'Kids have been so mean to me'
KRISTEN Stewart is not unlike any 18-year-old you might see sifting through the rack in a second-hand clothes shop or nodding her head at an indie gig, but the difference between Stewart and the average teenager is that she not only performs on screen, but is also expected to be articulate and engaging as she fields questions from the media day-after-day in countries all over the world.
The round of interviews to promote a movie and help make millions for the studio can be demanding and it is easy to forget just how young some of the stars really are. Stewart is learning all about those demands with Twilight, the first film adaptation of the book series written by Stephenie Meyer. "It is the hardest thing," she says of the levels of press attention now focused on her.
If you have a daughter aged 11 to 15 you may well be aware of the Twilight phenomenon. The books (four in total) have sold more than 17 million copies worldwide, and are the tale of the love between a vampire with a "Blue Steel" pout called Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and a slightly offbeat schoolgirl, Bella (Stewart). It's The Lost Boys for the tween generation, minus the fangs and blood.
While her co-star Pattinson has become the latest teen heartthrob, Stewart is learning that not everyone wants to be her friend as they compete for the attentions of her on-screen love interest.
"We have to do autograph signings occasionally and usually everyone is so nice and excited but sometimes they just walk by and if their expressions spoke they would say, 'We're not here for you, we're here for Rob. Don't think you're so special. We don't even want your autograph'."
She's aware that doing a movie with such a huge following as this, and the sequels that will follow, brings with it a pressure that she hasn't experienced before. "Normally if you do a movie and it touches people or says something to somebody then you say, 'Great; cool; we did that for a reason'. And if it doesn't then you say, 'OK, we'll go and do another one'. In this case that's not an option. If people didn't like it, then it would really be a big failure."
Stewart, so small she appears almost to be engulfed by the large sofa she's sitting on, seems to be your classic indie-girl. She's extremely pretty, but doesn't have on much, if any, make-up. She has a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour and talks of her guitar playing ("I'm not good"), her love of the Beatles and her fondness for classic literature rather than teen books like Twilight. "But this isn't really a teen novel. It appears to be but it's not," she makes sure to clarify.
Like Ellen Page, who was nominated for her performance in Juno last year, Stewart is part of a new brigade of young actresses who are seeking to be taken seriously for their acting rather than being some glitzed-up marketing package.
She began performing as a young child and claims that she "fell into acting" in the way that only someone who grew up in Los Angeles really can. She was spotted singing at a school concert by an agent and was encouraged to go to some auditions. "I was vehemently turned away from all of the kiddie auditions," says Stewart. "I never got any commercials or anything on the Disney Channel. I was always much too serious."
She started to get some movie roles, including playing Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room. Foster is the actress she is often compared to, but after starring alongside her and studying her every move, Stewart then had to return to school, which she discovered had now become an uncompromising world.
"It was terrible. I hated going back to school. I did Panic Room when I was in the sixth grade. Even though it was just one movie and wasn't a big deal, people would come up and scream at me in the halls. People were actually mean. They weren't nice at all and I got all this attention and so I just changed schools. I thought it was people who I'd grown up with just being rude, but it still continued. Kids are mean. It was terrible."
Aside from Foster, Stewart has worked with Sean Penn on Into the Wild and recently played Robert De Niro's daughter in What Just Happened? -- established figures who, she says, she watches to see exactly how they operate. Despite growing up in LA, as the daughter of an assistant director and a script supervisor, she is still learning what's on offer as an actress.
"Recently, I had a meeting with Warren Beatty about a movie that he wants to do and he said a brilliant thing to me, which he said he had told Jodie. He said, 'Access. You have access to everything now. Use it. Do something. Don't just be an actor.'
"That word now is resonating. Access. I mean, it's true. F***ing actors, man. They can pick up the phone and talk to anybody. It's ridiculous. I don't want to sit on a big pile of f***ing money and not do anything with it."
She has just signed up to play Joan Jett in a movie about The Runaways, where her guitar playing will be tested to the limit. She also begins work on a movie called K-11 next year, which will be directed by her mother. Stewart is looking forward to it, but says it will be a "weird" experience.
She's also learning the hard way about how her life is changing: recently long-lens photographs of her apparently smoking marijuana were posted on the internet, which can't have pleased the film executives who are pitching her as a tween role model.
She is also seeing actor Michael Angarano and is finding out that a relationship such as this, along with her flourishing career, is enough to spark the interest of tabloid editors, who want photos of the couple eating lunch, shopping in the supermarket and any other mundane activity. The plus side is that as soon as Twilight's hardcore following find out, she'll no longer have to deal with those jealous fans.
'Twilight' is in cinemas nationwide from Friday
Film reviews, page 6