Why Kristen Stewart connected with 'Rileys' more than 'Twilight'
The day after the mega-premiere of "Twilight: Eclipse" last week, Kristen Stewart was back at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Friday night for a decidedly more low-key event, supporting the film "Welcome to the Rileys" alongside cast members Melissa Leo and James Gandolfini. The film premiered earlier this year at Sundance and was recently picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films for a planned fall release.
Writer Ken Hixon and producer Michael Costigan -- director Jake Scott was not in attendance -- first fielded a few questions after the screening. It was hard, however, not to feel that much of the room was simply waiting on Stewart, dressed in a short, simple black dress but having traded in the high heels of her arrival photos for a pair of low-top Converse sneakers. The first few rows of the audience seemed to skew more strictly female and decidedly younger than the larger audience, and the constant photo-taking revealed them as likely "Twi-hards."
It can be difficult, amidst the "Twilight" hubbub, to keep in mind that Stewart is a gifted actress and "Welcome to the Rileys" plays first and foremost as an actors' piece, allowing Stewart, Gandolfini and Leo to turn in three layered, deeply felt performances that seem natural and human even as the film's story takes some unlikely turns. Gandolfini plays a Midwestern businessman who goes to New Orleans on a business trip and meets a teenage stripper/prostitute played by Stewart. The two strike up an uneasy alliance; not a romance but maybe not always a pure friendship either, with each looking for something from the other. When Leo arrives, as Gandolfini's wife, the dynamics adjust again.
Rebecca Yeldham, LAFF director, moderated the discussion and first asked Stewart if she consciously chose parts "that couldn't be further from Bella" when taking roles outside the smash supernatural romance series that has made her an international sensation.
"No, it's never been, I've never chosen," Stewart said, beginning one of her notoriously halting, slightly elliptical answers, partly seeming self-aware enough to not want to repeat herself from previous interviews and partly unsure of how to put her thoughts into words, as if her mind were moving much faster than her mouth.
"It's a strange word to say 'chosen,' but I've never chosen anything I wasn't so moved by," she continued. "Liking something, it's a similar feeling to read something, it's such an undeniable emotion, whatever, to feel like you want to live and learn from that. And I had that with this. It really doesn't matter the budget of the movie -- I had that with 'Twilight.' Yeah, so, there you go."
For his part, Gandolfini was thinking somewhat of his most famous role, TV's gangster kingpin Tony Soprano, when he decided on taking his part.
"I wanted to play someone who wasn't killing anyone, for a change," Gandolfini said. "I thought it was different, something I hadn't read before."
With a dry delivery that made it unclear if he was joking, he drew laughs from the audience when he added, "And I'm really miserable, so I can play this miserable man."
Gandolfini and Stewart shared a microphone and the two communicated with a charmingly complex language of finger flicks and eye rolls, as neither looked to want to be the one to hold the mic between answers lest they be the one compelled to talk next.
In a question from the audience, Stewart was asked how she prepared for her "Rileys" role.
"I learned how to dance a bit, which you don't really see in the movie," Stewart said. "It was good for me, to learn from that you get bruises all over your body. It's really tiring. It hurts."
Stewart said she also talked to women at the strip club where parts of the film were shot. "And that was good for me because a lot of people really are dead inside when you look in their eyes, and it was hard for me at the beginning to understand what could push you to lose that. Basically these girls walk around like open wounds, like physically, literally, all the time, all day."
Asked if there was a scene in "Rileys" that was particularly difficult to shoot, Stewart mentioned a scene in which she and Leo discuss a certain female issue -- "the urinary tract infection scene," she called it -- and noted how Leo's off-camera performance during Stewart's close-up was particularly useful.
"She made me feel really, really, really weird," Stewart said, turning to Leo and asking "was it weird for you?" when she asked Stewart if she couldn't urinate.
"I'm somebody's mother, Kristen," Leo said. "It's not funny to ask if you made pee-pee if your pee-pee's feeling bad. That's what you do."
A young woman who said she came from Sweden haltingly asked why Stewart had said in another interview that her character in "Rileys" was the one she connected with the most. "Maybe it just affected me the most. It's hard to say," replied Stewart. "Sometimes you can leave [stuff] at work and sometimes you can't."
-- Mark Olsen
Photo: Kristen Stewart. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times.