Hollywood is not a forgiving place. One bad film, one bad performance, one flopped blockbuster and your career can be effectively ended overnight. This is especially true in 2018, where social media and aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes can driving money to (or away from) specific projects.
Kristen Stewart experienced this in 2008 when she was cast as Bella Swan at eighteen-years-old. Despite being a popular actress who had already been working in the industry since 2001, this one role was what she became known for. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, ranging from bad direction to a poor supporting cast, Stewart’s acting abilities were largely maligned and made fun of. Couple that with a few scandals, and it looked like she was bound to carry the baggage of this one role for the rest of her acting career. After finishing the Twilight franchise (and even in-between production on each installment) Stewart focused on independent films with smaller filmmakers. It is there that she consistently proves why she is one of the best working actresses today.
One needs only to look at her work with French director Oliver Assayas to see how talented she is.
Between Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart showcases a quieter, more introspective approach to acting. She inhabits her characters to a stunning degree, spending time with them to flesh out their insecurities and their motivations. While it’s easy to assume that her soft speaking voice and her lack of flamboyance mean she’s a bad actress (or, as some have claimed, a monotone one), these kinds of criticisms are missing the point of her acting style. It’s this understanding of her character from the inside out that helps make her performances more nuanced, less obtuse, and increasingly impressive with each new film.
Camp X-Ray is another example of this; playing a military guard in Guantanamo Bay, she manages to bring a profound level of humanism to a complex character. While the film around her isn’t perfect, Stewart is a quiet, steady force throughout its entire runtime.
Stewart also has a surprising amount of range. While the aforementioned films all showcase her quiet, introspective style she has plenty of films that are more bombastic and lively. Take for instance her performance as Joan Jett in the 2010 film The Runaways. Not only does she manage to embody Joan Jett’s mannerisms and style to a startling degree, she also brings her own punk attitude to the role, helping make the role much more than just a copy of a real person’s mannerisms. Her performance in the action-comedy American Ultra also showcases this more fiery style of acting she can bring to a role.
Ultimately, what separates her style from other actresses is her understanding of each character that she plays. Acting is so contingent upon other factors — the director one is working with, the supporting cast, or even working in a green screen studio as opposed to an actual set. No matter what film she’s in, or what role she’s playing, Kristen Stewart always tries to understand the person she is portraying. Some actors are incredible at mimicking accents; others, like Daniel Day-Lewis, immerse themselves in their character on and off set so as to remove the barrier between them and their role. Stewart, to my knowledge, is not a method actor. Rather, she focuses on embodying her character, rather than immersing herself in them. That’s what sets her apart from other actresses.
As a director, I am sometimes asked by friends and colleagues what I look for in a performance. That’s a complicated question because it’s dependent on the project and the type of role I’m casting. However, what I look for in an actor is dedication. I want to cast someone who will work hard to not only understand the script, but to bring their own personal flair to a role. Kristen Stewart does this in her own way. Whether she’s playing a quiet, more contemplative role or she’s playing punk rock on stage as Joan Jett, she always brings her A-game. That’s an admirable trait in an actress, and one that we should recognize (and praise) more.