By MILES SOCHA
PARIS — In his filmmaker guise, Karl Lagerfeld brings out the salt — and vinegar — in Kristen Stewart.
While typecast by some for aloofness, the “Twilight” and “Still Alice” actress is all combustible emotion in “Once and Forever,” the 11-minute movie Lagerfeld plans to screen in Rome on Dec. 1 in tandem with Chanel’s latest Métiers d’Art collection.
Tender one minute, exploding with anger and expletives the next, Stewart portrays a fiery young actress brought in to portray a young Gabrielle Chanel in a biopic — only to lock horns with practically everyone on the set. She reserves her affection only for the legendary fashion character she impersonates — and her costar Geraldine Chaplin, who reprises her role as the designer in her twilight years.
In one of those fizzy mental puzzles only Lagerfeld can construct, his latest directorial effort is a movie about a movie that will be screened at the Eternal City’s hub of Italian film, Cinecittà — and in studio No. 5, naturally.
“She’s beautiful, no?” Lagerfeld asked as he previewed the film exclusively for WWD at Chanel’s Rue Cambon studios.
In the opening scenes, Stewart is seen in a ruffle-neck blouse and demure turn-of-the-century woolen suit, when the young Gabrielle Chanel was an aspiring stage performer, belting out songs — “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco” — that earned her a nickname that stuck for life.
In an interview, Lagerfeld noted that “the final image of Chanel is the old lady” and not the vivacious and flirty Coco of the fictional biopic-in-the-making — if ever Stewart’s character would stop quarreling with the white-haired producer and the hyped young French director, played by Jérémie Elkaïm, who’s been brought in to realize the project.
“You call yourself a producer?” Stewart screams when told she has to host a press conference on the movie before even having shot a single scene. “This is bulls–t!”
Lagerfeld said he conceived the film with Stewart in mind, convinced she could play the role of condescending, hot-tempered diva to the hilt.
“Nobody wants to be with her because she’s so nasty,” Lagerfeld said as scenes flit between Stewart, sulking alone in her dressing room in a glittering vintage Chanel dress from 1919, and Chaplin, fawned over by members of the film crew as she’s seated in front of her makeup mirror.
“She’s so good,” the designer enthused about Stewart, a front-row regular at Chanel, and a protagonist at last July’s casino-themed couture show, where celebrities were placed as the centerpiece of the show, feigning a game of roulette.
“I think she’s one of the greatest actors of her generation,” Lagerfeld said. “She gives the right emotion and the right intensity immediately so it’s very easy to work her, like it’s easy to work with Geraldine.”
He noted both actresses are quick studies, which he appreciates as he deplores the waiting and repetition often involved in filmmaking.
“Like on stage you have no second take. You have to be good,” Lagerfeld said. “There are very few second takes. I like the freshness of the first take.”
Stewart learned that Lagerfeld’s filmmaking methods are unique — unorthodox, even. He conceives the entire movie in his head, dialogue included, and then doles out lines right on the set.
“We didn’t receive scripts,” Stewart marveled. “From the outside it looked as though Karl was making it up as we went. And maybe he was.”
“I designed the set, the choice of the clothes, everything,” Lagerfeld said from behind his black Shamballa sunglasses, the temples studded with jeweled globes. “I like improvisation, but I like only very professional improvisation.”
“Once and Forever” was realized using four cameras at Luc Besson’s studios over two days.
Indeed, the film has the polish of a Hollywood production: scenes jump rapidly with the gymnastic agility of Lagerfeld’s mind, and color images depict the film set, while black-and-white ones portray the fictional biopic portion.
“I hate when they go on for hours. I think it should be short and sharp. That’s the idea of the movie,” the designer said.
For her part, Stewart found Lagerfeld “supremely natural,” thoughtful and confident — all of which rubs off on the actors. “His interest in cinema is clear and working with him in that way was inspiring,” she said.
Lagerfeld was “very flattered and honored” that Stewart “accepted to make something that could have been an amateurish movie, although I don’t think my movies are amateurish,” he said with a knowing chuckle. “Let’s wait for the next one.”
This is his 20th mini movie for Chanel since 2008, always detailing a chapter in the founding designer’s colorful and intriguing life. It’s also a wry commentary on the glut of real biopics about Chanel, recent ones in France having featured Anna Mouglalis and Audrey Tautou.
“They’re all horrible,” Lagerfeld sniped. “All my movies about Chanel are better than the biopics, just like the Saint Laurent movies. I could make a better one because I knew it.”
For one, he thinks Stewart “looks more like Chanel than all the other actresses who played her.”
He also acknowledged that working within Chanel puts at his disposal resources and information not available to outside filmmakers.
Asked if he would ever consider making a feature-length film, Lagerfeld shot back: “If I have feature-length time. I’m easily bored so if I have to do it like the others in three months, forget it.”
He certainly would not be up for a heavy subject.
“It would not be a politically correct movie taking place in banlieue [a suburb] or something like that,” he said, making a veiled swipe to the heavy movies set in gritty suburbs that often dominate the Cannes Film Festival — and French cineplexes. “I’m not good for the tragic. It would be more a comedy anyway.”
Meanwhile, Stewart has another starring role on the horizon chez Chanel: Lagerfeld is to photograph her for the advertising campaign for the Paris-Rome Métiers d’art.