In an interview with her Happiest Season director, Clea DuVall, actress Kristen Stewart discusses queer representation, artistic freedom, and how she’s found her own path forward.
CLEA DUVALL: I feel like I’m seeing a family member I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m like, “Look at your hair. You look so healthy.”
KRISTEN STEWART: I love that we’re doing it this way too. This is my third Zoom call ever.
CD: I would have been Zooming you all the time, but I just assume that everyone hates Zoom at this point.
KS: I like it. This is cool because the story won’t be like, “We went to a local café in her neighborhood and ordered a drink. There’s a tension. Does she want to be here?” [laughs]
CD: Was it something I said? [laughs] You turned 30 in quarantine. How did it feel to have a big birthday at that time?
KS: I woke up that day [April 9] and was like, “You need to get your ass in gear.” I was drinking too much in the beginning [of the pandemic], so I stopped drinking and smoking. I’m embarrassed because it sounds really cliché, but, whatever, it’s true.
CD: How have you been spending your time in quarantine?
KS: I’ve been writing Chronology [an adaptation of the book The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch, which Stewart is also directing] for a long time. That’s done. And I have three other projects I’ve been thinking about for a while but never touched. For the first time, they’ve all taken a massive jump forward.
CD: What is a typical day like for you now?
KS: I walk my dogs and take walks with people. I feel horrible about the state of the world, so I’m donating money — but I’m not marching, and I’m feeling weird about it. I’m a frustrated optimist. I’m always thinking, “It can’t be as bad as this.”
CD: We made Happiest Season before the pandemic. Mary [Holland] and I wrote this story because I wanted something that represented an experience I haven’t seen, which was something close to my own. [The film is about a woman named Harper, played by Mackenzie Davis, who has yet to come out to her family but brings her girlfriend, Abby, played by Stewart, home for Christmas.] What did you think when you read the script?
KS: It deals with very poignant things that, for me, are extremely affecting and triggering — even though now the word “triggering” triggers me more than anything in the whole world. [laughs] But the movie is so funny and cute, and I loved the couple. They’re both people I really felt protective of in different ways, because I’ve been on both sides of that dynamic where someone is having a hard time acknowledging who they are and the other person is more self-accepting. I [personally] came into the more complex aspects of myself a little bit later. I never felt an immense shame, but I also don’t feel far away from that story, so I must have it in a latent sense.
KS: I don’t want to aggrandize my own pain, because I know that others’ pain has been so great. Living in this world, being a queer person, there are things that hurt constantly. Anyway, I read the script, and I couldn’t believe a studio was doing it.
CD: Was it your own experiences that drew you to it?
KS: Yeah. The first time I ever dated a girl, I was immediately being asked if I was a lesbian. And it’s like, “God, I’m 21 years old.” I felt like maybe there were things that have hurt people I’ve been with. Not because I felt ashamed of being openly gay but because I didn’t like giving myself to the public, in a way. It felt like such thievery. This was a period of time when I was sort of cagey. Even in my previous relationships, which were straight, we did everything we could to not be photographed doing things — things that would become not ours. So I think the added pressure of representing a group of people, of representing queerness, wasn’t something I understood then. Only now can I see it. Retrospectively, I can tell you I have experience with this story. But back then I would have been like, “No, I’m fine. My parents are fine with it. Everything’s fine.” That’s bullshit. It’s been hard. It’s been weird. It’s that way for everyone.
CD: And as a 21-year-old, you had people writing articles about you, chasing you around, and trying to get to the bottom of what you are when you hadn’t even fully gotten to the bottom of it yet. I can imagine that would make you put up every wall you could.
KS: Yeah. And it affects family and other people. Then they have their own experience that they bring to the table.
CD: Does anything stand out as something you really enjoyed in making the movie? Other than working with me, obviously. [laughs]
KS: I could not have had a better partner in this than Mackenzie. This couple needed to be two people you really liked and found aspirational. So we had to make sure of that — even though it is a movie about somebody who is coming to terms with being themselves. We had a responsibility to not be dinky. It’s like, “No, we know what we’re doing, and it’s OK. And now please, everyone else get comfortable with it.”
CD: Being a queer person, playing a gay character, do you feel like there’s almost an expectation for you to be a spokesperson for the community?
KS: I did more when I was younger, when I was being hounded about labeling myself. I had no reticence about displaying who I was. I was going out every day knowing I’d be photographed while I was being affectionate with my girlfriend, but I didn’t want to talk about it. I did feel an enormous pressure, but it wasn’t put on me by the [LGBTQ+] community. People were seeing those pictures and reading these articles and going, “Oh, well, I need to be shown.” I was a kid, and I felt personally affronted. Now I relish it. I love the idea that anything I do with ease rubs off on somebody who is struggling. That shit’s dope! When I see a little kid clearly feeling themselves in a way that they wouldn’t have when I grew up, it makes me skip.
CD: This is an election year. How politically active are you? You talked earlier about making donations and the complicated relationship with how to be engaged. People really need to vote.
KS: People need to vote.
CD: How much do you read the news?
KS: I read the news every day, but I don’t fixate on it. I have some friends who won’t stop, and it’s all they talk about. I’m not saying I don’t want to confront these things. But in terms of how involved I am, I’ve never been the face of anything. I don’t even have a public Instagram. I really do like to support people who are already doing it and have been for years.
CD: Has it been a conscious choice for you to stay off social media?
KS: It’s just not natural to me. It’s never been a question. I’ve never been like, “Should I do it?” It’s literally just been like, “No, my god.” [laughs]
CD: As someone who became a star so young, do you feel like you’ve grown into yourself?
KS: Right now we’re having a conversation that’s really nice, because I’m not thinking about the fact that I’m talking to a million people. But when I was younger, I just couldn’t get away from that as an idea. I was just so bogged down by it all that I couldn’t even present an honest version of myself. That frustrated me because I kept getting in my own way. Now that I am older, I’m not as scared of fucking up.
CD: I can imagine the pressure of carrying a huge franchise like [Twilight] when you’re so young must have been extremely intense.
KS: I was a kid. I definitely was never like, “OK, I’ve got this franchise on my back.” If anything, that is an outsider’s perspective, which is one that I can share with you only now. Then, I had no idea.
CD: What about as an actor?
KS: I’m a pretty confessional artist. I definitely enjoy my work being as personal as I can make it. The first couple of times I played queer characters, I was not [openly] queer yet. I’m drawn to stories and people for a reason, and I think, by default, I represent what I stand for. I do think it’s important that we step into different roles and into other people’s shoes in order to really expand ourselves, albeit not ever taking up space for people who should be telling their own stories.
CD: Are you already prepping to play Princess Diana [in the film Spencer]?
KS: We don’t start shooting until mid-January. The accent is intimidating as all hell because people know that voice, and it’s so, so distinct and particular. I’m working on it now and already have my dialect coach. In terms of research, I’ve gotten through two and a half biographies, and I’m finishing all the material before I actually go make the movie. It’s one of the saddest stories to exist ever, and I don’t want to just play Diana — I want to know her implicitly. I haven’t been this excited about playing a part, by the way, in so long.
CD: I’m going to pivot a little bit because this is a fashion mag, and you know I am a clotheshorse. Do you miss dressing up for work and doing the red-carpet thing?
KS: It was really fun shooting this cover, actually. I hadn’t seen my team in so long, and it was a photographer [Olivia Malone] I really like. It did remind me of how much I love that. I think it’s easy to confuse certain things that I have an aversion to, which is like, “Oh, she doesn’t love getting her picture taken all the time.” It’s like, “Yeah, not constantly.” But I love making art with my friends. That definitely fuels me in a different way. It’s fun. But in terms of getting dressed up and going out, the pressure of that can be just dumb. I get nervous before going out, not because I’m scared but because it’s just like, “Oh god, what else can be a thing?”
CD: Getting ready for red carpets feels so high-stakes — there’s always a ticking clock and so many people around. Do you have any go-tos right now in your closet?
KS: Usually, I’m a really uniform-based person. For certain weeks, I was getting dressed every morning as if I had somewhere to go. It made me feel better. There was a period of time when I only wanted to wear shit that was matching. I have a leopard-print suit thing that is really fun to wear around the house. So, we wore suits and sets. And then these silky, robe-y things. My dad used to wear a robe around the house, and it was very floofy. I am small, so if I wear a puffy robe, it just looks so lame. The reason I didn’t like robes is that I felt silly and dinky, and I don’t like feeling silly and dinky.
CD: I know this about you.
KS: Basically, I’ve been stepping outside of wearing jeans and T-shirts. Within the confines of my own home, of course.
CD: You are a face of Chanel, so I presume you have a lot of Chanel pieces in your closet.
KS: I do, indeed. I have all my Chanel shit together. Sometimes I just walk by it. My little black jacket is sitting there. I have a couple of bags that are really classic. But then I have so many things that a more daring, cooler person would wear. Maybe if I have kids, they’ll be like, “Why aren’t you wearing this incredible thing?” Maybe someone will step in and utilize my wardrobe.
CD: So, we made a Christmas movie, as you know. Do you have any idea what you’re doing for the holidays this year?
KS: I usually go home and hang out with my family. On Christmas morning I go eat Thai food because I live right next to Thai Town, and it’s the only place that’s open, and it’s incredible. Early-morning Thai food is really fun before everything gets going. You’re like, “Today’s going to be a shit show. It’s going to be really annoying.” I love my family, and I love Christmas, but obviously it’s a lot. So, I’ve created that little tradition for myself. This year I don’t think I’m actually going to be able to be home. I’m going to be in Europe prepping Spencer.
CD: Since the title of our movie is Happiest Season, who or what makes you happiest now?
KS: I really do wake up happy. I feel so blessed. I love my friends and my family. I’m a happy motherfucker.