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Stewart earned that reputation when Twilight fever was at its height. She had been acting since she was nine, but nothing prepared her for the global hysteria that accompanied Bella Swan’s tortured relationship with an impossibly handsome vampire, Edward Cullen, played by her real-life boyfriend Robert Pattinson. Aged 18, Stewart was jostled and pursued, mobbed, stalked, her every comment and outfit subjected to harsh scrutiny on a whole internet’s-worth of websites. No wonder she seemed guarded during red-carpet appearances and at press conferences.
“Having that much human energy thrust at you and then being critically analysed is obviously disarming,” she says now, hunched over her coffee. “Control issues make me so nervous. It’s not knowing what’s going to happen. So what people were seeing was what happens when you are terrified. My palms sweat, my knees shake, I don’t think I can stand in my heels, I’m breathing heavily, I feel nauseous. I’ll be so nervous and then my body creates something to calm me down and I get so tired I’ll just…” and she slumps over the table.
Stewart clearly needed strength. Some of this came from within: “I’ve taken a step back and relinquished a bit of control. Now, I just breeze through, though there are some things I still get very nervous about. I’m still really personally invested. You could sit down with me in a five-minute interview on camera and really rough me up. It’s not hard to get me upset.” But she also learned to use fashion to her advantage. “I started out in situations that were quite foreign to me, photo shoots, famous photographers, having to deal with designers. I felt quite out of place and young. And I remember meeting some of the worst people you could possibly imagine. Just soul-sucking, cut-throat fashion people, the full-on Devil Wears Prada.
And then I also met some others who were so respectful and natural and creative and involving. Everyone I ever met from Chanel was wonderful, and working with them has been amazing.” So Chanel couture is her armour? “Definitely.” Karl Lagerfeld is, for her, “a well” of knowledge about everything. “As an outsider, I thought, “He’s probably insanely pretentious”; but he’s the opposite of what you’d assume. He’s funny and quick and can talk to you about anything, from film stock to Roman fountains, or completely nail a photographer or break down a situation quite candidly.”
Her relationship with the fashion house was deepened during the filming of Clouds of Sils Maria, a little gem of a movie, which was supported by Chanel and in which Stewart is Valentine, the enigmatic assistant to a famed European actress played by Juliette Binoche. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, and shot mostly in Switzerland, it looks at fame, isolation, ageing and the complex flow of love between the women. “I was intimidated, in all honesty,” says Stewart of the experience. “I was not only out of my element culturally but working with one of the most renowned French actresses of all time. So it was a quick process of proving myself to her and to myself, too, I guess. Within the first meeting, you either share that spark or you don’t. And we loved each other.”
Valentine has to protect her boss, Maria Enders, from the paparazzi (Valentine refers to them as “cockroaches”, which is also Stewart’s own term for the gutter press), arrange the removal of the cellophane-wrapped baskets of flowers from Maria’s hotel room, read her lines with her, drive her drunk from casinos, and juggle phone calls from her ex-husband and his lawyer. The third character in the film is a rackety starlet, Jo-Ann Ellis, pursued by fans and photographers, whose life, in terms of scandal and press attention, mirrors that of Stewart herself. “I find it so funny that, purely by coincidence, I happen to add an irony to some of those lines,” says Stewart. She was originally supposed to play the role of Jo-Ann, taken by Chloë Grace Moretz, ‘but that was not for a second acceptable to me’, she says. “It’s a great part, but you would take the irony out of it. I’d be a playing a sensationalised version of myself to make a comment on how ridiculous it all is. But to play the more subdued, peripheral, observant role was very satisfying, obviously. I was loving the words so much that I was grinning inside.” The experience of being a celebrity – rootless and alienated, spoilt, spotlit and alone – is, she says “very accurate. Obviously I know that very well.”
“Fame is the worst thing in the world. Especially if it’s pointless. When people say, ‘I want to be famous’ Why? You don’t do anything.”
“I’m a little bigger than sample size when I’m eating cheeseburgers and am happy and comfortable.”
“If I’m stressed or working, the weight falls off. My weight and my sleep are tied to my nervous system. Sometimes I’ll sleep for 12 hours a night and sometimes sleep just doesn’t exist for me for a couple of months.”
“I only hate them when they’re contrived. That’s when it’s grotesquely uncomfortable. On Twilight we had to do the most epic sex scene of all time. It had to be transcendent and otherworldly, inhuman, better sex than you can possibly ever imagine, and we were like, ‘How do we live up to that?’ It was agony. Which sucks, because I wanted it to be so good.”