed like a lovely person. I know it sounds like basic, I don’t know, she feels like such an odd mixture of things that don’t necessarily go together at all. There are confusing and disparate.

I think that’s why every, I mean, that’s why it made for such a compelling story, not just the movie, but just in life. You know, she’s somebody who reaches out and I think feels, I think that you feel her craving nature. So palpably, she just wants to touch you and she wants to be touched and she wants to feel connected and, and accompanied, yet she’s the most isolated. Difficult to relate to personally. Nobody could know what it felt like to have that level of well, to have that job and, and to have those relationships that we think we know. And you know, do know a lot about. Can’t know it from the inside. No one can, except for the people that really lived in.  

I think the strongest, the strongest impressions that I ever got of her where as a mother, it was kind of the only thing in her life that felt sure. She wanted to feel unconditioned. About something. I mean, it just, I think that her strength and her power and kind of her like feral unstoppable kind of force of nature, and really, really came out when she was with her kids, because she wasn’t very good at protecting herself, but she was very good at protecting them. And that’s just as an outsider looking in, I can feel it. And that I really wanted to protect her was, a scarier aspect of making the movie.

Because if you don’t get that right, you do not get her, I don’t know, like this weird mix of like hunger and starvation and then also extreme indulgence. She’s somebody who, to me in interviews feels exceptionally manipulative, but like she’s been backed into a corner and like she’s burying her teeth and, but then also opening herself up completely. And she’s so revealing and she’s so vulnerable she’s so she wears her heart on his sleeve, like no other, like, I just feel like she can’t hide anything. But yet we don’t know anything about her. It’s just, she’s somebody that you really like lean in towards. And whatever, something she was talented at born with. 

Q : That’s why the script is so fascinating, right? It’s almost like a fairytale in reverse. There’s a lot of like surreal moments in this film. Did that appeal you, I guess that made it easier to not really focus on on the fact that nobody has.  How did you find that appealing?

 Kristen Stewart : Yeah, it feels like we’re kind of able to tell like more than just her story sort of just it’s like steeped in oppression, you know? The anvil in of it all is, is, uh, kind of an interesting way of showing that things have been going kind of the same way for a fairly, very long time and breaking the cycle beyond just her and her immediate family, but it’s, you know, it’s a historical liberation, and something that is for her, like a legacy. I think she had a really powerful and impactful thing to say with that large decision that she made. And it’s courageous and, and obviously like self sacrificing in a way that I think is so. I can’t even imagine he would suck. I love also that the movie is definitely not. I’ve kind of done a few interviews. I hope I’m not repeating myself,  it’s like we can imagine and dream and sort of write poetry about how she makes us feel and trying to get closer to her and how she feels.

I think that she provides this incredibly lush in complicated terrain to make art about, she’s somebody who is so inspiring and like changed the world. And I’ve been asked a lot about whether or not it’s cool to try and tell someone’s story when they’re not around and somebody who was already so sort of invaded and taken from. And I think that because we really don’t profess to know anything or present any new information, her whole sort of life force mission statement thing was we need to come together, and like find connections. And so the fact that she has inspired so much of that, still the fact that we are still cannot stop talk. We can’t stop talking about her. My hope is that because we made it so personal, you know, just that we, whatever, we’re not traipsing on any sort of, I don’t know that we don’t feel advantageous. 

Q : It does feel very respectful. I mean, the parts where you with the kids are so beautiful. I think that you really managed to elicit that difference, you know, total protection she had of her children. We’re going to go to a clip in a second because I think it’s details that. Yeah. Well actually let’s do that first and then we’ll continue chatting. Can we go to the ”Spencer” clip please? 

(Clip showing) 

Q : You know, so much happens in that short amount of time. I mean, there’s so much communicated. How did you work with the kids or how did you work with Pablo, because the scenes are really natural. There’s one where you guys are playing a game that I love and in the middle of the night and the circle. Cause it feels really authentic. It feels very warm. There’s such a warmth there. How did you guys work together to make that happen? So naturally? 

 Kristen Stewart :  I got really lucky. I really liked them. Not only were they incredibly smart and cool and funny and sweet. They really opened themselves up to this experience and it in a really beautiful way that I was scared about a couple of things. Like, obviously the accent is daunting, but technically if you have time, you can learn anything like you can. I have someone taught me how to do it, a really beautiful, incredible dialect coach who really is more than that, and an artist and another set of eyes and whatever. Like I was like, okay, so the essence can be kind of a bitch, but like I can do it. I can’t make the kids have like me, they just have to do it. And so, uh, I can’t control them. I can control pretty much everything else. This was the one real wild card, but that’s why it’s the coolest for me.

It’s like the coolest part of the movies. It’s the three of them together. They were great actors and they were really nice kids. I think there’s one scene in the movie that is the candle, that scene that’s fairly under written. We had a kind of template to work off of, but primarily we did go off book and just play this game together. And actually remarkably, these kids knew a lot. I mean, they’re English, they’ve grown up in this culture that is very aware of the war, the Royal family. And there are certain lines that both of them threw in that were from any adult person, it would, or any adult person that was like being in a movie, trying to play a character, it would feel so on the nose. But it was so genuine from these kids, at one point here he goes, Do you know, William, do you want to became one day? It’s like, do you think they actually sit around and talk about this stuff, but like maybe they do. It was just really cool, kind of following them and kind of letting them lead the way. And I guess there’s kind of no better answer. I think they were just, we got very lucky. They were beautiful little guys. 

Q : They’re my favorite parts of the film. There’s like when you see that side of her, I think they’re so beautiful. All right. So we are going to be moving over to some audience questions that I’m getting here in the chat. I just have like really one that I was very curious about. I mean, cause the last time that you were here at TIFF was with “Seberg”,  you’re paying this iconic actor of the French new wave, it was privacy was also compromised a lot, interesting to play a woman in these situations in history. Was that something that’s? Yeah. Is that something important to you to, to also discuss or portray? 

Kristen Stewart : For both of these it’s so satisfying to take, somebody who feels so muzzled and give them a platform and have it be their very own in some way. Obviously it’s an imaginative version, but what a cool fantasy, sort of like voiceless people finding somewhere to scream is really satisfying. I think we’re entering this really awesome territory right now where obviously this has been covered in, it’s probably been articulated in. Beautiful waste and this, I can’t wait to start seeing the movies that girls are gonna make. Can’t wait. I just had uncertain stories brought to me that do feel like quite poignant and thoughtful one, but yeah, those two, primarily it did feel really kind of like retroactively liberate these people. 

Q : I am really excited for women filmmakers, what’s coming down the pipeline. I think it’s going to be very exciting. You know, we’re going to go to some audience questions. So this one’s from Ashley. She says, the way you talk about your love of film is magnetic. And it’s clear that you love the process of filmmaking. That it’s something that you’re equally passionate about. Was there anything new that you discovered through working with Pablo that shifted your perception of filmmaking?

Kristen Stewart : Shooting on film, I I’ve always sort of romanticized it and recognize the grain. And I’ve had many DPS say that they can accomplish that digitally. And maybe that’s true. Maybe do side-by-sides and you wouldn’t be able to tell, but making the movie you can, because you stand at attention. When you hear film rolling through a camera and you can always hear that little, {making the sound of film rolling), and I think everyone kind of hops to and goes, oh my God, it’s it’s now. I mean, the time is right now. And we also shot a lot of the movie on 16mm too, which is fickle and, you know, just constantly hairs in the gates. There are things that you’re missing and losing, but that means that what you catch is gold, like compared to, okay, let’s roll for an hour and see if we can get the kid to cry. Like that’s just not, it’s not as magical. And I guess, Pablo, he just like hates a lazy person more than anything. And I don’t wanna say hate, but like, he really just has like mad contention for people that are not like workers. And sometimes, you have to be humane and not like destroy your crew and not like take advantage of people and performers and artists and whatever.

But if it’s coming from the right place, you can really drive someone into the ground and they like it. And as somebody with ambitions to make movies, I was like really kind of revived by him and blown away by his commitment. And there’s no other way to say it. I mean, it sounds obvious, like you need commitment to being a director. You need to have vision, but his commitment to his vision, which was so particular and so weird.  It was feral and it was very cool. The only types of people who should be making  movies. 

Q : We’ve got a question from Alana. To what extent do you feel that your physical transformation for this role influenced your emotional experiences and helped you embody Diane as sprit.

Kristen Stewart : She is much taller than me, and I think that her, her struggle with food and her relationship to her own body was really self diminishing. But at the same time, when she needed to like feel herself, she just felt like so powerful. So I really wanted to, embarrassing, sometimes like hold myself together when nobody else would physically. Because that’s a part of her story that we never wanted to fully articulate. She always said that, you know, the Royal family doesn’t hug, but to say that as a little on the nose.

And so there were times where I was like, just hold yourself. And that kind of communicated, broadcast that aspect of the story. Physical., physical, she’s such an odd combination of things. She got this sort of like language beautiful floaty thing, but then she’s also quite angular and she jumps and I don’t mean that like actual, specific, I like kind of  a theoretical way. And she’s bracing. I just think everything about her is always like a holding, in the moments that we could like really release her felt incredible.

Q :  And you are worked really closely with the cinematographer, Claire Mathon. I’ve read that Pablo said that, you two had a really established a real close connection. It’s just interesting hearing you talk before about shooting on film and creating this really vulnerable character and how you worked with the cinematographer to elicit a lot of that? 

Kristen Stewart : Claire is a genius. She’s a woman of very few words. And I don’t think it’s because I don’t speak French. I think it’s because she’s so watchful, she’s just not thinking of putting out when she’s working, she’s receiving, she is the most absorbed person. I can get up and run across the room and she would be in front of me somehow before I got there.

I just couldn’t understand how she did it. I could do anything. And I felt like she didn’t miss anything. I would throw these like curve balls, people, curve balls, people, and she would just be like Just, just so aware of like what it takes to really look at someone. And some people are very caught up in their own shit, composition and lighting, what they want you to do versus what you are going to throw at them. And she’s also just a really lovely person. And I think we all me and Pablo and Claire and my coach William was a really huge part of this like animal.

We all felt so connected and I feel, you know, I I’m an actor and I kind of, you know, I was cast to play her, but anyone they all could have played her. I mean, Pablo would be the best, Diana. He’s just not quite the right look. But  I just felt like we all held this thing together so equally, and that I’ve just never been given like so much, like freedom and reverence. I felt like so much love. All of them, Claire, especially. And she doesn’t say much, like I said, so it was just something I felt so accompanied by her when I was at my lowest points.

Like the one difference between Diana and myself, especially is that she was fucking alone and I was not, I had people holding me. And the moments where I really felt like I needed to go to the very lowest I had sort of a safety net to do so. And when you feel bad, you put walls up and you start protecting yourself. And so what happens is you not able to cry. You’re not able to feed, you’re not able to feel, when you’re scared and when you feel like truly, actually lonely. 

Q : It just, it’s a wonderful film, Kristin. I really want to thank you for sharing with us today. Very much looking forward to, it’s going to show up for the first time tonight in Toronto. So it’s the first screening is this evening and looking forward to your other films you directing. I think this is very exciting in case much.

Nobuhiro Hosokihttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Nobuhiro Hosoki grew up watching American films since he was a kid; he decided to go to the United States thanks to seeing the artistry of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange.” After graduating from film school, he worked as an assistant director on TV Tokyo’s program called "Morning Satellite" at the New York branch office but he didn’t give up on his interest in cinema. He became a film reporter for via Yahoo Japan News. In that role, he writes news articles, picks out headliners for Yahoo News, as well as interviewing Hollywood film directors, actors, and producers working in the domestic circuit in the USA. He also does production interviews for Japanese distributors of American films and for in-theater on-sale programs. He is now the editor-in-chief of Cinemadailyus.com while continuing his work for Japan.

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