Kristen Stewart accepts the American Riviera Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is known as a critical stop during Oscar season, as it honors artists who delivered some of the best work from the previous year, most of whom also come into the festival freshly Oscar-nominated, so it offers a chance for their campaigns to shift into high gear.
One of the actors vying for Oscar who is being honored this year by SBIFF is Kristen Stewart, who last night was presented with the Festival’s American Riviera Award. Moderated by IndieWire’s Anne Thompson, the evening comprised of a conversation between Thompson and Stewart that took the actress through her career, from her big screen debut opposite Jodie Foster as a 12-year old in David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002), all the way to last year’s Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s haunting exploration of Princess Diana’s inner turmoil during her last days of her marriage to Prince Charles, for which Stewart has garnered her very first Oscar nomination, for Best Actress.
Stewart, whose parents were both in the business, grew up around movies and on sets, and she said the first thing she remembered about that was wanting to “pilfer stuff from craft service.” She found herself being jealous of her parents, who got to be on set every day, but her mother tried to talk her out of a life as an actress, citing her intense shyness and worried that she wouldn’t be able to survive. But Stewart fell in love with movies and acting anyway, saying that, even from a young age, she knew, “I never want to not be an actor.”
Regarding her first major feature film, Panic Room, for which she was cast by David Fincher, Thompson asked Stewart about having worked briefly with Nicole Kidman, who was originally cast in the role that eventually would be put onto film by Jodie Foster. Stewart says she thinks she only filmed one scene with Kidman before Foster replaced her, and it was the scene where they were eating pizza. “All I remember is getting to eat pizza twice. Once with Nicole, once with Jodie.” Stewart was just 12, and it was her first major feature film, and even Jodie Foster echoed Stewart’s mother’s feelings, telling Stewart, “This isn’t for you.” Stewart feels that Foster assumed Stewart would move to working behind the camera instead of in front of it, but Stewart then admitted that it’s just that feeling of being uncomfortable that she craves in front of the camera: “I’m a masochist. I love how much it hurts.”
As they moved through Stewart’s career, clips of some of her films were shown to the packed house. Regarding Into the Wild (2007), which was directed by Sean Penn, Stewart noted the thing she remembered most about that shoot was the rogue, crazy style Penn had for shooting, which has really stuck with her. Discussing Adventureland (2009), she praised co-star Jesse Eisenberg, saying, “He’s my man.” Stewart noted that she and Eisenberg were perfectly matched, onscreen and off, as she noted, “he had a lot of anxiety. That’s why we were so good together.”
As the conversation moved to the Twilight (2008) series of films, for which Stewart gained worldwide fame and adoring fans, many of whom expressed their full-throated delight whenever the vampire series was mentioned, Thompson asked Stewart about the life-changing fame that came seemingly overnight from the film’s success. The one moment that stands out for her is the photograph that was taken of her two days before the movie’s premiere, where she was sitting on her porch with her dog, “smoking a bowl,” and she realizes that was the moment it all changed.
When asked about her choices after Twilight, Stewart said, “I’ve taken a lot of pride in being spastic and not tactically maneuvering.” She chose projects that spoke to her in some way, making films because she wanted to, not because she had to. She had the luxury of being able to make small, independent films, including The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), directed by French director Olivier Assayas, for which Stewart was the first American actress ever to win the Cesar Award, the French equivalent of the Oscar. Of that film, Stewart says it all felt very organic, as she says, “I was in a stage in my life when I wasn’t learning lines,” and that helped the film, as she wanted the character to feel lived in. They did not rehearse and she attributes Assayas’s ability to tap into the female feeling to her success in the film.
She worked with Assayas again on Personal Shopper (2016), another of Stewart’s critically-praised indie films. When asked about its spiritual and metaphysical vibe, Stewart reflected, “the fact that it’s impossible to put words to it IS the movie.”
She didn’t stay away from big-budget studio films all the time, however, as Thompson noted her appearance in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). Despite all the tabloid gossip that chased her after the film, Stewart’s love for the film itself hasn’t diminished, “I loved making Snow White!” She also noted, with a grin, “it’s not the smaller [films] that are treacherous, it’s the big ones.”
Stewart’s sensitivity played a larger role when she shot The Runaways (2010), in which she portrayed rock and roll icon Joan Jett. Jett was on set every day and Stewart instantly noticed how perfect the casting was, “She’s every sensitive and tender, and so am I.” Stewart recalled a time when she and Jett actually fought over who was going to protect the other more. “I got you.” “No, I got YOU!”
When asked about the widely publicized moment in 2018 when, as a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, she famously went barefoot on the red carpet, a strict no no, as all women are required to wear heels, Stewart insists she was not trying to consciously make a statement, it was simply, “my feet hurt.” She does admit that even though it wasn’t conscious at the time, she has gotten to own it and has no problem with people thinking it was meant as a statement.
But perhaps Stewart’s biggest statement film was her role in Clea Duvall’s, Happiest Season (2020), a gay Christmas movie made by a major studio, that was incredibly successful. When asked about how great it was to see that boundary being broken, Stewart noted, as a gay woman playing a gay woman, “it felt good for me too.” She said the atmosphere at that time was welcoming and she was so proud to have done it.
Finally arriving at Spencer, Stewart noted that playing Princess Diana was such a thrill, because “she is so alive.” The character has a delicacy and a strength that really appealed to Stewart. But she did acknowledge that playing her did play into her addiction to things that are scary, noting, “It was scary because she is so cool.” She cited Diana’s undeniable energy, saying, “she’s impossible to not absorb. You would have to be a sociopath to not love her.”
Regarding her Oscar nomination for the role in Spencer, her first, Stewart admitted “I was SHOCKED. Stunned.” She admitted that she assumed she’d never be part of the club, “I never saw myself in this realm. I don’t always say the right things.”
Stewart noted she has just finished shooting Crimes of the Future with David Cronenberg, which, she noted, the cast would get together every night after shooting for dinner and ask each other, “what is this about?” She also just finished casting her directorial debut, The Chronology of Water, and, even though she can’t announce it yet, she promises we will all be very excited about it, as she is.
As the conversation ended, it was time to present the Festival’s Riviera Award to Stewart, and Thompson introduced Stewart’s friend and Snow White and the Huntsman co-star, Charlize Theron, to present her the award. Theron gave a warm and friendly homage to her friend, citing her favorite story about Stewart where she would self-admonish after a bad take by cursing like a sailor—which she would do over and over again. Stewart accepted the honor gracefully, acknowledging NEON, her team and everyone in the crowd for being there. Next stop, Oscar.
While the festival is always a star-studded affair and a top stop as we head into awards season, its most important aspect is its year-round contribution to the Santa Barbara community, as well as its support for the film industry at large. The funds raised through the festival and affiliated events are vital to the community, providing direct support for SBIFF’s plethora of free programs that serve over 14,000 people annually and reach some of the most vulnerable members of society – including at-risk and underserved youth, low-income families and their children, cancer patients, and transit-dependent senior citizens. SBIFF screens Academy fare in the Arthouse theater throughout the year, even throughout the pandemic, to encourage people to come back to the theater in a safe way.
The festival joined with Direct Relief to deliver aid to Ukraine, which has already surpassed $86K just a few days into the festival! See the link to the fundraiser below.
Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF