Kristen Stewart is one of the best actresses of her generation, and if you’ve seen any of her films in the past five years you’ll know the fact is undeniable. And yet, people still need to be convinced. Stewart has worked some of the best filmmakers of the 21st century, including David Fincher, Olivier Assayas and Ang Lee; with Café Society she adds Woody Allen to the list. It’s a perfect fit.
In Café Society, Stewart plays Vonnie, a 1930s denizen of Hollywood who no longer sees the shine in Tinseltown, so instead takes a shine to a newbie in town (Jesse Eisenberg) — while also hiding the fact that she’s been seeing his married uncle (and her boss) on the side (Steve Carell). Café Society hinges on whether or not you ache for Eisenberg and Stewart to get together, but you will. Allen, who worked with Eisenberg on To Rome with Love, smartly went for chemistry where it already existed, as Stewart and Eisenberg’s spark and allegiance to one another was apparent in their two previous (doomed) couplings in Adventureland and American Ultra.
Recently, I sat down with Stewart to talk about working with Allen, the shooting process, and her future projects. I came away admiring her attention to the filmmaking process, with her comments being every bit as insightful on what she wants from films as a director would provide for their own movie.
I’m a big fan of you and Jesse as a coupling. It’s so natural. I also think that American Ultra was one of the most under-heralded romances last year.
KRISTEN STEWART: Aww, thank you. [whispers] People didn’t like it. I really dug it, not to say everyone should, but it was cute right?
I mean, some if it was quite touching, I thought.
STEWART: People were oddly mad at it.
People get mad at the stupidest things, like it’s a jab at the Jason Bourne amnesia spy, but it’s also just a really fun romance with some knockdown drag-out fights. It’s harmless. Anyway, you guys have such a natural ease in relationships in movies, from love to jealousy and hurt, how are you able to slip back into that so easily with each other?
STEWART: Yeah, you just have that with some people and with some people you don’t. I wouldn’t say we speak the same language, because we’re actually very different, but I feel like he sees me. I’m never worried that I haven’t conveyed myself to him. You always want to be understood by people that you talk to, by the people you associate with, work with, love, are friends with, etc. I feel like, with Jesse, I could say the opposite of how I felt and he would know that that was a lie. You know what I mean? And that’s just immediately a good relationship, that’s someone you should be working with if you’re an actor. I can totally humiliate myself around him and not care, I can just be embarrassing and stupid. He’s really smart and not a dick about it, it’s not off-putting but he’s so intelligent that it’s crazy. Anyway, he’s rad. I love him.
I hope you guys continue, and become the Woody (Allen) and Diane (Keaton) of this generation.
STEWART: He’s directing now, I mean, he should hire me. [laughs]
We read a lot about how secretive Woody Allen is with the scripts he sends out. How much did you know about Vonnie before you signed on?
STEWART: Luckily he let me read it. I auditioned for the part and then before it all became official someone was sent to the house with the scripts, sat outside for an hour while I read it, and I gave it back and said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” That policy is not maybe so staunch anymore. I didn’t ask [to read first], I said, “I’ll definitely audition but in no way can I tell you that I will do something if I don’t even know what you’re asking me to do.” You know what I mean? But yes I read it before.
The whole thing, not just your own character’s scenes?
STEWART: The whole thing. There definitely were actors on the movie who didn’t know what we were doing. They were given their scenes only. They were always asking questions about the plot.
So did you fuck with anyone?
STEWART: [laughs] We didn’t. We could’ve, I know. That actually would have been funny. Jesse could’ve, for sure.
You’ve worked with so many amazing directors throughout your whole career. How does Woody’s process or Woody’s set compare to others?
STEWART: It’s very, very casual. There’s not like this charged energy. And I know maybe it would be different on another movie, this one’s has a poignancy that hits you in retrospect.
Watching it, I agree. I felt warmer about the film the more I thought about it.
STEWART: Yeah, it’s like moments pass you by kind of casually and then you stop and [question] “oooh, wait what?” And that’s kind of how it felt on set as well, which is surprising because his movies are very particular when it comes to language and when it comes to themes. None of it is talked about, we didn’t discuss or rehearse anything [specific]. I think he does most of his work in the writing and he assumes that you can interpret it.
This is the first time he’s shot digitally. I don’t know if you went from this film to Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk or not, but what was it like going from a great director who’s learning how to use digital and then Ang Lee, who is literally redefining what filmmakers can do with digital (by shooting at 120 frames per second)?
STEWART: I did Ang Lee’s thing before [Café Society]. It was so trippy to be on the set of Billy Lynn because I’m so obsessed with the process and I’m so in the elements. I feel like a fish in water on a movie set and on that I was looking around [wondering] what the fuck is going on? I didn’t know what the camera looked like beforehand. There were two lenses and everyone’s wearing glasses. It was bizarre. I didn’t know how I was being perceived, I had no idea what area I was fitting myself into. I cannot wait to see [how he described what we’ll see], because he watches movies nowadays and says that it’s like he’s watching reality TV. He can’t get close enough because it just looks fake to him. For him, there’s a huge distance and he’s hoping to close that distance. What he’s doing is crazy revolutionary. [It will be] more information than you ever received in a given second, ever. And other than being alive in the world with eyes, looking at an image, a flat image, in that way, it’s pretty cool.
Talking about process and going back to Café Society, I didn’t know this before I saw it so seeing his name in the credits was a pleasant shock, but Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Dick Tracy) shot this and for (Allen’s) first digital film—that’s amazing!
STEWART: Woody said there’s no difference. Literally, I’ve heard Woody say, [imitating Allen], “the camera makes no difference to me. I shoot. I put the camera where I want to put the camera and it’s just like film, it’s just cheaper.” He’s very practically inclined. He’s like, it looks the same. I think it doesn’t, but ok.
Well, this one did look a lot like film, just the way that Vittorio lit it to have a constant glow that typically responds very well to film negatives. As someone who likes to observe process, what was it like observing him work? He’s a master.
STEWART: He paints with light, it’s crazy. The lights are hot, they were HOT and that was typically when we were shooting in Hollywood because in New York it was lit quite differently. DP’s are like dancers, just truly when I know that there’s no way that I’m ever gonna be dropped on my ass, that’s a good DP. There’s a lot of trust and obviously he’s great. He was very composed. The movie is simple, it’s very simple, it’s really traditionally captured. That was interesting because recently I’ve been working with people who want to skew everything because we’re younger and we’re like “wait, we have to do something different.” But it was nice to see something receive some standard coverage on sticks; let the scene play out, don’t cut it up too much. That was really fun to live in for a period. Also he’s just an encouraging presence… you know what I mean? He’s nice and that’s like a huge fucking part of the job, actually.
Right. I guess the scene that stood out the most was in Jesse’s apartment when the lights go out and the candle comes in. Was that a very long process to set up or was that as natural as everything else your describing? Because it looked amazing.
STEWART: Oh gosh, that scene. It really did look amazing. It felt good, I knew it was gonna be really beautiful when I was there, but we shot that scene so quickly. I think they shot another scene that day when the prostitute (Anna Camp) comes in and [Jesse’s] like, “get out of here.” That candlelit scene was [snaps fingers] really quick. His whole team, we had one of the best operators I’ve ever worked with. But that’s what Woody wanted with digital, something fast, and Vittorio made it look really fucking good.
It’s shot differently in LA and New York, like you mentioned. Los Angeles is so glowing and glistening and New York is so steely and cold. I moved to New York in the past year from LA. The places are entirely different, both their positives and their negatives are opposite, it makes sense to give it that visual look that they’re entirely different. Do you have a New York/LA preference yourself?
STEWART: I have like a split personality. Literally all of me prefers New York and all of me prefers LA. I’m very lucky that I get to have both. I’m a different person in New York than I am in LA. I go outside in New York and… this will sound so fucking cheesy, but I actually feel like anything’s possible. It’s super alive. I walk out and I’m like, “wow, anything can happen right now, I can fucking run into anyone. I can meet whoever.” In LA it’s slightly more self-conscious. It’s much more self-conscious, actually. It’s kind of stifled but at the same time it has a dreamy sprawl that I love. I’m from there too so it’s home, ultimately.
I loved Clouds of Sils Maria so I’m really looking forward to your reunion with Olivier Assayas in Personal Shopper. The press loves to report on boos from Cannes, and so that was the headline, but then Assayas won Best Director from the jury. What would you like tell people about that film who only read the “boo” headlines?
STEWART: If I was a journalist who wanted people to click on my article I would say “Kristen Stewart Gets Booed at Cannes”. That’s exactly what I would publish to get people to click on the article, you know. I think Personal Shopper takes a minute to digest. I think that initial, quick reaction is something people at film festivals feel entitled to, because they’re allowed to have the first opinion. And when they didn’t know how they felt they just say “NO”. This movie is definitely not handed to you. You see a movie and you walk out with a friend, whoever you’ve seen it with and you’re quiet and you don’t talk about it maybe until tomorrow. That’s the kind of movie that it is.
That’s my preference.
STEWART: Yeah, me too. I was so okay with the polarized response because the movie’s fucking weird. We were kind of insulated and totally aware that that was probably what was gonna be the reaction but I’m gonna have to be dead honest and say that it felt amazing when we got to the premiere and actually people responded to it and liked it. I could see on people’s faces confusion and personal reflection. I was like OK, we made a movie that makes people feel something and think something and that’s better than the quick, “that was fun, I approve.”
Café Society opens in theaters on July 15.