Q&A: Kristen Stewart

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Stephane Cardinale / Corbis

At the center of the Twilight saga is teenager Bella Swan — pale, beautiful, a bit of a klutz, and madly in love with a vampire. Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke wanted Kristen Stewart for the role from the beginning, and now Stewart is a white-hot star. She talked to TIME about living in the Twilight bubble, taking time out to play Joan Jett in the forthcoming movie The Runaways and what's next for Bella and the undead guys who adore her.

Everyone has a theory about what makes this franchise so successful. What's yours?
People try to solve the equation all the time. It's like, what is it about vampires? I don't think there's something particularly alluring or topical about vampires right now that our generation takes to. I think it's more just that Stephenie [Meyer] wrote these characters with really creative, really gloried character traits. He's a vampire — he sucks blood and all that — but being a vampire is really just a symbol of who he is. I think if you take all of the mythical aspects away from the story, these characters would still be interesting. And they'd still stand. That's what people have become addicted to. At least concerning the fans. I don't think it's a vampire thing.

But with the book release during the filming and the growth of interest, the stars were aligned for this franchise.
Totally. It was a lucky shot.

Do you find yourself saying "Wow," like, all the time?
Well, we haven't really had a minute to look up and say "Wow." Otherwise I don't think I'd stop saying anything besides "Wow," had I ever been in a position of reflection. We've had to pump these movies out so fast. The attention that the movies have gotten has kept our focus. It's like we have to do a good job since everyone is waiting.

So no time for even a small word like wow?
Yes, it's surreal. Absolutely. And it's such a different experience. It's equally rewarding, but just in a different way. It reaches so many people. I'm used to independent movies, so ...

Casting was key, and Hardwicke was intent from Moment One about you. Did you understand where she was coming from about Bella?
I had one audition. It was a very conventional audition. I read with another actor for a really long period. It was, like, five hours. I don't know if we completely agreed conceptually about who this character is, because everyone reads Bella differently, and I've never agreed with any one person entirely. But after that first audition, we had a really thriving working relationship. It was like, Wow, I want to play like this all the time.

Taking on the beloved Bella is a big responsibility. You're always going to have people who believe you're the best Bella and people who still hate the casting. Is that difficult?
It's not difficult when it's totally concerning the movie. That I still get, and I completely understand. I watch Twilight and New Moon and I think, Gosh, there are a million lines that I wish were in it that aren't. You can't be expected to capture the book — what you are expected to do is capture an essence. That's always subjective. It's something that eternally worries me, but at the same time you have to suppress those thoughts. You would be playing a really disjointed character if you were taking everyone's considerations. It's impossible to please everyone. As long as they know that you are working hard, as hard as you can, I think the actual fans of the book accept that and appreciate that.

There was a period, especially last year, when all the fan sites were saying Kristen Stewart was a snob. What was that about, and how did you deal with it?
I was so caught off guard and intimidated by that whole thing. I was very conscious of it and very concerned that people were concerned about what I had to say about something I really loved. I was just so guarded about sounding insincere that I would literally refrain from saying things like, I put my heart and soul into this movie and f______ love it. Because I thought they would say, She's lying. I always minced words. I understand why people were thinking I was overthinking or being pretentious — she doesn't like it; she's ungrateful.

But I am definitely in a position now [where] I've relinquished the control. As soon as I stopped trying to control every interview and make sure I said the right thing, I stopped worrying about saying the wrong thing and then I stopped saying the wrong thing.

It's fine now. It was just hard getting there. And people aren't very nice. I'm actually glad that I know that now. I'm a little bit more hardened. People trip me up. It's been an eye-opening, educational experience.

The Internet can be a pretty mean place.
Yeah, totally. I get it. You don't have to touch anything or get touched. You can say anything. And that's what is cool about it. So go for it. But I'm not talking about a false impression. I definitely gave that impression because I was not comfortable. Straight up. Now that I am more comfortable with what I am doing, I'm having a better time with it.

Is Twilight life like living in a bubble? And if so, tell us about your bubble.
I wouldn't call them concessions, but there are alterations — and only fleeting alterations — that you need to make. Right now New Moon is coming out, and it's a big deal. I'm in Los Angeles promoting it, and everybody knows where I'm going to be. So right now it's the most intense time. But it already feels like it's going away almost as I speak. What's my life like? I'm sort of a homebody anyway, and we've been so busy making these movies. We've made two movies this year. Most of the cast worked in between movies on different films. We've been super-busy. I do live in a bubble, but it's a bubble I want to be in.

You've got an indie-film mind-set, yet you're doing these indie films that turn into blockbusters —
— which is an indie actor's dream!

But you'll never be able to hide in a role now. You'll always be Kristen Stewart or Bella. Are you concerned this will stunt your acting career or negatively affect it?
That's another thing I cannot control. I know for a fact there are so many people who are really diehard fans of the book who will always see me as Bella. Not even Kristen Stewart. So I even appreciate the people who can look past that. You know? I do the work for the experience. As long as I'm able to do that, I'm really lucky.

You've finished the Joan Jett movie, and you had to get your hair cut, which was kind of a big deal in certain quarters. How hard was it to convince the producers to get it done, and is that an example of the controls that are on you as a Twilight franchise player?
Well, luckily I am no one's property, and free will is exercised greatly. I knew I could still play Bella and not have to feel the sweat running down my head to make me feel I was doing something real. I knew I could wear a wig and still play her. And I knew if I was going to fit The Runaways into this time frame that they were going to just have to deal with it. That was something they were initially scared about, but it ended up being totally fine. And it gave me an opportunity to do something different in between. Hopefully people can understand that.

How does Twilight continue to grow? How do you maintain the enthusiasm with the fans?
The movies really stand alone. In Eclipse, we take the love triangle that is only vaguely introduced in New Moon and really explore it — all between two mortal enemies. Then they get on the same team and fight the baddies. It's all pretty exciting stuff.