Hit or miss, ‘Twilight’ is actress Kristen Stewart’s big break

[17 November 2008]

By John Anderson

Newsday (MCT)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - The love-after-death movie “Twilight” is going to be so huge it would take a stake through the heart to stop it. And the reasons seem so obvious they make you say, “D’oh!”: A heavily computer-generated, blood-flecked, teenage soap opera set in the hormonal chaos of high school. A ready-made fan base of rabid Gothic/chick-lit readers cultivated by Stephenie Meyer’s four-book series. And a not-so-secret weapon named Kristen Stewart.

The actress, who is just old enough to have voted in the recent election, is no newcomer. “If that were the case,” she says, “I’d be tripping.” No, her filmography began when she was 11 (in “The Safety of Objects”), and her roles include playing Jodie Foster’s daughter in “Panic Room” (2002), making a big splash in the adventure “Catch That Kid” (2004) and being the best thing in several movies (including last year’s “The Messengers”).

MOVIES WITH SOME BITE The vampire has been the type O-positive of movie characters - useful, but far from rare. The result have been, supernaturally enough, a mixed bag of the undead, some biting, some toothless. NOSFERATU (1922) - The landmark bloodsucking thriller, and still profoundly creepy, this was an unlicensed version of the Bram Stoker novel “Dracula” directed by the great German neo-expressionist F.W. Murnau, later played by John Malkovich in E. Elias Merhige’s great “Shadow of a Vampire,” in which Willem Dafoe played actor Max Shreck - the name of Murnau’s star (and, much later, the name of Christopher Walken’s villain in “Batman Returns”). The interconnections get as complicated as a cardiovascular system. DRACULA (1931) - The screen adaptation of the stage version that made Bela Lugosi famous (partly because women would faint during performances). A movie that retains much of its Gothic unease, not because of Lugosi’s performance (which has long since passed into caricature), but because of the unearthly atmosphere created by notorious director Tod Browning (“Freaks”). DRACULA (1958) - Christopher Lee as the count, in a film that led to seven sequels and its own genre of vampire thrillers. LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979) with George Hamilton and DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT (1995) with Leslie Nielsen - Comedies representing the reductio ad absurdum of the genre. HABIT (1997) - A New York-centric ghoul movie, one of several that found in the vampire tradition a modern metaphor (for sex, AIDS and the contemporary condition). Director Larry Fessenden plays an East Village denizen who picks up a girl, only to find out he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Or something. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) - The most recent entry, but a great one: 12-year-old Oskar is a bullied loner who finds friendship in Eli, a girl with an insatiable appetite for human blood. Currently on screen and one of the year’s best.

But “Twilight” promises something new and presumably wonderful. Adapted from the Meyer books by Melissa Rosenberg - rest assured, there will be sequels - “Twilight” is set in the Pacific Northwest village where Bella Swan (Stewart) has come to stay with her police chief father (Billy Burke) and become reacquainted with a town filled with people she hasn’t seen in years - and others, the likes of which she’s never seen.

They are namely, the Cullens, an ad-hoc family of white-complected, crazy-eyed outsiders who are accepted, more or less, by the rest of the student body (sort of the way Michael Jackson might be, should he re-enroll in high school).

From the moment they meet, Bella and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) walk a razor’s edge between attraction and loathing, and experience a magnetism so strong it repels. Ultimately, in a process that develops more quickly than it does in the books, Bella is exposed to the Cullen family and their unorthodox dining habits.

Director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) employs enough violence and gymnastics, both real and computer-generated, to keep boys interested (“It wasn’t until I was up in the air that I realized I was so uncoordinated,” said co-star Nikki Reed). And unlike most movie shoots, the absence of light was an asset. “The production was very weather-dependent,” said Peter Facinelli, who plays clan chief Dr. Carlisle Cullen. “As soon as we had clouds, we had to go.”

The undead, as we all know, abhor direct sunlight.

But the movie is a romance, one that serves as an exalted metaphor for the hysteria of adolescence.

“In my role, I’m a child,” said Stewart. “He’s not - he’s 108 years old. But I’m playing a child who has never had to give as much as she’s giving to another person and sometimes that did feel entirely goofy.”

The full-blooded dialogue of “Twilight” does, at times, feel a bit engorged.

“Sometimes, I’d be like, ‘This is crap. This is the worst, most trite piece of crap I’ve ever done in my life,”” Stewart said, laughing. “I love the books, but trying to do it in real life, it doesn’t translate.”

Stewart is among that rare group of actresses who are more beautiful in person than on film. Her eyes suggest the flashing lights on a Bluetooth. She also wears her recently acquired adulthood like a pair of boots she’s breaking in.

“It’s just that, as an actress, you’re so self-conscious and exposed,” she said. “This was something Catherine helped me with a lot. But when you’re expressing the most wrenching emotions that a person can feel, in words, sometimes the best way to do it is the most simple way. What are you thinking? ‘I want to die for you!’ ‘I love you!’ ‘You’re beautiful!’ I was like, ‘Come on! That’s not what you’d say!’ But in this case, it is. And it was so much more effective because of that.”

As unguarded as Stewart seems to be about the content of “Twilight,” she’s utterly realistic about what it’s going to do for her career.

“It’s the first movie I’ve done that has gotten so much notice,” she said. “And it doesn’t even have to be good. If the movie flops, we’ll get just as much press for like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that movie was horrible and it flopped.’ You know?”

She sits up. “This makes my life a lot easier, in a way. I’m not going to have to say, ‘Oh, I want to do that movie so bad, but they have no money and I’m going to be too old by the time they get the money and I’m not going to be able to play the part.’ That’s not the case now - I get to do things I’m really passionate about.”

But that’s not what people want to know from an actress who’s been working all her short life for a chance like “Twilight.” It’s all suddenly become more immediate, and a little scary.

“If this were my first movie, I would not be able to handle this, I don’t think,” she says. “I have a couple more posts on IMDB now, or a few more photos on Wireimage, but what else does it do for me, besides facilitate me making the next movie I want to make? Nothing.”

But isn’t that something? “It’s everything!” she says. “It’s totally everything, but that’s not what people want to know. They don’t care. ‘How does it feel?’ It doesn’t feel like anything. ‘Wow, this is an exciting time for you ... ’ Yeah. My movie’s coming out. I’m working on something else now.”

At least until the next round of “Twilight.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/65789-hit-or-miss-twilight-is-actress-kristen-stewarts-big-break/