During a pivotal scene in Snow White and the Huntsman, a sinister reimagining of the Grimms’ fantasy, Snow White is reborn, her white gown basking in an ethereal glow. She saunters down the castle steps and stares out at a gloomy assemblage of soldiers. “Fight for me!” she screams, her voice cracking with emotion.
Moments later, the “fairest of them all” is in full-on Braveheart mode, donning knight’s armor and commanding a legion of sword-waving warriors on horseback toward an impregnable fortress.
That this frightened bastard-cum-valiant hero is played by Kristen Stewart—with great élan—shouldn’t take connoisseurs of the actress by surprise. After all, she’s excelled in a plethora of roles ranging from a diabetic tomboy in David Fincher’s Panic Room to the oft-naked sexpot Marylou in an upcoming adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which is earning her rave reviews at Cannes.
At just 22, Stewart is one of the world’s most famous actresses, commanding up to $20 million per film thanks to her starring role in the Twilight movie franchise, which has grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide and counting.
But with great fame comes great Internet snark, and Stewart has fast become one of the most vilified actresses in Hollywood. She’s been pigeonholed by her detractors as a second-rate actress onscreen—thanks to the frustratingly emo, emotionally hollow character, Bella Swan, that she portrays in the underwhelming Twilight films—and a sneering, self-important Katherine Heigl-lite who’s run out of fucks to give. There have been numerous op-eds, including one by this very site, dedicated to Stewart-lash, as well as open letters urging her to, among other things, “smile,” “enunciate,” and “put on a little makeup.” If she so much as rolls her eyes when asked a dumbass question during an interview, the vultures descend.
Why all the vitriol?
Stewart first gained notice for her turn as Sarah Altman, the diabetic tomboy daughter of Jodie Foster’s character in Panic Room. The scene where Sarah suffers a seizure is arguably the most suspenseful moment in the film, thanks in large part to Stewart’s riveting performance.
“I didn’t realize that 80 takes wasn’t normal,” Stewart later told W of David Fincher’s notoriously meticulous directing style. “Just being able to say, I was 10-years-old and I broke all the blood vessels in my eye on that take, is cool. It was fun.”
Two years later, she earned critical praise for her performance in the Lifetime movie Speak, playing a high-school freshman who becomes mute after being date-raped by a senior student.
“Ms. Stewart creates a convincing character full of pain and turmoil—not an easy acting feat, since because of the nature of the story she has a limited number of lines,” wrote The New York Times.
After a few supporting turns, 2007 was poised to be Stewart’s breakout year, with four films being released. Unfortunately, the two films she anchored—In the Land of Women, a tone-deaf romantic drama, and The Messengers, a cut-rate horror film, were critically mauled. She did receive high marks for her brief turn as a guitar-playing hippie in Into the Wild, as well an outstanding performance as a girl suffering from Friedreich’s Ataxia—a rare, incurable disease that cripples the nervous system—trying to lose her virginity in The Cake Eaters. Despite positive reviews by critics, the film never received a theatrical release.
Later that year, however, Stewart landed the coveted role of Bella Swan, the 17-year-old protagonist in Twilight. She then handpicked Robert Pattinson, an unknown British actor, to play her vampire love, Edward Cullen.
“Kristen was like, ‘It’s got to be Rob!’” director Catherine Hardwicke told Newsweek. “She felt connected to him from the first moment. That electricity, or love at first sight, or whatever it is.”
Based on Stephenie Meyer’s series of bestselling novels, the film became a cultural phenomenon, grossing close to $400 million worldwide and making teen idols out of its two attractive stars.
Then came the backlash.
Thanks to the scandal-happy tabloids, who never warmed to her wry, self-deprecating sense of humor, Stewart quickly became a target and was lambasted for doing things any 18-year-old would do, like smoking pot on her front steps or mumbling awkwardly through interviews, including a much-ballyhooed episode on the Late Show With David Letterman.
Despite an award-worthy turn as a troubled teen in the coming-of-age dramedy Adventureland, as well as receiving the Rising Star BAFTA for her performance in the Twilight sequel, New Moon, she would gain the dubious distinction of being named High Times magazine's Stonette of the Year for 2009.
“It’s a very different time from when I was growing up,” Jodie Foster told Elle, coming to Stewart’s defense. “We didn’t have those lenses that were 150 feet long, or maybe we had them, but there was still a real delineation between the public and the private.”
While there was chemistry between Stewart and her onscreen love interest, Robert Pattinson, from the get-go, with director Catherine Hardwicke making Pattinson “swear on a stack of Bibles” that he wouldn’t pursue her while filming the first Twilight, rumors began swirling that she was indeed dating Pattinson while the two were promoting the sequel, New Moon. This only seemed to amplify the backlash against Stewart, especially from women. Much the same way female viewers despise Megan Draper (Jessica Pare), the cerebral, sensible Mad Men character, simply because she’s bagged the dapper Don (Jon Hamm), women resent Stewart for landing Pattinson—both on-screen and off. That many women still dislike Stewart for dating their beloved Edward Cullen, even though it was she who handpicked him for the role, is baffling.
While Stewart has also caught flack for her acting in the Twilight films and beyond, she has an unlikely ally in one of the world’s finest film critics: A.O. Scott of The New York Times.
“What there isn’t, as usual, much in the way of good acting, with the decisive and impressive exception of Ms. Stewart, who can carry a close-up about as well as anyone in movies today,” he wrote of Eclipse, the third Twilight film.
And in his review of The Runaways, a film about the rebellious 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name, Scott wrote:
“Ms. Stewart, watchful and unassuming, gives the movie its spine and soul. Cherie may dazzle and appall you, but Joan is the one you root for, and the one rock ’n’ roll fans of every gender and generation will identify with.”
Despite being the No. 1 “best actor for the buck,” according to Forbes, with Stewart’s films earning an average $55.83 for every $1 she’s paid, as well as being voted the No. 15 hottest woman in the world by the readers of Maxim, Stewart still can’t seem to catch a break in the gossip columns. Just recently, they’ve criticized her for flipping the bird at pestering paparazzi in Cannes, and even created a false “feud”—for the second time, believe it or not—between her and The Hunger Games’s young star, Jennifer Lawrence.
“That’s what I like about Kristen,” Charlize Theron, her Snow White and the Huntsman co-star, told Elle. “All that fame and all that spotlight stuff is not her life. Her privacy is not going to be up for grabs. But man, because of that she’s going to be okay. She’s one of the few who will have a very long, steady, amazing career.”