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Kristen Stewart - careering down the road

17 October 2012 by Michael Papadopoulos

Kristen Stewart On The RoadWith On The Road in cinemas, can Kristen Stewart’s career overcome her infidelity?

Few young actresses have divided opinion like Kristen Stewart. To some, she is an icon whose cold beauty and icy demeanor encapsulate the nihilism of a frustrated generation. To others, she is a horribly limited actress, further hobbled by an aloof and humourless public image.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. However, the debates over her abilities as an actress have been replaced by a discussion about how, or even if, her career can recover from her very public personal problems.

In July, reports began circulating that Stewart had admitted to an affair with her director on Snow White and The Huntsman, the married 41-year-old, Rupert Sanders. Her boyfriend and Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, one of the most famous men on the planet, was left betrayed and publicly humiliated.

Gossip pages overheated, public opinion was overwhelming- how could she do this to him? He who was voted ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ several years running? What was wrong with her?

Reports began circulating that Stewart had been dropped from any potential Huntsman sequel due to the bad publicity. This despite the film being a moderate success, grossing $380m against its $170m budget. Universal later denied the claims, but they are on the record as keeping all of their options open.

Twilight 2008 DI 2The final instalment of the Twilight saga is due in November. There is no doubt that events will have some effect on the film, not least regarding how it will be promoted. The question that can’t yet be answered is how much, or even if, the movie’s box office potential has been undermined. This could be crucial for Stewart’s future career in Hollywood.

Of course, high profile affairs are nothing new in Hollywood. When Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for his co-star, who just happened to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet, it was Angelina Jolie rather than Pitt who stood accused, as a ‘man-stealer’.

Pitt’s public profile, and certainly his career, emerged largely unscathed. Can his choices be considered any worse (or better) than Stewart’s?

All she did was have an affair with a colleague and got caught. It was just unfortunate her boyfriend was even more famous and beloved than her. Had he been an unknown plumber, the world wouldn’t just have condoned her behaviour, they would have understood. Is K-Stew then a victim of circumstance and hypocrisy?

Snow White and the Huntsman DI 2There are three major differences between the public reaction to Pitt’s life choices and Kristen Stewart’s.

Firstly, he was a man. Men are allowed to behave badly - after all they are ‘artists’. Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Sean Penn, Hugh Grant and Johnny Depp have all had their brushes with negative publicity. None of their careers have suffered in any way. How many A-list women are allowed to be difficult? Wherefore art thou Megan Fox?

Secondly, Brad Pitt was a man who left a TV star for a movie icon, a good looker for one of the world’s great beauties. He was perceived to have ‘traded up’. Stewart was not. Her dalliance was with an unknown director. She had deceived R-Patz with a perceived nobody. In effect, Bella cheated on Edward, not with Jacob, but with the school nerd. This made no sense to us. As if it should.

The third difference between Pitt and Stewart is more fundamental, and presents a bigger problem for the Twilighter and her agents. Pitt is mostly liked by the general public. Stewart is generally not. Pitt continues to see his films succeed and his performances acclaimed. Stewart fails to engender that critical warmth, and more worryingly, seems to attract more than her fair share of opprobrium. And to an A-List star, image is everything. Just ask Tom Cruise.

To be fair, Stewart has shown no great inclination to engage in the publicity dance that the studios, and to a lesser extent the general public, demand. Even with earnings of around $35m last year, she rarely looks happy on the red carpet. Perhaps she’s not. None of us on the outside of the bubble can conceive the nature of the intrusions she must face.

Kristen StewartHowever, the problem is not that she might be unhappy, it is that she looks unhappy. To the public, if millionaire film stars are gifted great riches and enjoy superstar boyfriends, the least they could do is look grateful for it. This perceived sullenness has impeded her popularity.

So many actors and actresses play narrow variations of themselves in every film. They are successful because people like their persona. Likeability equals box office success. Ideally, audiences prefer talent and likeability (Hanks, Will Smith, Julia Roberts), but they will accept extraordinary talent ahead of a sunny persona (Day-Lewis, Streep). However, it’s hard to sustain a successful film career if you are of apparently limited talent and largely unliked. That way guest spots on Network TV lie.

Escaping a cinematic phenomenon is hard at the best of times. One needs determination, and not a little luck. Both Stewart and Pattinson have tried stretching their acting muscles in an effort to avoid a post-Twilight career cramp; Stewart in low budget indies, such as her latest, On The Road, Pattinson in more ambitious fare like Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Appealing to an audience beyond their hardcore teenage fans will require both ability…and likeability. It’s Pattinson who is looking more promising.

How talented an actress is Kristen Stewart? At 22, it’s possibly to soon to gauge. Is she a potential great? No, but she may yet surprise us. Many who have interviewed her, particularly away from the Twilight maelstrom, report her to be personable, funny and engaging. Her public apology to Pattinson after the affair was immediate and heartfelt.

She may resent having to parade these other sides of her personality to the public but sadly, that’s the price of being a female film star. The alternative is having a career that will leave her nothing to smile about.