The erstwhile teen star has been coming into her own for a couple of years and is primed to hit another creative milestone.
Being able to seamlessly evolve from headlining one of Hollywood’s largest teen franchises to becoming an auteur’s muse (in the most proactive way possible) is no mean feat. Yet, Kristen Stewart perfectly made just that leap and continues to map out one of the coolest career trajectories that many young people in the film industry can only dream of.
Stewart captivated audiences in two Olivier Assayas films, has worked with other big-name directors such as Ang Lee, and proved herself to be a promising director with her first short film, Come Swim. The grind doesn’t stop for her, though, and this year Stewart is prepping to take on an exhilarating new venture once her work on the main competition jury at the Cannes Film Festival is out of the way. Namely, she wants to direct her first feature film.
In an interview published on the festival’s official website, Stewart says she is focused on getting her feature debut off the ground. She is in the process of penning the screenplay to an adaptation of Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Chronology of Water,” which she plans to direct after finding the right star. Surprisingly, she’s not putting herself in the lead role.
“The Chronology of Water” is a memoir that highlights how addiction, sexuality, violence, and family intersect unpredictably and explosively. Yuknavitch escapes an abusive home life via a swimming scholarship, although she loses it due to drug and alcohol addiction. She also comes to terms with her developing attraction to both men and women. However, her existing grief only serves to complicate her relationship with that identity. It is only after Yuknavitch carves out a fulfilled career as a writer and a teacher and starts a family herself that she begins to heal.
For Stewart, the job of adapting Yuknavitch’s story is both a personal journey and a creative challenge due to the fact that she will be encapsulating someone she identifies with so much into a character for the big screen. There seems to also be a social responsibility in her drive to bring “The Chronology of Water” to life as well: she just really wants to do a total badass justice. Stewart says:
“I love [Yuknavitch’s] novels but her memoirs… it’s deeply personal to her. She’s in my blood and I knew that before I met her. As soon as I met her it was like we started this race without any sense of competition. I’m making the movie this summer but other than that, my only goal is just to finish the screenplay and hire a really spectacular actor: I’m going to write the best fucking female role. I’m going to write a role that I want so badly but that I’m not going to play.”
It is admittedly wonderfully fulfilling to finally see Stewart be this effervescent about her work. Her Cannes interview is all about getting real about her place in the film world at large, but she’s clearly having the time of her life now. Overall, her mantra is very simple: freedom is what she’s after. Stewart is treating Cannes like a “10-day film school” that celebrates the craft of filmmaking that balances emotional resonance and intellectual stimulation. That kind of voracious appetite for cinema signals that, for Stewart, filmmaking is deeply intuitive. This, in turn, makes her first feature all the more appealing.
Her superb connection to Assayas while making both Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper has been attributed – by the director himself – to their symbiotic partnership in the filmmaking process. Stewart wasn’t just an actor on set but one of Assayas’s “co-directors.” She, in turn, credits him for ensuring that she had the perfect environment to fearlessly blossom as a performer, which was a liberty she barely had as a teen star:
“That space is something he gives me. I made five movies in which I felt the opposite of free. I think an environment that gives you the room to create something unexpected actually takes a huge amount of planning and preparation, and a brilliant mind who knows how to put it all together and make sure everything’s working together as it should. Once you have all those ingredients in place, you create space that actually provides you with the room to completely lose control.”
Stewart may be praising a collaborator for his generosity and studiousness, but perhaps she has employed similar tactics in her own filmmaking. The above quote also makes me think of her own utterly electric short film (which you can watch below). Come Swim is the definition of something that is narratively assured yet emotionally out of control. The film has a simple narrative about coping with anxiety and heartbreak, yet it depicts anxiety itself with gusto, using various techniques to portray such untethered emotions.
Stewart professes that Come Swim, which is a diptych of abstract images and realistic portraits, is “the most satisfying thing I have ever done,” and it’s easy to see why; it’s unsettling in all the right places. Stewart notes that she could have played the lead character in the short too, and “wanted to so badly.” However, its star, who is one of Stewart’s friends, perfectly captures the joint nature of normalcy amidst chaos that is the main ethos of Come Swim.
This bodes well for Stewart’s feature film debut. Although an adaptation of “The Chronology of Water” will be based on someone’s true story, there is potential for her to get under our skin with something more cerebral and experimental.
That kind of fluidity is also present in the acting projects that Stewart is willing to take, even if she hasn’t starred in anything of her own yet. She clarifies the conscious decision to project a sense of androgyny to her character in Personal Shopper and would apparently jump at the chance to play a man given her own flexible perspective on gender: “Gender is a bit of a myth if you ask me. Everyone’s individual relationship with gender is totally theirs to define. But I really think because of the flexibility inherent to gender, there’s room for all types of approach.”
Stewart is “far from” the stardom of her younger days, and that is not to say that we’re leaving her behind. On the contrary, it’s fascinating just how much she’s changed before our eyes in the best way possible, a fact that’s made more remarkable by her young age. Every single choice she’s made in recent years has been grounded in complexity; between signing on to star as Jean Seberg in an upcoming biopic and tackling her own complicated heroine in adapting “The Chronology of Water.” Stewart’s delightfully weird and challenging approach to acting and directing makes her an industry professional to watch. We’re in this for the long haul.