Kristen on her Twilight years
As her name is immortalised in Hollywood, Kristen Stewart tells Will Lawrence how playing Bella has helped her grow up and opened up a world of opportunity
Twilight star Kristen Stewart is one of the most famous 21-year-olds in the world, and her fame shows no sign of abating. Earlier this month she followed the likes of Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe when having her name immortalised on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"The Walk of Fame thing felt a little bit ridiculous," she begins, with an air of abashment. "You're sticking your hands into the cement, and I've got tiny little young hands, and there were people screaming."
She smiles coyly, before suddenly flooding with excitement -- she is still young, after all. "Also, it felt awesome," she beams. "It was really special in a way, especially because I've grown up in the business, and it's really my whole life and a lot to do with my family's life. It was the coolest thing that will probably ever happen to me."
Stewart's path to international stardom began when she was cast as Bella Swan in 2008's Twilight, the first in a series of adaptations drawn from the wildly popular teen vampire novels by Stephenie Meyer.
The fourth instalment in the five-movie franchise, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, opens today, and with the first three films -- Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse -- having already raked in more than $1.8bn in worldwide cinema- ticket sales, fans are expected to pack multiplexes across the globe.
"The energy has been absolutely fantastic, and you would have to be a sociopath not to feel it," Stewart says of the franchise euphoria, "and it's amazing to share something that you love with millions of people. It is not an opportunity that many people get to have."
She has been working on Twilight since she was 17, "and the weird thing about it is that sometimes as an actor you start to feel a little cuckoo", she concedes. "Because although I am not Bella, it does feel as though she is a real person, that I am responsible for and to. And so when you get a little bit of recognition for the films, it's like, 'Oh gosh, wow, somebody else feels the same'."
Judging by the franchise popularity -- 25 million Twilight DVDs and Blu-ray discs have sold in America alone -- plenty of people feel the same; Bella has emerged as an icon of teenage popular culture. She has also helped Stewart develop into an adult. "I think Bella made me feel okay about not knowing why I feel things, and giving myself time to realise exactly what it is that is evoking such emotion at times," she says, "and just knowing that it's going to take time to find words sometimes."
Throughout the Twilight series, Stewart's character has tussled with all sorts of heartache, finding herself ensconced at the centre of a love triangle and battling a whole series of conflicting emotions.
"That's basically the journey that Bella takes in the whole series," Stewart adds. "She's got a feeling that is so strong, yet everyone is against her."
The first Breaking Dawn movie sees the three main characters -- Bella, hunky vampire Edward Cullen (played by English heartthrob Robert Pattinson), and even hunkier Native American-slash-werewolf Jacob (played by American Taylor Lautner) -- continue on their journey into adulthood, beginning during the busy final days before Bella and Edward's wedding.
If she's to consummate her love with Edward, however, Bella must undergo quite an ordeal.
"It seems incredibly farfetched, but the clarity that she reaches in this movie is so satisfying," says Stewart. "Nowadays, I think that can also relate to that feeling. I find words much easier now, and talking about certain things." Stewart is a far more comfortable interview subject than once she was, although she still finds it impossible to talk about her love life.
Ever since the first film opened, rumours abounded about her relationship with on-screen lover Robert Pattinson, something that was confirmed when Stewart spoke recently about her "English boyfriend" during a photo-shoot for a monthly magazine, without realising that the journalist's recording device was still present, and turned on. "I just never see the point of discussing my personal life," she says. "I don't see how that benefits me."
Whatever the interest in their relationship off-screen, there is no doubt that Pattinson and Stewart have developed as actors on screen. "Just as with any experience, you are going to get better," Stewart says. "I hold every character I've ever played very close to me. I can go back in time almost and remember why they have affected me. It's a feeling that's very identifiable."
Stewart's career stretches back to 1999, and she shot a major motion picture when she was nine, appearing as Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room. She first felt a real connection with her craft, however, when shooting the dark 2004 drama, Speak, in which she plays a young girl whose traumatic experiences lead her to selective muteness.
"I was 13 when I did Speak," Stewart says. "I had been working since before then and I loved it, but I wasn't doing it for the same reasons. I thought it was fun when I was younger, and I just really liked having a job. I grew up on a movie set with my parents and so, when suddenly they turned to me and I had a responsibility, I loved that. But when I did Speak it sort of found its way into my head in a different way than I had experienced before."
With her career taking off at such a tender age, Stewart's full-time education in California tailed off a year later. Her parents knew the film business -- her father, John Stewart, having worked as a stage manager and television producer, while her mother, Jules Mann-Stewart, working as a script supervisor -- and permitted her to conclude her high-school education via a correspondence course.
She is a keen guitar player -- strumming her six-string in two different films, Into the Wild and The Runaways -- and an avid reader, citing Jack Kerouac's On the Road as her favourite book. In between the Twilight films, meanwhile, she has advanced her career critically, seeking interesting independent projects, playing a stripper in Welcome to the Rileys and a rocker in The Runaways. "That's been another of the great things about making the Twilight movies," she says. "It lets me do other films that otherwise I might not get, or which might not get made at all."
After Breaking Dawn, she will return to screens next year with a highly personal project, having bagged a role in an adaptation of On the Road, directed by Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles. "I am playing Marylou and I was totally freaking about it," she says. "Nobody has ever tried to make it into a film and yet, reading the book, it is insanely iconic. A friend introduced me to it when I was 14 and I have read it a couple of times."
Stewart, meanwhile, is currently hard at work on Snow White and the Huntsman, one of a number of live-action fairy-tale adaptations that open next year. The studio bankrolling this action-packed adventure hope it'll prove a dark and tempting piece, which could evolve into another franchise.
"It could," she concurs. "I've not been so happy in a really long time, so I would be happy to continue [with Snow White]. She is an incredible character and I love her. She's really affected me again, she's really gotten to me." Stewart smiles. "I couldn't even step on a bug right now."
Breaking Dawn: Part 1 opens in cinemas today
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