When Kristen Stewart goes to Cannes, she’s usually promoting a movie directed by someone else — like Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” which debuted on the Riviera last year. The actress’s Cannes anxiety usually derives from wanting to represent her director correctly, to get out the right message. But this year’s different.
“I’m not working for anyone but myself,” she says, beaming. “Ask me anything!”
Stewart came to Cannes this year as the director of her first short, the 17-minute “Come Swim.” She and her producers at Starlight Studios pitched the film to women’s website Refinery29, which also backed her chum Chloe Sevigne’s short “Kitty: The Movie.” They helped Stewart to develop her rough outline, in which she described an image of a giant wave “getting bigger and bigger” that “never breaks.” Stewart already knew just the Australian underwater photographer to shoot it. Indeed, the film’s opening shot is a stunner.
The actress has been wanting to make movies since she was 10 years old, watching her show-business parents put in 16-hour days. Actress-director Jodie Foster, her co-star in David Fincher’s “Panic Room,” was surprised it took Stewart so long to take the directing helm. “You seemed like someone who wants to make something,” she told her recently.
Indeed she did. Stewart rallied her crew and cast (led by rookie Josh Kaye) around her pearl of an idea for an experimental, impressionistic essay on fear and water. They moved from asking her what she needed to becoming enthusiastic collaborators. “I’m a control freak,” she said. “I hate something I can’t wrestle down.” But on set, she got a kick out of watching her team get excited. “I saw them switch on,” she said. “I planted that seed!”
She was afraid that filming might present a question that she did not know how to answer. “I never ran into that wall,” she said. “It informed itself every day. It was like excavating this pearl and everyone could see it. I knew where we were going to be at any given moment.”
Like her Cannes sisters Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman, and Isabelle Huppert, Stewart enthusiastically supports encouraging more women directors like Kelly Reichardt (“Certain Women”). “Nobody can tell the stories she tells,” said Stewart.
And she’d rather talk about her films than many of the silly questions that come her way. “Anything that takes focus away from the work is usually media and money,” she said.
While Stewart is developing material for herself to direct, she has no interest in taking on the arduous job of producing; she’d rather let someone else help her to realize her goals as a director and actress.
Since Stewart debuted “Come Swim” at Sundance, she has already directed a Chvrches music video, and wants to turn political for a short about gun control. As an actress, she’s wrapped indie biopic “Lizzie,” in which she stars as 19th-century murderess Lizzie Borden; action feature “Underwater” (Twentieth Century Fox); and is now prepping her role as Savannah Knoop in Justin Kelly’s movie about the infamous fictional persona JT Leroy, opposite Laura Dern as writer and con artist Laura Albert.
At a Cinema Francais dinner, I asked Juliette Binoche if she’d like to join Stewart on another Assayas film. “Of course!” she replied. Stewart says they just have to wait to see what Assayas dreams up for them.