"Challenge is my favourite thing in life,” said Kristen Stewart, grinning, her tousled brown hair casually tossed to one side. The Twilight star, sitting on a stage at Comic-Con in San Diego, California, last July, patiently and politely answered questions from the clamouring media pack.
Dressed in her uniform of street cool meets sophisticated luxe (pairing an on-trend fluoro skirt with a cropped white T-shirt and black high-top sneakers), Stewart answered each reporter’s inquiry with a poise that belied her 22 years.
Given that Stewart has spent the better part of the past four years shooting and promoting the Twilight movies, facing a near-constant barrage of repetitive questions about the billion-dollar movie juggernaut (not to mention about her “are they/aren’t they?” chemistry with co-star Robert Pattinson), the actor could be forgiven for greeting another round of media interviews with something less than enthusiasm. But, striding onto the stage in San Diego that day, Stewart radiated cheerfulness, happily opening up about her experience of working on the final installment in Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster series, not a hint of a sulk in sight.
How did filming the Twilight series affect her, one journalist asked.
“Maybe it just affirmed my ideas of why I like to do what I do. You don’t always have to do an indie movie,” explained Stewart, patiently. “But as a person, I could not begin to answer that question right now. It’s so loaded.”
While Stewart struggled to articulate how the global success of Twilight has shaped and defined her life, the mega franchise has unquestionably had an impact. Since day one of Twilight, Stewart and co-star Pattinson have been inextricably linked in the public imagination, the intensely private nature of their off-screen romance only adding to the lustre of their golden couple status.
And Stewart has been inextricably linked, too, with Bella Swan, the schoolgirl-turned-vampire who made her a household name. With the end of Twilight in sight, Stewart told the audience in San Diego that she relished the prospect of spreading her wings and shrugging off any last vestiges of Bella. “The challenge we have ahead of us...I couldn’t ask for more,” she said.
But what no-one in the audience that day could have predicted was the enormous personal challenge Stewart was about to face. Just days later, she would find herself at the centre of a global media storm after paparazzi photographs emerged showing her and married Snow White And The Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders, hugging and kissing. Her public image swung from reluctant starlet to husband-stealing seductress. The reaction from fans at the apparently imminent demise of Robsten was nothing short of distraught – cue sobbing YouTube videos from Twihards and the sort of hysterical outpouring of grief and anger normally reserved for natural disasters or the death of a North Korean dictator.
Stewart responded by releasing a gut-wrenching statement apologising for the affair. She moved out of the LA home she shared with Pattinson.
In the months since, Stewart has had little contact with the press, but interviews she gave just before the scandal broke offered tantalising clues about her private life. Renowned for refusing to talk about anything touching on the personal, Stewart startlingly confided to British Vogue in June: “My God, I’m so in love with my boyfriend. I wish he were here now. I think I want to have his babies. God, I miss him. I love the way he smells. And him me. Like, he loves to lick under my armpits. I don’t get this obsession with washing the smell off; that smell of someone you love.”
Discussing life in general she commented, “You know when your blood pressure goes up and you are excited and you literally reach for your heart? That’s the reason I wanted to make Snow White. It physically felt like the right thing to do.” On working with Sanders she enthused: “Omigod, just, I mean, to die.”
When Stewart sat down for an interview with marie claire before the news of her relationship with Sanders hit the headlines, she professed a fierce sense of independence. “Thankfully I was never told I needed a Prince Charming or anything more than what I already had in me,” she offered. “You have to find your own way in life. I’m not into that rescue stuff.”
During the interview, the looming question for Stewart had nothing to do with the men in her life, but with “What next?” for the actor who has not been out of the spotlight since the first Twilight movie landed in 2008.
“I’m sort of bored now,” she confessed. “I wanna work on something and maybe it doesn’t have to be an acting job. I’ve been hanging out with my dogs and my family and, to be honest with you, I’m still catching up on sleep. I’ve worked for two years solid, literally since Eclipse. But I’m itchy now. I wanna do something.”
Her first shot at redefining her career came in September, with her star turn in the big-screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.
Reminded that she need never work again for the rest of her life, she smiled and said: “Yeah, I know. I’m in an insane position that I would do my job for free and that’s something that a lot of people say, but I actually mean it. But you need to need it or else it’s not worth doing.”
That work ethic can largely be attributed to her upbringing. Raised by industry parents, she did her homework on the sets of her parents’ TV shows, where dad John Stewart worked as a stage manager and her mother, Jules Mann-Stewart – originally from Maroochydore, Queensland – as a script supervisor.
Buying her own house three years ago, Stewart chose to stay close to her parents and brothers in the unfashionable but family-friendly valley side of the Hollywood Hills.
“My parents are really working class. They make movies. I really looked up to them because of that, and always wanted to make movies and be a part of that. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t an actor.
“Growing up, my parents weren’t overtly strict. They let me be who I wanted to be. It’s not like my mum ever sat me down and said, ‘You need to be yourself, Kristen’ or ‘Don’t take any crap, Kristen’, although she did say that to me quite a few times,” she recalled, laughing.
“I thought I was an adult when I was, like, 12. I don’t know why. I’ve never been complacent. I wasn’t brought up that way. I’m the youngest in my family and always felt like I had to take care of my brothers. I’ve always been a worrier. I’ve never been that kid who just doesn’t give a crap about anything, even when I was in kindergarten.”
Stewart admitted she has struggled with the attention fame has brought. “I’m particularly weird because I don’t even like being looked at,” she revealed. “A lot of actors love it and they love going out and literally doing it as an activity. I hate it.”
She spends little time in front of the mirror, leaving it to a six-member prep team to make her red-carpet ready. “I don’t especially enjoy the process, to be honest. I have a lot of actor friends who love getting ready for something just because they feel kind of important. I don’t identify with that. But being in the public eye, I’m expected to look good and I understand that.”
While strutting the red carpet might not be Stewart’s favourite way to spend an evening, her style has matured, the rock-chick standard of jeans and hoodie swapped for a polished and sophisticated wardrobe of sharply cut dresses and jackets. “It took years of my being forced on to the carpets when you have no choice but to do it, until one day you suddenly realise it’s a huge gift,” she said.
That sartorial education looks set to continue. This year, Stewart signed on as the face of Balenciaga’ new women’s fragrance, Florabotanica. In some respects it’s a no-brainer, her dark, rebellious streak pairing nicely with the label’s high-fashion style.
“It was one of those things that just felt right. I’m a huge fan of the fashion world now that I’ve been allowed to be a part of it, even if oftentimes I don’t even know what I’m wearing,” she said indicating her current choice of denim and a faded T-shirt. “But whenever I put on anything by Balenciaga I’m like, ‘Oh, that looks like Balenciaga!’ You can see it, you can pick it out of a rack.”
With the final Twilight instalment in cinemas, the “What next?” question for Stewart has taken on new meaning. Tabloid reports suggest she and Pattinson have rekindled their romance (and that she has bought a $2.2 million home within cooee of his LA mansion), and that she has beaten The Hunger Games actor Jennifer Lawrence in bagging the lead role in Lie Down In Darkness, an adaptation of William Styron’s 1951 novel. But, regardless of her personal life, one thing is certain: Stewart will approach the next chapter of her life with a fierce sense of independence and an unswerving hunger to make movies she is passionate about. As she said recently, “Now, I’m allowed to challenge myself the way I want to.”