Kristen Stewart may be one of the most well-known actresses in Hollywood, but there’s a whole lot more to her than just her fame. That dichotomy makes her the perfect person to play Maureen, the heroine of Olivier Assayas’s spooky new film, Personal Shopper. As Maureen jets around Paris picking up a passel of beautiful outfits for the famous starlets she dresses, she interfaces seamlessly with celebrity, yet there’s something else going on with her, something that is not of that world or even the natural world at all. You see, Maureen is extra-sensitive to paranormal activity, and even as she earns a living in Paris, she’s most determined to seek some sort of spiritual sign from her twin brother, who passed away in the city. Assayas weaves these very different plot strands together in an intriguing way, and recently, he called up Vulture to discuss his method and the muse he found in Stewart, whom he first worked with to great acclaim on Clouds of Sils Maria.
In real life, Kristen is an actress that fashion houses clamor to style, but there’s this interesting tension when she wears their expensive dresses because you know there’s a part of her that would rather put on a hoodie and tennis shoes.
Do you remember the very first time you met Kristen? Who is that? And then she was friends with my producer Charles Gillibert who produced On the Road, the Walter Salles movie, and I saw her in social situations in Paris. It’s totally impossible to connect with anyone at parties like that, but just watching her move and how she functioned, I thought she had something that was just so raw, so authentic, and so cinematic. I always felt there was more to her than whatever I had seen in the movies. To me, that’s the key to really having the desire of working with an actress. I did not know her, but I had the fantasy of her.
The next time we really met was when she had read the screenplay for Clouds of Sils Maria and she wanted to do it. When I wrote Clouds of Sils Maria, I wrote it for Juliette Binoche, and she had this American assistant who was a no-nonsense, really grounded young girl. It could have been another actress — Kristen was certainly top of my list because I thought she was a great actress and I was curious to work with her — but I think I really discovered Kristen when we were making Clouds of Sils Maria. I realized that every single tiny thing I gave her to do, she would invent something: She would make it interesting, she would make it sexy, she would make it weird. It ended up being a bit frustrating because her character in Clouds of Sils Maria is written as less multilayered than Juliette Binoche’s character, and so to me the question stayed with me, “What would happen if I gave her a bigger part?”
Not every actor is the same in real life as they appear onscreen, but to know Kristen through her roles is to get a strong sense of what she’s actually like. She has a very grounded center, both as a character and as herself.Clouds of Sils Maria is that I kind of encouraged her to let this fun part of her come across, and Juliette was incredibly generous about that in many ways. There were a couple of scenes where Juliette would say, “You know what? Kristen, Olivier, why don’t we make this more funny? We don’t see these characters laughing enough.” I think a lot of people who love Kristen were really happy to see her laugh and be funny in those scenes in the same way that she can be funny in real life.
What has been fascinating in working with Kristen is that, in a way, it’s strangely similar to the way I functioned with Maggie Cheung. Like with Maggie, I wrote Irma Vep for her where she was playing an archetype, and then once I had done that, I had the desire to give her a part which was more layered, more like the real-life Maggie. I think it’s a bit similar with Kristen where I gave her this kind of one-dimensional part in Sils Maria and it generated the desire to write something more human, more complex, and closer to her in many ways with Personal Shopper. But the thing is that, even when I was making Personal Shopper, I had the feeling like I was experimenting: “Where are her limits? How far can she go?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” I haven’t really seen the limits yet and so I hope we have the opportunity of working again together.
Personal Shopper is terrific, yet it was booed at Cannes. Do you think that’s because you and Kristen had just come off this major moment with Clouds of Sils Maria, and the French press was trying to cut you down to size?Personal Shopper is not tailor-made for Cannes, I’ll put it that way.
The Cannes jury liked it, though.Clouds of Sils Maria there was a tiny bit more minimal than what I would’ve imagined. The film was very successful all over the world, but I thought the reaction in Cannes would’ve been stronger. I mean, in terms of getting a prize, I would have bet on Clouds of Sils Maria as opposed to Personal Shopper, but then the crazy thing is that we got a prize for Personal Shopper.
You were supposed to shoot a different movie right before this and it was shut down right before you began. I wonder if somehow you were able to channel that sense of interruption into the character of Maureen, who is shell-shocked after this important part of her, her brother, has been ripped away.
And I decided that the only way to get over it was to start from scratch, not to try to revise the other project. I always have a couple notes scribbled here or there about movies I eventually would love to make, but here, I just wanted to start from the blank page. Yeah, that moment was kind of defined for me by mourning but I suppose that the energy I found was positive, and connected to Kristen. And I wrote it real fast. I came back to Paris in November and I had a finished screenplay by February and if I could have shot it by June, I would’ve been ultrahappy, but I had to wait until Kristen was done with the Woody Allen film [Café Society].
Does it give you pleasure to watch some of the most tense scenes of the film with an audience, to feel how they’re responding to it?
Maureen is repulsed by this false world of celebrity, but at the same time, there’s a real allure to those clothes she puts on, almost as though she’s donning a new identity. Do you have the same push-pull relationship to fame?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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Director Olivier Assayas on Kristen Stewart’s ‘Punk-Rock Energy’ have 1750 words, post on www.vulture.com at March 14, 2017. This is cached page on USA Posts. If you want remove this page, please contact us.