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Kristen Stewart Explains Why She Didn’t Cast Herself in Her Short Directorial Debut, ‘Come Swim’

With her short debut, the longtime actress is beginning to realize her dream of becoming a filmmaker in her own right — which often means letting go of material by casting outside herself.

Kristen Stewart

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Kristen Stewart’s second act isn’t just in the works, it’s here. The long-time actress — at age 27, she’s already been acting professionally for more than half her life — initially dreamed of being a filmmaker, a desire she’s lately been putting into practice through short-form directorial opportunities, including a Chvrches music video and her directorial film debut, the short “Come Swim.” The film bowed earlier this year at Sundance, before going on to screen at Cannes and, most recently, a slot as part of Sundance’s traveling Short Film Tour.

Produced as part of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology — a collection of short films all made by women, and of every stripe, from well-known names like Stewart to rising stars like Courtney Hoffman — the film’s short synopsis bills it as “a diptych of one man’s day; half impressionist and half realist portraits.” Part dreamy (and often unnerving) fable, part hard-won drama, the film hinges both on its formal elements, including editing by Jacob Secher Schulsinger (Ruben Ostlund’s regular collaborator, Stewart herself is a huge fan of their “Force Majeure”) and sound design by Matt Vowles, along with a stunning turn from star Josh Kaye, a first-time actor.

At the film’s New York premiere, held last night at the Museum of Modern Art as part of their Future Imperfect sci-fi series, Stewart explained why she choose to cast a newbie like Kaye in such a demanding role. Turns out, she initially toyed with casting herself in the part.

Early in the process, Stewart approached a few other actors, before settling on Kaye. “I kind of propositioned a couple actors that I knew who were busy, and ultimately I was like, ‘Either I’ll do it myself or I’ll hire someone who is just like a buddy.’ Looking back on it, it was probably like the most fruitful relationship I had the whole time. I’m really happy [that’s] how it happened to fall out.”

She added, “I didn’t want like an ‘actor boy’ to do [the part], and I couldn’t jump on it myself, because I really was looking for a transference of energy. I wanted to give someone something and see what they could do with it, not just do it myself, even though I wanted to so badly. I recognized a sameness, like a willingness. He’s so fucking talented, it’s crazy. He’s never done anything, and he’s just a friend of mine.”

When asked if she had ever considered letting another actress play the lead role, and if she was at all stuck on the gender of the part, Stewart explained, “To be honest, to me, there was absolutely no difference between– he could have been a girl, it doesn’t matter.”

Last October at the New York Film Festival, Stewart’s excitement about the next stage of her career was obvious. “That is the most satisfying thing I have ever done,” she said. “As an actor, you’re like a little thing that can help everyone feel this, but when it comes from you — it’s like validation in the most ultimate. You’re not alone. Like, ‘I see you, girl. I see you, and I get it.’ It’s like, ‘Yes!’

Stewart’s passion for filmmaking isn’t wavering, either. At Cannes, she told our Anne Thompson that she was continuing to develop material for herself to direct, and at last night’s premiere, she shyly told the crowd she’s in the process of wooing an author whose work she is eager to adapt into her first feature.

“Come Swim” will be available via Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology later this year.

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