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how kristen stewart became our most daring actress

bella who?

by Dan Reilly

You might not have realized it, but Kristen Stewart has been on a quiet victory lap since February, when she won a Best Supporting Actress César—the French version of an Oscar—for her work opposite Juliette Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz in the drama Clouds of Sils Maria, which hits theaters this weekend. She's the first American to win the award since its founding in 1975 and, if you believe the critics, it officially signals a new phase of her career, one that could erase most of that "Girl From the Twilight Movies" stigma.

But she's not there yet. The media still loves to focus on her role as the vampire-loving Bella Swan and all the tabloid attention and obsessive fans that came with it. In the past week, The Daily Beast ran a story with the headline "Kristen Stewart Is More Than Twilight," while The Hollywood Reporter published a short profile, "Kristen Stewart Reflects on the 'Huge, Booming, F—ing Money-Making Industry' of Celebrity." certainly isn't ready to let go of her past, as seen in "How Kristen Stewart Really Feels About Robert Pattinson's Engagement."  According to the tabloid's source, "Kristen is doing fine, working and traveling, and she will survive Robert’s engagement." And even by running this article, we're guilty of talking about Stewart in relation to her Twilight stint. 

It's unfair to Stewart to say she wasn't already a quality actress before and while The Twilight Saga raked in billions beginning in 2008. She played Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room and a drifter who has a crush on Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, before she became Bella. Then, in between shooting Twilight films, Stewart went for quieter, more subdued parts that were barely seen outside the festivals they premiered at—more art house than multiplex. She starred opposite Jesse Eisenberg in the subtle comedy Adventureland, played young Joan Jett in The Runaways, portrayed a teen stripper with James Gandolfini in Welcome to the Rileys, and took on the role of carefree Marylou in On the Road

Stewart's only big budget film outside Twilight was the box-office hit Snow White and the Huntsman with Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron. Whether or not the project was affected by the fallout of her affair with then-married director Rupert Sanders, a planned sequel was abandoned and Stewart will not appear in the upcoming 2016 prequel, The Hunstman. Ever the kindred spirit, Pattinson took a similar path, foregoing blockbusters in favor of Water for Elephants and The Rover, as well as a pair of David Cronenberg flicks, 2012's Cosmopolis and 2014's Maps to the Stars, earning solid reviews. Meanwhile, his fictional romantic rival Taylor Lautner opted to pursue bigger films with little success: Abduction, Valentine's Day, Grown Ups 2, and the March-released Tracers

Subtract all the paparazzi coverage, gossip items, and fanatical tweens, and Stewart proved over and over that she was really a serious actress moonlighting in a blockbuster franchise. To her detriment, she didn't seem to enjoy much of it, or figure out how to transcend it, the way Jennifer Lawrence was able to balance The Hunger Games and Serious Actor roles like Silver Linings Playbook. And whereas J-Law goofily embraces the spotlight and her public missteps, K-Stew would rather speak out against celebrity culture and the plight of women in Hollywood. "I read a million scripts and people say I choose my scripts carefully, but it's just so obvious when the role is different, and complex, and not some typical, archetypal girl, because they're so rare," she told The Daily Beast last October. "Not to sound cliché, but it's a male-dominated and driven business."

Her post-Twilight roles are anything but archetypal. In Camp X-Ray, she plays a morally uncertain Guantanamo Bay guard. Then she co-starred as Julianne Moore's aspiring actress daughter in the wrenching Alzheimer's drama Still Alice. In Clouds,she opted to play the assistant to Binoche's aging actress, as opposed to Moretz's part as an up-and-coming, brash American star who's taking on the role that made Binoche's character famous in her youth. "It's a good part, but if I played an actress involved in this scandal, in the extreme way that it's presented in the film, it would have been satirical for me and just not as interesting," she told The Hollywood Reporter, explaining why she refused the role that later went to Moretz.  

That savvy move led her to some of, if not the best reviews she's ever received in her career, pointing her to future award recognition back home in the States. Of course, she'd graciously accept the honors but it doesn't seem like it's that kind of validation she's after. "It can really kind of destroy you, constantly thinking about what people think about you," she told Indiewire when Clouds premiered at Cannes last fall. "People who want to be movie stars … it's such bullshit. That type of life is a huge driving force in so many actor's lives. But they won't be happy people at the end, 'cause they're not doing anything for themselves. They're always satisfying."

With Clouds opening April 10th, Stewart won't have much time to rest. She also appears in Tim Blake Nelson's Anesthesia, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival a few weeks later and stars Sam Waterston and Glenn Close. After that, she'll branch away from serious drama with the sci-fi romance Equals opposite Nicholas Hoult, and reunite with Eisenberg for the star-packed action comedy American Ultra. Then, she and Eisenberg are attached to appear in a Woody Allen film with Bruce Willis. 

To say it's a promising future for an already proven 24-year-old is putting it mildly. She has enough money where she can pick all her roles in the name of art, as opposed to maintaining some level of Hollywood status. And even if her next couple of films aren't deserving of acclaim, she'll be more than fine. By this time next year, it's almost a guarantee that moviegoers will view her Twilight years not as a career-defining era but as a youthful detour onto much bigger and better parts.