Perhaps no other movie was more hyped at this year’s Sundance Film Festival than the “The Runaways,” a film that charts the rise and fall of one of the first all-female rock bands. Part of that is due to the buzz surrounding young stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, who deliver impressive performances as Valley girls-turned-rock icons Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, respectively.
The actresses were decades from being born when Jett and Currie rose to fame in the Seventies, so the learning curve was steep. Curled up next to Fanning on a leather couch in the posh Hotel Park City, Stewart, 19, says: “I didn’t know anything about The Runaways when I got the script. I thought it was really cool to see a character so different than who she seems to be now. Joan [Jett, who was also a producer on the film] is so self-assured, and it was cool to see how she became like that, and how the relationship developed between her and Cherie.”
If Jett was the band’s tough chick, lead singer Currie was its David Bowie-meets-Brigitte Bardot sex kitten. “I loved all the things I would get to do while playing Cherie,” says Fanning, 15, the quieter of the pair in real life and on film.
Both actresses sing in the film, which they say was “daunting” at first, but by the end, they had so completely transformed that Jett once mistook Stewart’s singing for her own. “They [Jett and Currie] are both riddled with particular details and we had to make sure we looked and moved right. It’s a big responsibility because it’s not just somebody that you are making up,” says Stewart, who notes that The Runaways broke new ground for female musicians and empowerment in general, something her generation takes for granted. “Dakota and I are girls who have been brought up thinking we can do whatever we want, but it just wasn’t like that then.
Fanning recalls the moment when Currie took the stage in Japan wearing nothing but a corset and fishnets at age 16. “For Cherie, the jumpsuits and boots and everything were like a performance in themselves. They were part of the persona she created. Obviously Joan didn’t do that, but people interpret their sexuality in different ways.”
With the provocative costumes, underage drinking, drug use and sex, “The Runaways,” in theaters March 19, will likely catapult the actresses out of teen queen status and into young adult territory. But neither appears very concerned about alienating fans, least of all Stewart, who plays virginal Bella in the “Twilight” franchise. “People really love Bella and I do too, but I don’t think anybody expects me for the rest of my career to appease an audience that once liked ‘Twilight.’ I just think that’s crazy,” she says. “I don’t plan things out based on other people’s opinions or how I think they are going to receive them.” (Clearly. In her other Sundance premiere, “Welcome to the Rileys,” she plays a teenage hooker.)
There’s also a drug-fueled kiss between Stewart and Fanning about midway through the film that likely will help them shed their image — and do absolutely nothing to quiet the film’s buzz. But Stewart shrugs it off as a moment emblematic of the wild child generation. “It’s not a romantic relationship. They are best friends. It’s a fleeting love story, and they both realize it,” says Stewart.
Adds Fanning, “Especially when you read it in the script, it’s not a big thing. It’s like, ‘OK, great. That happened.’ You know?”