In "The Clouds of Sils Maria," Kristen Stewart's celebrity has been inverted. The paparazzi rush right past her.
She plays the efficient, constantly emailing assistant to Juliette Binoche's famed European actress. Reading tabloid stories about a Hollywood starlet (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), she shrugs: "It's celebrity news. It's fun." When she's running through possible roles for her boss, the former "Twilight" star describes one film as having werewolves "for some reason."
"I had to seriously harness the glee that was exploding across my face when I was saying some of those lines," Stewart said in an interview. "I don't think that's what the movie is fully about. It's not a commentary about the insane nature of the media in the States, especially. But no one knows about that more than me."
Stewart, 24, doesn't seem so much like she's fleeing her teen idol past as she's already long gone, maybe just glancing back, with a wink. "The Clouds of Sils Maria," directed by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas ("Carlos," ''Summer Hours"), which opens in theaters April 10, is part of a string of recent and upcoming films Stewart has made in a headlong rush.
"I'm having more fun now than I ever have," says Stewart. "These movies go by (she snaps her fingers). We made 'Camp X-Ray' in 20 days. It's just better when it's faster."
The frenetic pace is in stark contrast to the plodding demands of a five-film franchise like "Twilight." The movies now are largely independent, and the roles (like in "Sils Maria") are often supporting or part of an ensemble. She co-starred as Julianne Moore's daughter in "Still Alice" and played a Guantanamo guard in "Camp X-Ray." She's completed a science-fiction romance ("Equals"), a stoner thriller ("American Ultra") and a New York mugging drama ("Anesthesia"). She's been filming Kelly Reichardt's adaptation of Maile Meloy short stories, and she's to co-star in Woody Allen's next film.
"Because of the lack of expectation of any of these movies, there were no moments that people had read in a book that were the most important thing in their lives," she says, referring to her "Twilight" role. "I really let go."
Shew adds she's "gotten a lot better at trusting myself and not thinking that you need to use these nerves and crazy inertia to convince everyone on the set that you're legitimate."
Stewart's post-"Twilight" work reveals (or perhaps reminds) that her nature is less as a megawatt star than an actress bent on naturalism, instinct and inquisitiveness. She has basically returned to making much the same kind of indies she made outside of "Twilight": "Adventureland," ''Welcome to the Rileys," ''The Runaways." There's a distinct lack of preciousness in choosing projects or any evident career-building.
"All my favorite actors are not people that go off and make these characters that are iron-clad perfect," Stewart says. "I want to see people willing to go places they're not determining. You want to see the surprise in people's faces."
Assayas approached Stewart for "Clouds of Sils Maria" on the suggestion of producer Charles Gillibert, who had worked with Stewart on the Jack Kerouac adaption "On the Road," also a French production. Stewart says she never got the script ("and in their very French way they didn't call or ask or push"), so the role was cast for Mia Wasikowska. After Wasikowska dropped out, Stewart came aboard.
"It's really something that you have not seen her in," Assayas said at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film first premiered. "Kristen, whatever image one has of her, ultimately she's just a great actress by any standard."
She has certainly won the French over. In February, she became the first American actress to ever win a Cesar, France's top film award, for her performance in "Clouds of Sils Maria."
Of the actor-publicist relationship Stewart says: "It's always more complicated than: 'Go get me water.'" Though she's playing a character on the opposite side of fame, it may be the role closest to Stewart herself.
"It's so not a departure. It's a world that I know so well and that I've observed so much of," Stewart says. "I really wasn't trying to be anyone else."
In person, Stewart seems to physically shrink, balled up in a defensive pose, her sleeves pulled over her hands. She never exactly loosens up, but she's animated when talking about her inspirations and her newfound creative freedom.
When asked about how "Twilight" changed her, Stewart rambles reluctantly on how it helped her realize she's an actor. But when it's pointed out that it sounds like "Twilight" is far from her thoughts, she quickly nods.
"Completely. I only have to think about that when someone asks me."