Sometimes, starring in a worldwide phenomenon film franchise can actually hurt your career. In most cases, this is often the result of the world seeing you as that one character, leading to decades-long careers where a star will be permanently typecast until they retire (see: Jennifer Anniston in the 2000s, the three leads of the 'Harry Potter' series, etc). Sometimes, however, your career catapult is trivialised, mocked and just not taken seriously, even when it's the very thing that made you a star in the first place. Perhaps the biggest victim of this curse is Kristen Stewart, who turns 30 this week.
Unlike her 'Twilight' co-lead Robert Pattinson, whose biggest role pre-brooding vampire Edward Cullen was as Cedric Diggory in 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire', Kristen Stewart already had an impressive number of films under her belt before she became a household name. Making her first big screen debut at just 10 with an uncredited role in in 'The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas', Stewart would go onto major projects such as the David Fincher thriller 'Panic Room' playing Jodie Foster's daughter; goofy heist comedy 'Catch That Kid'; and family science fiction film 'Zathura: A Space Adventure'. Of her early 2000s roles, however, there's one that appears to stand out from the rest. The 2004 indie drama 'Speak' saw Stewart garner praise for her inward but painful portrayal of a teenager whose trauma has rendered her mute. It was her ability to portray withdrawn youth so well that landed her similar roles in the years to come, such as in Sean Penn's excellent indie drama 'Into the Wild'.
And then, of course, everything changed in 2008 when Stewart was cast as Isabella "Bella" Swan in a little movie known as 'Twilight'. While Stephenie Meyer, the author of the 'The Twilight Saga' book series, initially saw Emily Browning ('Legend') in the lead role, Stewart seemed like a natural fit as the clumsy and introverted Bella and eventually gained Meyer's blessing in the role. Despite the success of the book series, which spanned four books published from 2005 to 2008, no one could have guessed the phenomenon that would follow the first film instalment's release. Spanning five films, 'The Twilight Saga' grossed over $3 billion worldwide, making it one of the most successful film franchises of all time. It is difficult to discuss 'The Twilight Saga' without also drawing comparisons to 'Harry Potter'; after all, they were the defining young adult film series' of the 2000s. 'The Twilight Saga' acted as the broodier foil to 'Harry Potter', the forbidden romance between teenage human Bella and her 108-year-old vampire paramour Edward enchanted teenagers and adults alike. The impact of the series on the pop culture landscape was also one that was felt for years to come, with the launch of numerous Young Adult film series attempting to replicate that same 'Twilight' box office magic (not surprisingly, none took off in quite the way they were intended).
Throughout her 'Twilight' years, Stewart was also making more obscure project choices, a precursor to her post-'Twilight' career. Perhaps the strongest of these is her criminally underseen and underrated turn as real-life rocker Joan Jett in 2010's 'The Runaways', opposite her 'Twilight Saga' co-star Dakota Fanning. Call it an attempt at course correction or just a desire to get out of the spotlight, Stewart and her co-star (and then-partner) Robert Pattinson could have continued their world domination by signing onto more large projects, but both instead opted for smaller projects they were passionate about.
The one major exception to this, of course, was 2012's action fantasy 'Snow White and the Huntsman', which with a budget of $170 million is the most expensive film in Stewart's filmography. While the film made nearly $400 million worldwide and was widely considered a success, its release was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the affair between director Rupert Sanders and Stewart, which would see the end of his marriage and her relationship with Robert Pattinson respectively.
One could argue that despite their success, 'The Twilight Saga' was not the best vehicle to display its lead actress' full spectrum of talent, and Stewart's career in the early- to mid-2010s saw industry perspective change towards something more respectable. Her attempt to cement her status as an indie darling culminated in universal acclaim for her role alongside French legend Juliette Binoche in 2012's 'Clouds of Sils Maria', for which Stewart became the first ever American to win the César Award for Best Supporting Actress. Stewart would collaborate once more with director Olivier Assayas in 2016 for the psychological ghost drama 'Personal Shopper', once again garnering acclaim for her role. She would also traverse multiple genres across the 2010s, such as drama (2014's 'Still Alice'); sci-fi romance (2015's 'Equals') and stoner comedies (2015's 'American Ultra'). Almost as if by design, Stewart's role choices for most of the last decade seemed to keep everyone guessing what she would do next.
Almost as if by design, Stewart's role choices for most of the 2010s seemed to keep everyone guessing what she would do next.
2019 saw Stewart steer back into the mainstream with the one-two punch of 'Seberg', a biopic on actress Jean Seberg, and the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot of 'Charlie's Angels'. While neither were received with welcome arms by critics, Stewart's performances were deemed as the highlight in both films, and it indicated that Stewart was once again comfortable to be in the spotlight. She solidified her return with this year's monster thriller 'Underwater'. Starring alongside heavyweight Vincent Cassel ('Black Swan'), Stewart leads the thriller with a physically demanding but emotionally nuanced performance.
While the public may have a long way to go before it remembers her as anyone but Bella Swan, Kristen Stewart has proved multiple times over her career that not only can she carry a film with charisma and ease, but she can do it in many different permutations, a chameleon of an actress who I'm excited to see more of in the next 20 years of her career.