FALL AND EARLY WINTER BRING BOOKENDS FOR THIS 29 YEAR OLD SUPERSTAR PLAYING SABINA WILSON IN THE MILE A MINUTE CHARLIE’S ANGELS REBOOT, THEN FRENCH NEW WAVE ICON, JEAN SEBERG, IN A DRAMA DEALING WITH ISSUES OF POLITICS, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND STARDOM
BY MATT SCANLON
It’s hard not to begin with astonishing statistics when describing the career of Kristen Stewart. At 29 years old, she has amassed 43 completed film and TV roles (with four more either waiting to be released or in production), the total box office revenue of which, according to Box Office Mojo, totals $1.82 billion. The five film Twilight Saga franchise, in which (in the event that this reader has just arrived at our planet from Neptune) she played Bella Swan, falling in and out of love and danger in the company of vampires and werewolves, generated $1.3 billion. She has received a César Award, a Milano Film Festival award, a Young Artist Award, and a BAFTA Rising Star Award, and also took the New York Film Critics Circle, National Society of Film Critics, and Boston Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actress Awards for her performance in the 2014 drama, Clouds of Sils Maria. Vanity Fair named her Hollywood’s highest earning actress for 2011 (estimated earnings of $28.5 million), and Forbes gave her the same distinction the next year ($34.5 million estimated). She is also brand ambassador for both Balenciaga and Chanel.
That eye popping list is ample, but the Los Angeles born Stewart the daughter of show business executives Jules Mann Stewart and John Stewart (script supervisor/director and stage manager/TV producer, respectively) has also managed to weather storms of often prurient media analysis regarding her personal life and sexuality in the process, and been fearless in describing its evolution. This arc began with an on again, off again relationship with Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, then a brief relationship with musician Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), and a more enduring one with New Zealand model Stella Maxwell that continued into late summer of this year.
When an actor gains entry into the billion dollar club in terms of ticket receipts, it’d be perfectly natural, expected even, for her to inhabit blockbuster films for the duration, but Stewart’s choices have been and continue to be remarkably diverse. Her very next part after Twilight, for example, wasn’t in a high gloss period drama, but as an amusement park employee in the terrific light comedy, Adventureland (alongside Jesse Eisenberg). Upon completing the Twilight series in 2012, she took a year before taking her next acting gig, that of a soldier who befriends a man incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay in 2014’s Camp X Ray the film tackling issues of gender, politics, religion, and coping with despair. “Unlike most other movie stars in an avid quest for fame and fortune, [Stewart] opted for the opposite direction,” wrote Critical Women on Film blogger, Prairie Miller, in reference to Camp X Ray. “Intent on mining her talent for raw and real, meaningful hardcore drama instead.”
That emphasis on substance over flash was also seen in performances in Still Alice (2014), Anesthesia the next year, and as the winsome and unattainable Vonnie in Woody Allen’s Café Society (2016). Last year saw her starring with Chloë Sevigny in Lizzie, a thriller based on the 1892 Lizzie Borden murder case. For the last film, RogerEbert.com reviewer, Sheila O’Malley, observed that “Stewart has a relationship with the camera that other actresses can only dream of. Her face withholds and expresses, simultaneously.”
Sensing perhaps that a bit of lightheartedness was in order, Stewart signed on to star in the Elizabeth Banks directed and written Sony Pictures reboot of the TV and film Charlie’s Angels franchise. She plays Sabina Wilson, one of three hard fighting investigators/enforcers working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose security agency has expanded internationally (her compatriots played by Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, with Banks taking the role of Bosley).
Even while detailing some of the film’s action sequences, Stewart, in a Columbia Pictures (a division of Sony Pictures) interview, was quick to describe an additional and more nuanced mission methodology these characters apply.
“It’s not about brawn,” she explained. “It’s about how you work as individuals together and how you become a formidable unit. We don’t glorify our characters as if they are heroes…as if you couldn’t be one of them. The whole point is [knowing] how to approach something with compassion and intelligence. It’s not about doing a bunch of push-ups and pulling a gun on a bad guy, it’s about outsmarting someone and doing it for a good reason, that that will be what prevails.”
Asked further about plot elements, Stewart described Banks’s approach as one of “[taking] this [Charlie’s Angels] world that we’ve all gotten familiar with and just expand it…hit fast forward. [She] thought, ‘Where would we be circa 2018?’ There’s more of us, we are louder, we are stronger in numbers, and I think that goes along with this distinct sense of self that we are developing in this generation.”
The month after will see another pivot from blockbuster to smaller drama, as Stewart takes on the role of 1960s French New Wave icon and Breathless star, Jean Seberg, who was a target of Herbert Hoover era FBI abuse after she became romantically involved with Hakim Jamal, a civil rights activist. Seberg, directed by Benedict Andrews, is set to be released on December 15.