It’s easy for audiences to forget that if you take away “Twilight,” Kristen Stewart has done mostly indie-minded acting work. Other studio films do pepper her resume — “Jumper,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Panic Room,” “Zathura” — but at a mere 22-years-old, Stewart has an independent streak at least as deep as that of well-respected indie darlings such as Michelle Williams and Catherine Keener. It’s just that much of Stewart’s public approbation has come from the Teen Choice/MTV Movie Award constituencies.
That may change this year.
Stewart’s openly sexual, free-spirited performance as Marylou in the Walter Salles-Jose Rivera adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Beat bible “On The Road” may be secondary to the central relationship of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, but it’s caused a lot of fevered muttering about Stewart suddenly “growing up” or “taking more risks” as an actor. Many observers have pointed to the “shock” of her willingness to appear naked on screen as evidence to support this.
But that’s more a reflection of how much the virginal Bella Swan role from the five “Twilight” movies has bulldozed the popular consciousness over the last four years. That’s not Stewart’s fault. Really, she was half-dressed or openly libidinous in “Into the Wild,” “The Runaways” and “Welcome to the Rileys,” too, and it’s as if that work has been erased from her history.
Still, there is truth to the sense that Stewart did drop even more defenses in “On the Road,” and it couldn’t be any clearer than in the transporting dancing scene near the end of Salles’ film (more on that from Kristen below). With IFC Films putting mad faith in the movie, which opens Friday, Dec. 21, Stewart shared some insights with Indiewire about how first reading “On the Road” sparked her search for the adventure in people, her ambivalent reaction to having sex scenes cut from the film and what playing Marylou taught her about how “to be completely motivated by the fears in life rather than crippled by them.”
What changed between the Cannes version of the film and the one that showed at Toronto, especially as it pertains to your character?
It’s slightly longer, but that’s not the only difference. There are so many different avenues you can go down with this story. You read the book and you choose what ride you want to take. You can have a different experience every time you read it. I think that Walter wanted to funnel most of the energy — even though you could probably still have multiple experiences watching the movie — he wanted to really focus on the brotherhood, really focus on Dean and Sal. The first one’s just a little more languid. I don’t want to say it was more free-form…
It’s still pretty free-form. It’s meant to be jazzy.
That’s what I mean. It was just maybe a little bit more. But now, he definitely leads you to a place where at the end, the two of them, you’re just so completely invested in them. Not that you weren’t before, it was just a little bit easier to take different rides. But that was perfect for the Cannes audience.
In terms of your character, how did your perspective change from the script to the first version to the second version?
On a surface level, the first one was much racier. You do those scenes, especially, and you look back and go, What the fuck did we do that for? [laughs] Walter, what the fuck? No, I’m kidding.
There’s still a good amount of sex in the new version.
Yeah, there is, definitely.
So you weren’t missing that in the second version?
I don’t know. The last thing I want is for that to be what people focus on, so I’m actually glad, because there’s enough. But at the same time, it’s what it is. There were definitely moments that would have been good, but whatever. If I start at the very beginning, I read the book when I was a freshman.
In high school? That’s pretty early.
I grew up in L.A. I was 13 or 14. It is totally young. On one level it opened a lot of doors for me. I suddenly got incredibly into reading. It really did kickstart that. It was the first one. I didn’t think for one second that I was the type of person that could play Marylou. Ever. Not for one second. I would have done anything on the movie, so I took the part when I was 17 not having — which is a very irresponsible thing to do as an actor, you cannot take a part unless you think you can do it — but I was like, I can’t say no to “On the Road,” I have to try. Probably because those are the type of people I want to meet. I want to find those people and run after them.
“The mad ones.”
Yeah. I think that 14 is how old I was when I looked up and realized that you get to choose those people rather than just getting comfortable with the people that are circumstantially around you. Like, go out and find the ones that fucking pull it out of you! Because [Marylou’s] not in the forefront of the story, she is on the outskirts, you didn’t really know what is in her head and in her heart when the whole story is being told in the novel. I think getting to know the woman behind the character, to be able to connect the dots — because I am a sensitive, contemporary normal girl who definitely was leagues behind her in terms of being comfortable with herself and life — she had that and she was so young. That’s not a teenaged thing, to be completely motivated by the fears in life rather than crippled by them. So that’s why it’s really a very good thing that I grew up a couple of years — I was 20 by the time the movie was made. Even though she was 16 when the story starts, I was a younger 16, I just didn’t have it yet.