In the opening scene of “The Clouds of Sils Maria”, presented at the end of the 67th Cannes Festival last Friday, Kristen Stewart’s character, Val, is clearly stressed-out. As the train snakes up the winding mountain route of the Swiss Alps, Val is juggling with her multiple jangling cell phones, cursing the bad connection, and trying to deal with the barrage of undesirable media, pestering directors and dramatic news that will dramatically change her entire schedule.
In the film, Stewart plays the part of a low-key bespectacled personal assistant to the glamorous Maria Enders, a fortyish famous actress, brilliantly portrayed by Juliette Binoche. It’s Val’s job to arrange every infinitesimal detail, from making sure that Maria is on time for her Chanel gown fittings to endlessly walking the actress through the lines of her script.
Highly praised for her subtle performance by the Cannes critics, Kristen Stewart says she’s glad to have had a chance to explore the other side of fame, with all the ambivalence and fascination about celebrity culture that the part required.
“The reason this movie was made was not to make a statement about how superficial media can be, but it was a lot of fun for me to be the one to say it,” says Stewart. “Obviously, I’ve had more experience with the media, so it makes it funnier.”
“I don’t a have a personal assistant right now,” the actress says, “but I have had one in the past and I definitely understand the dynamic. The difference is that I never had such a co-dependent relationship.”
Going on what Stewart has experienced “in real life”, she says, there were moments during the shoot when the actress coached her co-star, Juliette Binoche, to make her performance more believable. “When we were getting out the car to walk up the red carpet, Juliette just like opened the door and started to get out. I said, ‘what are you doing? A star would never do that!’”
At one point in film, Stewart’s character, Val, hotly defends the hell-raising young starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is to play opposite Maria in her upcoming new role in the theater. Contrary to Jo-Ann’s reckless tabloid-baiting bimbo image on you tube, Val tells Maria that she shouldn’t judge the straight-out-of-rehab actress so harshly.
“She doesn’t want to be swallowed up the Hollywood machine,” Val says. How has Kristen Stewart managed to dodge some of the trappings of celebrity culture?
“When I take on a role,” says Stewart, I really like to think, and I do not care what people think about them afterwards. I really want the experience. I think a lot of actors—not good ones—are just product oriented, as is the business.”
“American movies are so packaged and delivered,” she continues. “They think for you. Like the stories in the tabloids—they’re so easily consumable. But that said, I love big American movies—they’re my foundation, what I grew up on—and I still want to do them.”
“Kristen is so powerful and has such a strong presence,” says French director Olivier Assayas. “I wrote a part in this film hoping it would be remotely interesting for her. I honestly didn’t think she would do it. I thought that the subject would be too touchy, but she liked the idea.”
Stewart says that she was thrilled to accept a role in Assayas’ film after such a long dry spell. “I didn’t make a movie for a really long time because I didn’t get offered anything that I liked. I didn’t work for two years.”
“I want to start directing,” the actress adds. “It’s still way down the line but I’m going to start dinking around and making shorts. You learn by making mistakes but that’s definitely what I want to focus on next.”