In The Cake Eaters, ‘80s movie icon Mary Stuart Masterson tries her hand at feature directing in a delicate little ensemble indie centered around a teenaged girl (Kristen Stewart) in a small town who desperately wants to get the most out of life despite a crippling and life threatening disease. A nervous but game Stewart and her surprisingly funny costar, Aaron Stanford (X2, X Men: The Last Stand), chatted with us about working together on this film, as well as how things have changed in light of Stewart’s recent Twilight-induced superstardom.
The Cake Eaters opens in limited release Friday, March 13, 2009.
I feel like I've been at a Kristen Stewart movie fest. I just saw you in Adventureland and now The Cake Eaters. Which came first?
KRISTEN STEWART: This definitely came first in the succession of films you're talking about and Adventureland I did last year. I think we finished up around October.
Where did you start with this character? Was it with the movements and the voice?
STEWART: I was so intimated by the character that I didn't start any physicality before, literally, the first day of shooting. I just couldn't stop thinking about it. Mary Stuart [Masterson] set me up with a lot of material and information and Sam and Alex Bode. They're two girls that have the disease (Friedreich’s Ataxia) and they were too generous. They're an amazing family. They recorded a lot of video of themselves speaking and Mary Stuart interviewing them. I don't know. I was just sort of obsessed with it for maybe three weeks prior and then delved into it very impulsively. It was just something that I had to wrap my head [around]. I couldn't physically do it until the day we started shooting because it felt cheap like I was faking something and, until it was actually real in the moment we were actually doing it and I was actually portraying this person, like I had to, then it felt right to do it. But, before that, it just didn’t feel right. It felt strange.
One of the reasons this film works so well is because of the way your characters are written and your performances. Aaron, what was your take on your character? He’s very complex but at the same time very simple and sweet.
AARON STANFORD: Beagle is unique. He's definitely an eccentric kind of character. One of the things that struck me about him reading the script was just his purity. He's an incredibly decent and good person. He's the caretaker of his family. He's the youngest and he's the least noticed but he's actually the patriarch. He's the one who does all the work. He's the one who cares for everyone and I feel like, as for his relationship with Georgia, he's also a character with a tremendous amount of love to give and he hadn't ever really found anyone to give it to. Then he finds this other person and it's difficult because of conventional morality. Is she too young? Is this right? Is this wrong? But, the great thing about the relationship between the two of them is it's a situation to which conventional morality does not apply at all because her character is going to die. She only has a limited amount of time in which to live her life so the conventions sort of fly out the window in that situation.
Kristen, did you get to keep any of the beautiful black and white photos that were taken of you for this film?
STANFORD: They were great!
STEWART: Yeah, actually I did. I think I have two of them?
Who took them?
STEWART: She's a friend of Mary Stuart's who did it before we started shooting.
Was that actually you two riding on the scooter and were there any spills?
STANFORD: That was us.
STANFORD: We were worried about taking some spills but, no, we managed.
STEWART: You managed really well.
What was it about the script that made you want to be a part of this project?
STANFORD: I loved a lot of things about it. I loved mainly the characters. They’re pretty amazing, complex and fascinating characters, great relationships and a great story, which is all I need to like a script. I read it, I got invested in it. I started to care about these people and care about what's happening and I'm interested to explore these sort of fractured relationships.
STEWART: It's a really quaint little movie but it is so madly triumphant in a way that there aren’t big story points. It's not like a whole lot happens but, somehow, at the end of the movie, you feel like these people really accomplished something. And, like he said, any time you feel a responsibility for the characters, like you don't want to let them down. Anytime they are whole enough for you to want to give a month of your life to, then, obviously, it's something that you do.
What was it like working with Mary Stuart as a first time director?
STEWART: She didn't seem like a first time director, I can tell you that. Probably because she's been acting since she was much younger than me. She was thirteen or something, maybe even younger. I don't know. She's very -- and this is going to sound way cold – facilitating, like the most nurturing. She really creates an environment for you that you just feel like you're in the best position to give as much as you can possibly give and, it sounds kind of lame, but she's really one of the most amazing role models I've ever had. She's very ambitious and I should learn from that.
Kristen, your character’s hair is long when the film begins, then later, she gets her hair cut. Were you wearing wigs and was that your choice?
STEWART: It was written in the script that there was a haircutting scene, obviously. She was going to have longer hair, then shorter, which meant that I had to have some sort of ‘wigage.’ But, to have it so extreme sort of represented her untouched virginity thing in a very symbolic, heavy way. Yeah, it was intentional. It was in the story, in the script.
Kristen, your character says to Aaron's when you are finally going to make love, "You don't work out much, do you?" [Kristen and Aaron burst into laughter.] You look fine, Aaron, but did you say to yourself, "I'd better not get too ultra buff before doing this movie?”
STEWART: He was trying to look embarrassed.
STANFORD: It wasn't super tough to look like I don't work out. I'm not the most Diesel Guy out there but it was a trick of the light to hide all my ponderous bulk. They put highlighted make-up under all the shadows of my pectoral muscles and six pack. It was a suspension of disbelief. I had to do it, but it was fun. I had a ball. I loved exploring the vulnerability of that and being a man in his 20's who is completely put back into his place by a 15-year-old girl. He wants to shut off the light and hide. It was fun.
Georgia actually looks hungry in that scene.
STANFORD: She has hungry eyes.
STEWART: And we were in the Catskills too, a Dirty Dancing moment.
She's so hungry to have this affirmation of her femininity. How did you get into the mind of that 15-year-old girl and what she was thinking at that moment?
STEWART: I have to say that the movie starts out and her objective is clear. She's definitely after something but I feel like she's smart enough to realize that, if she didn't find in him what she finds, then she wouldn't have gone through with it. I don't think she's just finding a weak person to conquer. They fill each other up in a way they've just never had before. It's hard to define exactly why people click. They find solace in each other. That's the thing. When they're around each other, it's like--whoo.
STANFORD: Yeah, I think you can see that in the moment when he almost leaves and comes back. You just see that. They just hug. They want that connection. They want to be close to each other. It can't just be about a girl wanting to have sex. That may be what begins it but it can't just be about that. Otherwise, it won't mean anything and you can't be invested in it.
STEWART: I totally agree.
You said that your movie Speak had a special place in your heart as it nurtured your fondness of acting. How did this experience compare because this is also a very character-driven piece?
STEWART: Just like every other character-driven piece I've done, it's weird how you change and grow with every movie you do, almost with every day of shooting. It's always surprising and always sort of amazing because it's like “Wow! It's just gonna continue and continue and continue.” I don't know. In a very unspecific way, it was just something I felt very compelled to do and, at the end of it, considering it was so short, I grieved the character for a long time. I held on to her but it's not like I learned. Obviously, I grew as a person. I had some pretty heavy themes and issues running through my head most of the time when we were making the movie. It's a hard subject matter but, as you would imagine, you would grow from something like that.
If you were approached for another role that required specific mannerisms, would you be just as nervous or are you more comfortable with that now?
STEWART: Yeah, I would probably be just as nervous. But, that's sort of what drives you to work so hard. That's why you're doing what you’re doing. It's a driving force. I'm a little bit more ambitious too than I was when I was 16 or 15 or however old I was when we made this. I'm more willing to take on big things.
What was it like between scenes with this interesting cast? Did you guys hang out between scenes or go out together or did you stay away from each other?
STEWART: (kidding) Oh, far, far away. No.
STANFORD: We all hung out. We were up in Hudson, New York. Population 20.
STEWART: It is tiny.
So was there just one restaurant where you ate?
STANFORD: Exactly. We hung out together all the time. It was great to get to know people. Elizabeth Ashley...
She's a character.
STANFORD: Oh yeah and Bruce Dern was fascinating. He's an amazing character. If you put him in a room at a table, you will sit there for the next five days and listen to everything he has to say and be fascinated by it. He's great.
So it was a happy bunch of people?
STANFORD: We had a good time. Yeah.
STEWART: Oh yeah.
What do you hope an audience will take from this film?
STANFORD: That's hard to say. I don't know if it's the sort of film that answers a lot of questions so much as asks a lot of questions. I would just hope that they would see the film and see some way that it relates to their life and somehow get some solace from that or just find something that strikes a chord in them, that moves them, that gives them any kind of emotion or experience or feeling.
STEWART: Like Aaron said. The one thing that the movie has is an unabashedly outward sense of hope. It's a very positive movie which is commendable considering it's about a girl who is gonna die before she reaches the age of normal consensual sex. So, that's a feat in itself. Hopefully [audiences] can take from it real characters that actually affected them and put their faith in characters for a good hour and a half. That says something.
What did you think the title means?
STANFORD: I know it was a whole, huge, big deal during production whether or not they were going to keep it.
STANFORD: Because, there was a line in the original script referring to “the cake eaters.” The cake eaters were the privileged, wealthy class who were on the other side of the tracks, mainly her family, and the title just came from that. I think it was a phrase that (writer) Jayce (Bartok)'s grandmother used to say or something like that. It was a line in the original script and it made sense and I think they just held onto it because they liked it. It was kind of a provocative title. People are going to be asking what the hell it means.
Kristen, is this type of movie more your speed than the blockbusters?
STEWART: No. The process of making the movies, even when they're on a much larger scale, you might not have such a hands on feel that you can have a whole lot to say about what goes on creatively, that doesn't have something to do with your specific story and character. You have a little bit more ownership. You can really own something if there's only a couple of people that care about it and you're all like best friends for that period of time that you're making it and it's your little project. But, it's easier to promote movies like this, as odd as that sounds, but making them, once you've committed to a character and you feel like they're yours and you're responsible for them and that you have to do them justice, it's sort of the same monster.
STANFORD: It depends on what the blockbuster film is. It's case by case. There's a lot of shitty blockbuster films. There’s a lot of shitty little indie films too. And there are great blockbuster films and there are great, tiny, little indie films so it depends on what the project is.
Since the recent interview in Nylon magazine, do you feel like you are playing with fire when you talk about the Twilight fans?
STEWART: No, because I love the Twilight fans. I have literally never said anything remotely negative about them. You have to stay away from certain key words that can be twisted into a negative connotation. Like the word “psychotic” apparently is really bad! I don't understand why. I feel like it's a really humble position to take that it's not normal to find yourself in a situation where there are 5,000 screaming girls and you're literally looked at like you're fodder. I feel like that's not normal and it’s not something I should just say “Oh, yeah. It's really cool. I love 'em.” I feel like everything that I said in that Nylon interview, if you actually read the whole thing, was very honest and genuine and talking about something that I am so immersed in that I have absolutely no control over and I'm just trying to stay honest and true to something that I care about. Yeah, that’s it.
Well, allow me to put your comments in the proper context.
STEWART: Thank you.
When do you start shooting New Moon?
STEWART: Very soon. In a couple of weeks. March 23rd I think is the first official day of shooting.
Are you excited about the next round of the Twilight saga? Is there a part of it you’re looking most forward to shooting?
STEWART: Yeah. It's interesting. It's a completely different story. It entirely undermines the first. Edward is gone and, for me, like that was the whole story. It's hard for me to get past that. I don't know how Bella is going to deal with that but she matures a lot. It's a much more painful story than the first one. It's actually quite devastating. It's a smaller scale as well. She's very solitary for quite a while so that will be interesting. I'm excited about that.
Aaron, your choices from The Hills Have Eyes to X-Men to this are interesting. What do you look for in a project?
STANFORD: As far as my choices go, it's the same answer I give to what attracted me to this script. I try to pick characters that I find interesting and complex and that I feel I can bring something of myself to. There's also the reality of what's available to me and what I'm offered and what I can do. In terms of what's coming up next, I just shot a great little indie called How I Got Lost in New York. It's in post-production. I play an investment banker who finds out his father passed away and he goes on a road trip with his buddy back to St. Louis to go to the funeral but it's very funny. A lot of comedy.
In both this film and Adventureland, you have a relationship with a person that you really shouldn't be with but there’s an attraction. Is it coincidental that those sort of roles just happen for you?
STEWART: Yeah, it's coincidental. That's not a recurring theme in my life. But the stories are so different. In this film, Georgia and Beagle are right for each other. They are very, very right for each other. And, in the case of Adventureland, she's really hurting herself, deliberately hurting herself. That's what she's doing so they're different.
That's a bit of a period piece too.
At the end of this film we’re left with the impression that Georgia and Beagle will keep dating. Or do you think, for her, it's 'mission accomplished' and it's over?
They'll see each other at lunch and forever more....
STEWART: He's going to feed her lunch.
Maybe he’s going to feed her cake?
STANFORD: Whatever flavor Jell-O she wants. It's all hers.
STEWART: That’s the one thing about buying into the name of this movie having cake in it. They're indulging. They are going to indulge themselves. They are going to follow that.
Kristen, your mom will direct you in an upcoming project. Can you talk about that?
STEWART: I've worked on the script with her a little bit so we have delved into it, in that sense of just writing. It's called K-11. This year for me has gotten really insane and absolutely psychotic. But, hopefully, next year, maybe in January, that's when we hope to do the movie. It's about a dorm that isn't widely known called K-11 that is located in L.A. County Jail. It's specifically for people that can't be put into general population and they need to be protected because they would be subject to a lot of danger. They're an eclectic bunch of people. There are famous people, gay people, cross-dressers, trannies and it's a story about a guy who finds himself in that dorm and he integrates himself into this hierarchy and then breaks out of it a couple of weeks later and it's just about that two weeks of his life in this world of really sort of damaged but functioning family of people.
Who do you play?
STEWART: I play a young girl who is not a girl. Her name is Butterfly. She's autistic and that's it. That's Butterfly.