Fashion risk-taker, former child actor, queer icon, movie star. There’s no one way to define Kristen Stewart, who has managed to transcend the labels pinned on her early in her career.
It’s also nearly impossible to pin down her style. Her look at Chanel’s pre-party on Monday was a sheer beaded smock, tailored black pants and talons not at all beach friendly. She’d changed from the cut-off jeans she sported as she arrived in Cannes earlier in the day, and was on her way to slip into her outfit for the premiere of David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future”: a multicolor top with graphic embellishments and white skirt with a bow from Chanel’s spring couture collection.
The film, from the director of “Crash,” who has a reputation for toying with body horror, is one of the most hotly anticipated films of the festival. The trailer alone stirred up controversy, though on the Chanel beach Stewart maintains it’s not about the gore one might see on the surface.
“People associate David with body horror, and sort of a critical eye on the world that we live in. But what is always present is desire and sensuality, there’s always a reason why he’s stepping toward fear,” she told WWD. “In this movie, it just feels like a testament to his entire life. He’s given so much in every film he’s ever made.”
She costars with Lea Seydoux and Viggo Mortensen plays the film’s main character, a performance artist who creates new organs to attach to his body. “He’s almost to the point of dying for his art. So it kind of feels like a mixture of joy, but pain.”
The idea resonated for Stewart, she said. “Yeah, of course, you should always get that close. And the thing is, that sounds dramatic and negative, but if you can give all of yourself what you get in return is just as great if not more.”
The actress has poured herself into several challenging roles in the last few years — among them Princess Diana in last year’s “Spencer,” which earned her an Oscar nomination.
She’s motivated entirely by instinct, she said, and less grand PR plan. “You step toward something because it intrigues you, there must be an intellectual reason why, but you never really know how to articulate that until you’ve made the film. It’s just having that question mark inside of your body going, ‘Oh, that wants to come out.’”
Growing up in front of the camera — she got her first role at age 11 — and in the Los Angeles bubble might inhibit other actors. But Stewart has taken early PR hits and grown completely into her own. In fact, she finds the public eye motivating.
“I think it’s an evolution. It’s kind of nice to be uncomfortable in public because it really forces you to be confrontational with your most inner self, and you’re not allowed to ignore who you are. It’s sort of like you shine a light on something and so you really have to stare at it,” she said. “I’ve gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable. You just sort of have to find a way to exist in any space.
“I probably would never have done [that] if I wasn’t an actor, I would always just sort of default and settle. It’s nice to sort of always be like, ‘stay on your tippy toes, lean in, like try to reach for the stars.’ I know that sounds totally cliché, but if you’re not forced to, or if you’re not encouraged to and supported throughout, you won’t.”
Stewart credits working with great directors who have given her creative freedom and support to be able to speak her truth. “So few people are given that opportunity. It’s scary, but it’s beautiful.”
She acknowledged there are now more opportunities for women to take the reins in Hollywood projects and that the tide is shifting away from conventional storytelling. “I mean, probably because people want brownie points for being progressive, but now we reap the benefits of taking up more space,” she shrugged. “As long as it’s changing.”
Stewart famously took off her heels right in the middle of the Cannes red carpet in 2018 — festival rules be damned — and sported very hot HotPants to this year’s Oscars. When most people are trying to get on a best dressed list, Stewart takes risks. What is behind the bravery?
“I would feel worse not doing it,” she said. “I would feel more scared being tamed.”
All were Chanel, of course, as she has worked with the house for nearly a decade. But if nonchalance reads as disregard, that’s not quite accurate. It’s more about curiosity, experimentation and authenticity.
“I’ve been allowed to excavate my own story within Chanel’s continuous stories,” she said, noting there are several awards shows a year with different looks and themes and she looks for pieces, not trends. “The reality outside of a narrative is interesting, because when I watch a show it seems like a movie. Anytime I ever feel curious about a certain look or averse to a certain look, they always encourage me to just take my own path. I never feel dressed by another person. I never feel like I’m selling a product. I always feel encouraged to like, you know, find myself,” she said of her relationship with the house.
Though she works with stylist Tara Swennen, she said Swennen just brings a ton of options because she never knows what mood might strike her on any given day. “I drive these people crazy,” she joked, saying she likes to cut things in half or try it on backward. “But no one ever really gets mad at me, I’m always encouraged to do my thing.”
As for her upcoming nuptials to Dylan Meyer, Stewart famously said she wanted TV chef Guy Fieri to officiate — an offer he gladly accepted. But for now, that is on hold. “I think we’re just gonna get hitched. We’ve got, like, all these like grand plans and then I think honestly, we’re just gonna keep it so tiny. And then who knows, maybe a year from now we do a huge wedding. But at this point, I think we might just marry each other.”
On the beach, she was wearing a tiny Chanel ring in the shape of a palm leaf, reminiscent of the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or. “That’s what we’re going for,” she joked of hopes for the festival, which she said is her favorite festival for the way it promotes dialogue around film, art and acting.
“It’s much more about why you made it and who you’re with and who you love, and to walk those stairs with your cast and crew instead of being picked off and sort of isolated like a celebrity commodity. It’s so different than any other place in the world,” she said, stating that the Cannes festival is about cinema, not celebrity. “What we love is what this place loves. And even though there’s like a sort of element of kind of like surface frenzy, the thing that rises to the top is always the person that had an actual voice.”
She has been welcomed here with Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” which made her the first American actress to win a French César award, and last year her own short film, “Come Swim,” was shown.
“It’s amazing to realize that what you’re fitting into is something you’ve revered your entire life, like the people that have had movies, here are the people that I look up to and have always and to think that you’re like, kind of, you know, in that rhetoric, like suddenly you’re a part of the vocabulary.”
She’s stepping behind the camera again with an adaptation of Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Chronology of Water,” which she will direct at the end of this year. “Whether or not we come to Cannes is an obvious question mark, but I mean, that’s the goal.”
She is unafraid to reach for the stars.