Since wrapping The Twilight Saga in 2012, Kristen Stewart has taken an extended sabbatical from studio blockbusters, instead becoming a regular fixture in the independent and foreign film world with such movies as Still Alice and The Clouds of Sils Maria. Now, the 26-year-old actress is returning to Hollywood, after a fashion, in Woody Allen’s latest feature, Café Society. In the film, which is set in Tinseltown during the glitzy, glamorous 1930s, Stewart plays Vonnie, a secretary at a talent agency run by bigwig Phil Stern (Steve Carell), who also happens to be her lover.
When that tempestuous relationship crashes, Vonnie finds love again in the form of Stern’s young, ambitious nephew Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg)…at least until Phil decides he’s made a horrible mistake by letting her go. With its pointed digs at the superficiality of La-La-Land — not to mention its jaundiced view of love and the lingering sting of roads not taken — Café Society is most definitely a typical Woody Allen version of an atypical Hollywood love story. (It opens in select theaters starting July 15.) Yahoo Movies spoke with Stewart about her first experience working with the iconic New York director and if she ever sees herself returning to present-day Hollywood.
Almost every actor who has worked with Woody Allen has a memorable story about their first day on set. What’s yours?
I honestly have the same story as pretty much everyone else. I thought, “He hates me! He absolutely is regretting his decision.” [Laughs] But then, I was like, “I’m going to prove to this little dude that I can absolutely do this! Maybe I don’t have the demeanor that my character does, but I’ll do it when you f—ing call ‘action.’” That first day, he would come up to me and say things like, “You look terrible. You’re supposed to be pretty.” But it’s not personal, and he’s not trying to offend. If anything, he knows that it’s funny. He’s not the type of person who likes actors who are totally up their own asses and have massive egos. I feel like it was almost a tool for him to go, “If they can take it, they’re cool. And if they can’t, then f— it.”
Did it help to have Jesse Eisenberg as your co-star? He’s worked with Allen before, and you both have acted together in movies like Adventureland and American Ultra.
Jesse’s a very calming presence for me, [because] I can get worked up and overly analytical. And that first day, he definitely told me, “It’s kind of normal. That’s [Allen’s] way.” I’m so lucky he was in this movie with me, because I never feel embarrassed around him. And since I was playing somebody who isn’t like how I am personally, I was allowed to mess everything up [in front of him] and not feel embarrassed about it.
Vonnie has to choose between two very different men in the film, both of whom are eager to marry her. Was it simply a reality of the era she had to end up with one of them, as opposed to pursuing her own path?
I never thought that Vonnie felt she had to do something. The way I saw it and felt it and played it — although I hate that word, because you don’t “play” anything, you just do it — is that she genuinely fell in love with two people. During that time period, if you weren’t married by a certain age, you were not considered a success — you were a failure. But I think Vonnie isn’t super-driven by those details. Maybe it’s hard for you to see why she likes Bobby, but she does. And Phil brings out a different side of her than Bobby. That’s life. It’s okay to have different loves in your life. And that’s a modern notion; it’s a new thing for women to be allowed to say.
The movie takes place when Hollywood was at its most glamorous, but also tries to puncture that glamour a little bit. In fact, Vonnie functions as the voice of the modern viewer at times, pointing out how all the luxurious trappings are ephemeral.
I think there’s been a massive shift in how the public views famous people. They used to [exist] in an untouchable, elevated fantasy. I think people at the time were aware of that, but it was okay because it was fun and felt good. But if that was the most coveted position to be in, people will do anything to get there and that’s totally dark and the opposite of what the [fantasy] is supposed to be. There’s some sordid stuff that went on [back then]. Now, it’s different because there’s no veneer. People are aware that human beings are human beings.
Both Café Society and Olivier Assayas’s thriller Personal Shopper, which you also star in, premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where the latter made headlines for being booed by the press audience. Was that a strange experience?
Yeah, totally. We go [to Cannes] in a bubble of happiness knowing we made the movie we wanted to make, and it’s definitely a more fun experience when other people agree with you. [Laughs] But Personal Shopper is a movie you can’t have an immediate reaction to. If we’ve done our job right, it’s one of those movies where, after its over, you sit in your car with your friend and don’t talk about it right away. People always want to be the one who is allowed to express the first opinion, and when everyone [booed], maybe they were [really saying], “I don’t know how I feel about this!” Or, who knows, maybe they all genuinely hated it. But over the course of that week, [the reaction] changed. It was one of those movies people needed to think about a little bit.
You’ve worked with three very different filmmakers recently: Woody Allen, Olivier Assayas and Drake Doremus, who directed the sci-fi film, Equals. Their films are nothing alike, but did you notice any similarities in their directing styles?
One thing they all share is that if they see you walking towards something, it doesn’t matter to them how you get there. They want to see your process, and once you arrive, you kind of look over your shoulder and go, “Oh my god —you’ve put me here!” And they’re like, “No, you’ve walked there yourself.” And that’s a great feeling.
But style-wise, they’re very different. Woody doesn’t discuss a whole lot; all of the work is in the script, then he gives it to you straight up and wants you to own it. Drake is all about process and doesn’t care about dialogue at all. He’s very meditative; with him, it’s not about structuring scenes, it’s about falling into something, dusting it off and realizing what it is. Olivier is able to do both at the the same time. He’s a nutcase. When I read Personal Shopper, I was like, “You wrote that?” It’s a crazy movie.
You’ve made a very conscious decision to pursue smaller movies since the Twilight franchise wrapped up. Do you ever see yourself returning to the big-budget realm again?
I would love to be inspired by a big budget movie enough to sign on to it. I’m waiting! My approach is to invest time in things that are really unrelated to the size of it. It’s what’s inside of it [that counts]. The Twilight thing started off small and then got bigger, but [what was inside it] was always the same.
If they ever rebooted Twilight, would you consider coming back in some way?
To be honest, we kind of told that story. We made five of them, so maybe not! [Laughs]