The Twilight franchise star explains why she committed to the role she plays in the feature, On the Road.
Actress Kristen Stewart
Tavis: Pleased to welcome Kristen Stewart to this program. The star of the wildly popular “Twilight” franchise has also starred in a number of other notable projects, including “Into the Wild” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.” The latest addition to the “Twilight” saga is in theaters now, as if you didn’t know, making and breaking all kinds of box office records along the way.
Starting December 21st in New York and L.A., you can catch her next project, “On the Road.” The movie is based, of course, on the classic novel by Jack Kerouac, and also stars Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen. So here now, a preview of “On the Road.”
Tavis: The best part of this show for me is always whispering to the star (laughter) while the clip is playing, of what they thought about this scene. So Kristen says, “This is my favorite part of the movie. I love this part.” Why do you like that part so much?
Kristen Stewart: Oh, that’s funny – I meant my favorite part of sitting on a talk show is sitting in front of a big picture, so.
Tavis: Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. (Laughter) I just figured the best part of the movie. She means the best part of being on the show.
Stewart: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: With the big screen behind you.
Stewart: That’s my favorite.
Tavis: Oh, I got it. (Laughter) Ba-dum-bump. Okay, now I got it. But tell me about that scene, though, since I put in my foot in my mouth now.
Stewart: This is sort of when things are winding down for my character. She has a little less road to travel than the boys do, and she sort of drops off halfway through, and it’s kind of right when things catch up to her and she starts questioning her situation, but not fully.
She was sort of a person that was really able to, like, compartmentalize her life and really live fully different aspects of it, and so she’s just ready to walk away from this one.
Tavis: You first read this novel when? High school, maybe?
Stewart: Yeah, freshman, yeah.
Tavis: Did it hit you then? Did it impact you when you first read it?
Stewart: Yeah. I couldn’t even – I think I was always good in school, I liked reading, but this was the first thing that got me, like, I was so heavily into reading after it. It was my first favorite book. Literally I got my license and put it on my dashboard.
I know that sounds incredibly cheesy and I happened to stumble onto this set, but yeah, it opened a lot of doors for me, as it does for a lot of people.
Tavis: What resonated with you personally?
Stewart: I just think it’s that point – there aren’t very defined years for everyone. It’s not the same for everyone when you start to look up and go, “I can choose my surroundings. I can choose the people that I surround myself with. I’m not just circumstantially in this place that I’m, like, comfortable.”
Some people aren’t comfortable with being comfortable. Some people really want to be pushed and find people that they can pull something out of you that you didn’t know you had, and you can scare yourself. I sort of realized at that point it was like I need to find people like that – people that are sort of comfortable – people that revel in sort of going a little crazy and following certain lines that aren’t necessarily expected or conventional.
Yeah, just, it felt alive, it felt good. It felt like I wanted to sort of discover America, (laughter) which sounds, again, incredibly cheesy, but it is very true.
Tavis: When I read the story, and I think I have this right, and if I have it wrong, you’re here to correct me again. (Laughter) When I read the story about this, so you read this book in high school, “On the Road,” it’s a classic work. You signed up to play this when you were about 17.
Tavis: Then this thing called “Twilight” gets in the way.
Stewart: Yeah. No, I mean, not really -
Tavis: Yeah, one, two, three, four, five.
Tavis: As I said, making records, breaking records, setting records. Now you come back to this project. What do you make of the way that that – it’s kind of like “On the Road.” What do you make of the way this thing worked out?
Stewart: Looking back on it, I’m incredibly happy that I was able to grow up a couple of years before I did this movie. I did one of those irresponsible things that actors can do – it’s like you sign up to a movie that you don’t think that you can do. I was not old enough to play that part.
I would have done anything; I would have done any job on the crew just to be around -
Tavis: You played Marylou, by the way.
Stewart: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. Anyway, so I think those few years was actually sort of a really long preproduction, like a really long rehearsal period, almost, because we could, I don’t know, just get – it’s something about the responsibility of playing a part in this book that’s so treasured, by us personally and just so many others, that you kind of need to validate yourself.
So we had a lot of time to feel like – we were privy to a lot of information through Walter that you just normal access wouldn’t allow you to know. So all that time was good, and I got to do “Twilight” in between, which is obviously something that I’m really close to as well, and thank God.
Tavis: I’ll come back to “On the Road” in a second. Are you – I’m trying to pick – I want to use the right word here. Are you happy that “Twilight” is now done? Are you happy, relieved? You tell me. I don’t know what the right word would be.
Stewart: I’m really happy that the story has been told. To have something like that weighing on you for five years is not – as an actor, that is so not normal. Usually it’s a very condensed, really accelerated, charged period of time.
So the last scene that we did on that movie, I was like, I’ve literally never felt lighter in my life. But at the same time, we got to live in that world for so long I really have no problem – sometimes after five weeks it’s hard to leave a character, but after five years, it’s like, that’s finished.
Tavis: How do you grow in that process? I’m trying to juxtapose these two points you’ve made. You suggested earlier that you signed up for “On the Road” when you really weren’t ready to play it. Now, obviously, you’ve matured to a point and lived enough life to get a better handle on the character, because you grew in the intervening years.
Tavis: But how do you grow when you’re stuck in this “Twilight” zone, for lack of a better phrase?
Stewart: Well, the character that I play gets older as well. There was so – it’s such, it’s like a really long movie. There was no lack of story. Reading something for the first time and getting this feeling like the material provokes you on some level, and doing the movie is really just sort of defining and figuring out why exactly you felt certain things when you read it.
If I couldn’t have finished that series, it would have genuinely been pretty painful. It just would have been a bummer. So yeah, no, it took a long time, but it’s kind of the same – yeah, it’s just longer. I didn’t feel stuck at all.
Tavis: What kind of liberties did you all take with “On the Road?” How close to the book that you read is the film?
Stewart: Yeah, because I’ve done adaptations before, I’ve done stories based on real people, so that personal – going beyond that personal responsibility to material, having it exist in the real world and exist for other people, usually it’s religiously faithful.
Like in “Twilight,” religiously faithful to detail, and on other things the same way. I think that the way to do this thing right, though, and this I something that Walter always really had a strong feeling about and knew from the start that this is how he wanted to do it, that everything is – you have a different experience reading the book every time you read it.
Just the nature of the way that it’s written, and also just the spirit of it, it needs to be found, it needs to be stumbled upon and picked up and dusted off before – every scene sort of had really clear intentions, but we were – a clear reading of a line would be one that was forgotten and kind of found again in your own words.
So it needed to be spontaneous, and we were able to do that, and I think that that’s the truest way to do the book. If you were to just – do you know what I’m saying? So actually, I think it’s incredibly close to it. It’s really languid, and I think watching the film as well, there are a hundred different avenues you could go down, depending on what mood you’re in.
Tavis: I don’t want to put you in the position of being professorial, but what’s the message, you think, to the young people today that comes out of being able to see a film like this now? I’m always fascinated – of course, this is what makes a book a classic, is that it is relevant so many years later, sometimes centuries later, still relevant.
Tavis: What’s the relevancy of this film today, you think, for the young folk who are going to rush out and see it because you’re in it?
Stewart: Yeah, it’s funny, as a young person that loves the book I get asked constantly, it’s like why, what do young people like about this today? Things have changed so much, we’ve progressed. Our conventions aren’t necessarily the same.
A lot that’s shocking in the book might not be shocking to us now. I think it’s a really good time to make the movie version of it, because it won’t be veiled by all of those things that people might find extreme. Like the sex and the drugs aren’t necessarily, like, absolutely disarming for us anymore.
It’s just sort of – you can see what the movie, what the story, the book is actually about at its core, the spirit of it isn’t sort of veiled by those things. But I think that mainly it would be just that at that age when you sort of look up and get that notion for the first time that you can find your line in life and you can follow it and you can find other people that have similar ones.
If they differ from other people’s it’s sort of like if you find commonality with other people you can love and hate more together, you know what I mean? It’s like, I don’t know, I think basically also that for me, I was really nostalgic for a time that I never lived in. I wanted to, like, a lot of people say you can’t have the same road trip as you could have then. Things have changed.
There are roads, there are freeways and power lines everywhere. It’s like if you deny that those layers aren’t still there – you just take the back road, or it sort of made me kind of more curious, more hungry for experience and on a really fundamental level it was just very vital, and like it just sort of made me realize that I wanted to not be so comfy all the time. I wanted to push myself and get comfortable with a bit of fear.
Tavis: I don’t want to say lost innocence, but two of the issues that you raise in this movie, the sex, et cetera, is there – you fell in love with the book when you were in high school. Were you ready for that book at that age?
I’m trying to figure out, based on what you said a moment ago, the audience that sees this film today, you’re right; they’re so used to the stuff that they see in the film now that it doesn’t, it’s no big deal. But I’m wondering what that says about a lost innocence of this generation.
Stewart: Right. Yeah, I think -
Tavis: That might be putting too much on it. I don’t know, you tell me.
Stewart: No, honestly, I think everyone obviously is different, everyone is raised differently. I was never really sheltered from the world that I live in. I also found this book on a freshman high school book list, which actually says – I grew up in L.A., so maybe that has something to do with it. (Laughter)
(Unintelligible) that happen. But I don’t know, I think people will definitely seek out what they’re interested in, even if it’s being hidden from them. I don’t know, I think that you sort of have to follow your gut on that one.
People grow up at very different rates, so I would say it is not my place to tell anyone how old they should be when they go, “Watch this movie.”
Tavis: How did your – I’ll get personal just for a second here – how did your parents, to your point of growing up in L.A. – and I should mention to the audience that your father is a pretty well-known guy around this town (unintelligible) on my show who work with Kristen’s father, he’s a great stage guy here and a lot of folk, Brian and some other people know him well and they work with him.
Stewart: That’s awesome.
Tavis: So what was that like for you, growing up on a – did you grow up on a stage? Did you have any other choice but to be in this business, given how you were raised?
Stewart: Yeah. I consumed a lot of craft service as a child. (Laughter) An incredible amount. Yeah, I was so not – the idea of being, like, the center of attention, especially as a kid, was not my thing. I just wanted the adults to talk to me. Because I did grow up on a set, and I thought, what my parents – because my mom is a script supervisor, she does films, and I just really thought what they did was so cool.
They would come home with all these different smells on, it’s like, “Where have you been? Your jacket’s wet? Like, what,” I was always just really into the movies. So I would have done anything. It’s just that at that age you can’t really become anything but an actor on a set, and so it got me on – yeah, so yeah, there you go.
Tavis: Yeah. Were your parents cool with that from the very beginning? Were they like, “Oh, what is our baby gotten herself into?”
Stewart: Yeah. They were always really supportive, but definitely kind of shocked that I wanted to do it. Not stage parents, not typical stage parents. They were sort of like really nice to drive me around to auditions and stuff, which was, like, probably really annoying, but not their thing.
Yeah, no, they’re still shocked now. They’re sort of like, it’s just sort of trips them out, yeah.
Tavis: They should get used to it.
Stewart: Yeah, yeah, I guess so. (Laughter)
Tavis: With the kind of success you’re having. So this “Twilight” series is obviously very, very different than an Indie like “On the Road.” Is there – I’m trying to find the right word here – is there a longing, an aching to do something that is more indie in spirit after you’ve done this blockbuster thing for five episodes, or how does that work for you? Every actor has a different way of making those decisions.
Stewart: I’ve never really been able to sort of, like, step outside my own career and look at it as a whole and start tactically shaping it. I really am – I don’t know what’s going to move me in a year’s time. I really don’t know what I want to do until it’s in front of me.
If I knew what story I wanted to tell, I would be directing it. I love being, like, a hired hand. So I don’t know. I don’t have drastically different experiences on small to large movies. I think I also was really lucky I got to break up “Twilight” with many various kinds – I got to do a lot of little things in between and sort of mix it up, and not feel like anything got stagnant, which is another reason it was – I didn’t feel stuck in the five-year period.
Tavis: I take your point, Kristen, about not being able to step outside of yourself, and try to make tactical, strategic decisions about your overall career. I get that. I think there’s a certain beauty in that because you’re following your instincts and your gut about what makes sense to you.
Stewart: Or else you’re doing it because you want something -
Stewart: You’re like, what does everyone want me to do? What does everyone else want me to do?
Tavis: I guess the question, though, is but without taking that approach, how do you know, what makes you comfortable in knowing, that years from now, when you look back on your career, it will have taken the kind of form that you wanted it to take? Does that make sense?
Stewart: Yeah. I have definite hopes for a high opinion of what I – honestly, I think the only way to really – you can’t really regret anything if you’re coming from a really honest place, and I think I’ll be all right. I’m not too worried about it.
I already look back and I’m so proud of everyone that I’ve worked with, I’m really proud to be in those groups. Because every movie’s a different little equation and – yeah, I’m good. Yeah, I’m pretty happy about it.
Tavis: This happens every now and again. We’ve been on this show now, we’re about to start our 10th season on PBS, so we’ve been fortunate to be around for a while. I’ve been doing this almost as long as you’ve been acting. (Laughter) Since you started getting (unintelligible).
So every now and again somebody shows up and we have to put security on high alert because the paparazzi here are, like, running around the corner everywhere, trying to see them when they come in or when they go out.
So you’ve said earlier in this conversation your parents are still trying to figure out why this actually happened for our baby. How are you managing all of the madness that comes along with just trying to pursue your craft?
Stewart: I think it’s kind of another one of those things. It’s like, don’t step outside your life and look at it from an outside – you know what I mean? I’m sorry, yeah, they’re annoying, sorry that they’re here or whatever, but, if they are.
Yeah, I think the most clear answer to that question is a non-answer. It’s like I don’t have, like, much of an idea of -
Tavis: Well, it’s got to infringe upon – it’s got to make you feel infringed upon, your life and your movement and your activity. But you just, like, ignore it. How do you walk out amongst all that nonsense and just ignore it?
Stewart: I don’t. (Laughter) At all.
Tavis: What, you don’t ignore it, or you don’t walk outside?
Stewart: Both, I guess, actually. God. But I meant the first part. Yeah, no, I guess, again, this is a cheesy, cheeseball interview, but (laughter) I -
Tavis: I like cheese, by the way.
Stewart: Good, good, well, here you go.
Tavis: Well, yeah.
Stewart: I really love what I do, and as long as it doesn’t keep me from doing that, then I – it’s a different lens to look down. It’s definitely a different perspective on life. Like as an actor, you want – and just as a strange person – I want to be able to stare at people. I don’t want them staring at me. Do you know what I mean?
You want to be able to take people in and first impressions are obviously a very different thing now. They don’t exist for me. That is odd, but it’s no less interesting than what it would be to not have that. Again, I’m good.
Stewart: Yeah, totally.
Tavis: See, I hate – I’m no you, but I hate being stared at. I’m not a personality anywhere near you are, but I -
Stewart: I hate it.
Tavis: – I can feel it when somebody across the restaurant -
Tavis: – or in the airport is staring at me. I’m like, if you want to speak, come speak.
Tavis: Sometimes I’ll just turn and wave at them -
Stewart: Wave, yeah, I know.
Tavis: – just to get it out the way. But just don’t stare at me the whole time.
Stewart: I know.
Tavis: So I know that feeling is a little disconcerting at times.
Stewart: Yeah, especially because people usually – I think also it’s your attitude, it’s your perspective. You can’t – sometimes I have to kick myself and go, “They’re not laughing at you. They’re just -” but naturally, you look around and it’s like you’re back in school or something. People look over and it’s strange for them.
I don’t know what it is, and it’s kind of a lot of laughter, I find, and I’m like, “Everyone’s laughing at me.” (Laughter) “Literally everyone in this restaurant is laughing.” It’s the weirdest – I feel like I’m in the third grade or something.
Tavis: I want to circle back to something else you said, before my time is up in two minutes. This doesn’t surprise me, but you said, “I love what I do.” You love what you do. What do you love about it?
Stewart: I don’t know, cheesy – movies can be really important. They don’t have to be, they can be just fun, but I think that that’s important too. I’m really glad that I started when I was nine or 10, because I would never have been able to do something like that now. That decision would never have been something that I – I don’t think I would have had that, but -
Tavis: You wouldn’t have had what at nine or 10?
Stewart: I think if I had started acting when I was a little older, it wouldn’t have happened. It was good that I started young and unselfconscious. But I find that as a lot of actors will probably say the same thing, you can channel something. You can channel an energy that sometimes is only stirred up by some material or some story that you are exposed to, and it’s that process of actually walking in those shoes.
You read a good book, it changes your life. Now imagine going out and living it. It’s like – and the idea as well that I love that responsibility. I love being part of a group that really loves something together. You’ve got something to hold up. It’s a good pressure.
Tavis: So “Twilight,” as you know, is out, and as I said again, breaking records everywhere. But life goes on for Kristen Stewart, and the new project is called “On the Road,” and you might want to check it out. First in L.A. and New York, and then wide release.
Tavis: I’m honored to have you here. I enjoyed this immensely.
Stewart: Oh, yeah, me too, thanks.
Tavis: Thanks for coming on. You good?
Stewart: Yeah, I’m good. Are you good?
Tavis: You’re good. Yeah, no.
Stewart: All right, sweet.
Tavis: So we’re both good.
Stewart: (Laughter) Yeah.
Tavis: Good. That’s good. (Laughter) Thanks for watching. As always, keep the faith.
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.