Sunday, September 13, 2015

#TIFF15: Kristen Stewart's Interviews for EQUALS

Here are some of Kristen Stewart's interviews at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival for Equals.

Kristen Stewart has been making the rounds of plenty of film festivals lately: Sundance for “Camp X-Ray," Cannes for "Clouds of Sils Maria,” Toronto for the Alzheimer's drama “Still Alice." And that was just In 2014.

On Sunday, she rode back to Toronto for yet her latest fest offering: the dystopian romantic drama "Equals," directed by indie darling Drake Doremus and co-starring Nicholas Hoult.

Appearing thin in a leather jacket and an abundance of rings,  Stewart ‎waved aside the idea that she had embarked on a new chapter after five "Twilight Saga" films, the last of which came out in 2012.

"It looks from the outside that I had a really commercial career and then started doing more cinematic pieces," she said, in a lounge space surrounded by foosball and rod hockey, several hours before "Equals" was to make its North American premiere here.‎  (The film, which as of Sunday afternoon had several U.S. distributors interested, debuted at Venice last week.)

"But if you look at my career, typically, it's been made up of more indie films that end up at festivals. And even 'Twilight' started indie," she continued. "I mean, it was‎ directed by Catherine Hardwicke."

‎Still, the millennial super-celeb acknowledged  that "Twilight" had ballooned in a way that gave her more than her fill of a certain genre, and made the last few years a welcome respite.

“I didn’t have my eye on the prize in terms of needing to convince people I could do work that is difficult and not easily digestible," she said. "But I am pleased with the effect [the past few films have] had. After ‘Twilight,’ you get offered a ton of fantasy flicks. It gets a little tiring. It’s like, ‘What makes you think I want to do it again?' ”

"Equals" certainly has a high-concept genre premise. The film is set in a genetically engineered future in which love and desire have been bred out of humanity and even outlawed -- indeed, stigmatized as something called "Switched-On Syndrome." And the movie relies on the same forbidden-love conceit that made Bella and Edward irresistible to so many.

Stewart's Nia and Hoult's Silas work side-by-side in one of many hyper-efficient design and lab modules of this world, until one day they discover they have stirrings, both in general and for each other. Those emotions are not just frowned upon but  punishable by exile to a torture camp of sorts known as the DEN, which sets up the movie's dramatic tension: As with "Twilight," Nia and Silas can either live separately in peace or together in persecution.

That's pretty much where the similarities to the vampire franchise end, however. As directed by Doremus (more on the filmmaker, who was responsible for Sundance and Toronto breakout "Like Crazy" four years ago, later in the week), the picture follows the rules of indie films  rather than commercial Hollywood. Narrative unfolds at its own deliberate pace; emotions are muted instead of shouted.

Stewart’s performance, though not entirely dissimilar to Bella in its stoicism-gives-way-to-passion vibe, has more texture and depth than her “Twilight” work; her tendency toward a kind of performance restraint plays well in the poker-faced world Doremus has created, but also makes the rewards that much greater when expressiveness finally does creep in.

Aesthetically, “Equals”  is also a world away from "Twilight," with an ethereal score and a bright, spare look courtesy of cinematographer John Guleserian. (It won't go unnoticed by some that the film is the spiritual obverse of another Toronto pic, Yorgos Lanthimos' "Lobster," which takes place in a world in which being single is forbidden.)

Most significant, perhaps, is "Equals' " interest in big ideas, including the possibility that this grand future-canvas is actually a more intimate metaphor for our own feelings after a failed relationship. Too much heartbreak? Shut it down, biologically and in other ways.

“Sometimes it's easier not to feel. You go through a ... breakup and you say you wish you never did it,” Stewart said, not specifying her own much-publicized romantic life, perhaps not needing to.

“Then, of course,  you do it all over again. Because if you took emotion out of our lives, we'd cease to exist. And pain is closely tied to pleasure, anyway; it's everything that makes me feel alive."

Stewart has become more self-assured in interviews, even if her words can get ahead of her thoughts. She is also more ambitious in her career choices, bringing on the auteurs fast and furious lately. She is currently living in New York, shooting Woody Allen's latest -- a match, given the filmmaker's interest in emerging talent, that seems as natural as Bella and vampires.

For one of the most scrutinized stars on the planet -- as many as a thousand people turned out in the rain to shriek and get a glimpse of Stewart as she made her way to the premiere here Sunday afternoon -- the actress said she is trying to tune out other voices as she continues working.

"I've never navigated my career in terms of perception," she said. "It would be so unnatural that I wouldn't have the wherewithal to carry on with the script. So may people put their hearts into a movie, that unless you feel compulsively strong about it, there's really no point in doing it."

The acclaimed actress sat down with Marlow Stern to discuss her new sci-fi film ‘Equals,’ Kim Davis, and the importance of giving in to emotion.

“Not only is she really beautiful, but she’s so vulnerable,” says filmmaker Drake Doremus. “You just love watching her. There is a lot going on under the surface.”

The director is gushing over the myriad talents of his star, Kristen Stewart, who not only holds a close-up better than just about any other actress, but, due to the aforementioned emotional reservoir, possesses the uncanny ability to convey more with a nod or shrug than most can with a 5-page monologue. And take it from Doremus—the man knows a thing or two about talented actresses, having presided over a couple of then up-and-coming gals by the names of Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence in his sophomore feature Like Crazy.

Doremus’s latest is Equals, which made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. In it, Stewart plays Nia, a young woman in a harmonious future society dubbed “The Collective” where everyone stalks about in white Nehru suits, and emotions have been all but eradicated. Those who show emotions are dubbed “Defects,” and sent to the infirmary to be killed. When her coworker Silas (Nicholas Hoult) falls in love with Nia, the two are forced to go on the run or face termination.

It’s a film that explores first love, and couldn’t have come at a better time for Stewart and Hoult. Filming began in August 2014, and the pair of young stars had just come off a couple of very high-profile break-ups (Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively).

“It was incredibly painful,” says Stewart, seated across from me at an empty nightclub in Downtown Toronto. “Ugh, fucking kill me. It was a really good time for both of us to make this movie. Not all of my friends have been through what I’ve been through, or what some people have tasted at a relatively-speaking young age, and we were not expected to do anything. Everything that we did was explorative, and a meditation on what we already knew.” 

“We all felt akin by how much we’ve been through, and to utilize that is so scary,” she continued. “And to acknowledge it, reassess, and jump back into it? Usually you want to move on. But at least we could use some of that for some good. This movie was a meditation on firsts, and a meditation on maintaining, and a meditation on the ebbs and flows of what it’s like to love someone—your feelings versus your ideals, the bursting of bubbles, the shattering of dreams you thought were possible, and what you have to contend with as things get more realistic.”

“Relationships,” she adds, “you just never fucking know.”

The Daily Beast spoke to Stewart, whose recent relationship has garnered plenty of ink, about the many messages of Equals, and much more.

TDB: Dystopian films typically serve as interesting allegories. For Equals, I saw it as a critique of Generation Rx, and how, especially in America, teens are overprescribed and overmedicated. It seems, in many cases, like a lazy catchall solution to dealing with young people’s inherent emotional volatility.

KS: “Oh, do you feel something? We can help you with that.” Self-exploration goes out the door with medication. You go, “Oh god, I have a little stomachache,” and they say, “Here, we can help you with that.” Well, why do you have that stomachache? Maybe it’s because your head’s in your stomach, so maybe there’s something you’re ignoring that you can work out. No, I completely agree.

The film also struck me as being about the denial of love. This is an issue that’s come to the fore in America in a big way when you look at the gay rights movement, where, despite the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, a large segment of the population—Republicans, primarily—still believe that the LGBT community should be denied the right to love. And denying anyone that basic human right can drive people crazy.

Abso-fucking-lutely. It is crazy. It’s weird because if you’re overtly emotional about anything, people discredit what thought you might be contributing, because anything overtly emotional can be viewed as a weakness. It’s interesting what you’re saying about how now we’re trying to suppress emotions or irregularities with drugs and deem people controllable my meds, because I think we’re more in tune and more honest with our emotions now than we have ever been. You think about your grandparents or their grandparents, and you think about the patriarch of the family never showing emotion—with women, too. As we’ve gotten past that, the meds have upped. It’s bizarre. The two things don’t really go together.

I wanted to go back to the issue of the denial of love. Have you been following the news of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who denied a same-sex couple their marriage license, was sent to jail, and has subsequently been martyred by many on the right-wing?

Yeah. Oh my god. Did you see her come out of jail? Honestly, it makes me so deeply uncomfortable. I feel really bad for her. Anyone who’s so closed off to things that are so apparent? Imagine what else she’s missing out on in life. I’m not making any grand statements about her personally, but if something so glaringly obvious, such as this subject…

…to have that much hate in your heart must be awful.

That’s why I feel bad for her. It’s like, “Oh, buddy, that must suck.” That fear of the unknown cripples people, breeds hate, and it’s just very sad.

The acclaimed actress sat down with Marlow Stern to discuss her new sci-fi film ‘Equals,’ Kim Davis, and the importance of giving in to emotion. 

Back to the Rx. Like you said, people may be in tune with their emotions, but perhaps they’re not being explored. This isn’t a new argument, but there seems to be a lack of intimacy these days. We’re “connected” by technology, but our actual human-to-human interaction has decreased dramatically. We’re not asking people for directions, we’re looking them up on our phone. And fucking selfie sticks! God forbid you stop and ask someone to take your photograph.

We’re getting to this neutralized, disconnected world.

And it’s fitting that you shot this film in Japan, because they’re not even having sex anymore over there. Nearly fifty percent of Japanese adults are not having sex, and they’re saying that if these trends continue, the population could be halved by 2100.

They’re not fucking. That’s crazy. You can assess a culture to a degree by the way they receive movies and how they receive a given celebrity—like me and Nick being that, I guess. So in Japan I can walk around the streets with no problem whatsoever because nobody will come up to me, versus Italy where I cannot even take a step because everybody is trying to literally hug and kiss and drag me down physically.

I’ve spent some time in Italy with a girlfriend. They can be grabby over there.

Oh, they’re grabby. They are really grabby. Yeah, it’s weird. It’s a good time to tell this story, I suppose, but I still think that this fear of being subject to one’s emotions has existed forever. But the medication aspect I find most interesting. I know a lot of people on meds who don’t have mental health issues. Not all emotional issues are “mental health issues.” They do not all hold hands.

I’m not saying this applies to everyone of course, but the friends I have who’ve gone off their meds for things like depression and anxiety seem so much better. They’re rawer emotionally, but more real.

Yeah. As far as we know, you have one shot at this and it can be so fucking beautiful, so why lessen the feeling of anything? Why numb yourself? I’m not on antidepressants. I think it’s bizarre.

There is the big first kiss scene in Equals, where you and Nick are in this blue-tinted bathroom stall and you touch—and then kiss—for the first time to a swelling score. Since it’s a first kiss, was that hard to calibrate? You can’t make it seem expert, but you don’t want to make it be like that Dumb & Dumber dream sequence, either. 

We had never done it! Our idea was that they had learned how conception happened in our history, but it’s a completely unrelatable concept now, so kissing wasn’t even in the textbook. It’s tantamount to what you learn in middle school now about how you conceive children. We wanted to make it look foreign, and found, and completely natural—but new. Every single really emotionally pivotal part of the movie Drake had infused with a certain bit of music that luckily we got into the movie. Most actors use songs to make themselves cry.

Do you?

Actually, I don’t. If I’m really, really screwed and I need it, I do.

What music would you listen to in a situation like that to summon the tears?

Right now… Have you seen Love & Mercy yet?

I loved it.

I fucking love that song [“Love and Mercy”]. I could think about it and start being emotional. It absolutely fucking annihilates me. It’s so simple, but considering what Brian Wilson had been through at that time, and for him to still be able to write that song at that time given his environment and the people surrounding him was so full of hope.

Do you remember your first kiss?

Yes, absolutely! It was horrible! It was so bad. It was fucking repulsive. I was 14 and it was gross. It was not good. [Laughs] But the first time something in you opens up and affects your entire body and has this control over you, it’s scary because there’s this chemical that’s released that you become addicted to. It literally feels like you don’t have free will anymore. I know that fucking feeling. When I read the script, I was so intimidated by it because there are several awakenings that you go through as a young person—and I’m sure there will be more as I get older—but I’ve had several eye-opening, come-to-Jesus moments. And I don’t think that everyone is necessarily affected by or appreciates physical beauty, and I think we have been desensitized to physical beauty because of the movies that we watch, and all the images that are thrust in our faces all the time. We don’t really appreciate the body, nature, a fucking sunrise.

You just easily close yourself off to certain things because you want to seem like you know it all, or you’re not weak—emotion is often confused as weakness—so when emotions are undeniably physically affecting you, I think it’s a gift. People are so good at turning that off, that we wanted to exemplify that in the most severe and basic sense—and it was really scary.

You and Nick were both mining the emotions of first love by filming those sequences. Which, like you said, is scary. But was it ultimately cathartic?

Yeah. It just could have been the cheesiest, most trite concept, but the whole attempt was to make that fresh again. If you’ve been hurt—you know when you’ve broken up with someone and you look at someone walking down the street holding hands and think, “Ugh, give it a fuckin’ year. Let me know how you feel in a year, ugh, I don’t’ believe in that,” well if we did our jobs right, then it would be to remind you that you can definitely get back to that, and how hard, amazing, and life-fulfilling those feelings were in the very beginning.


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