The lighter side of Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart freely admits she's not always superconfident in her comedy chops.
The former child star, whose breakout role came at the age of 12 opposite Jodie Foster in Panic Room, has become one of the most respected and versatile actors of her generation thanks to dramas including Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria and action blockbusters such as Snow White and the Huntsman and last year's reboot of Charlie's Angels.
But comedies are thin on the ground in her otherwise diverse CV and the actor has said she's sometimes found it difficult to be in the casting conversations for those movies.
Could that have something to do with her long association with the hugely successful but mostly critically derided Twilight series, in which her character Bella Swan had many admirable characteristics but a sense of humour was generally accepted as not being one of them?
"Yeah, she was just a joyless succubus," Stewart says sarcastically and a bit tetchily via Zoom call from her Los Angeles home, before conceding the point.
"She was intense, I agree."
But Stewart says it's more that she treads carefully around comedy because "I am not somebody who would rely on myself to be the person to come with the jokes".
"Often times you will read a comedy knowing that whoever is cast in this should be a comedian because the storyline is fine, the plot is fine, but you need to hire somebody who knows how to be super-funny all the time."
That was one of the many reasons she was thrilled to find Happiest Season, which is being billed as the first LGBTQ rom-com backed by a major studio.
She plays Abby, one half of a gay couple, who accompanies partner Harper (Mackenzie Davis) home for the Christmas holidays.
On the way there she discovers Harper's conservative parents still think she's straight and Abby needs to be introduced as a room-mate rather than the love of her life.
While the term "straight woman" doesn't exactly apply for many reasons in this case - much of the comedy heavy lifting is done by the likes of Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy and Mary Holland - Stewart says she was confident the cast and the script (written by Holland and director Clea DuVall) would bring out her funny side too.
"I knew Clea was casting a really nice balance of actors with and without a lot of comedy experience," Stewart says.
"I was a little bit nervous, but at the same time I believed in the story so much that I was just like 'if I don't think about trying to be funny, it might just end up being pretty funny'."
Both Stewart and Davis were also be proud to be part of a groundbreaking film.
Parts of the LGBTQ community lost their collective minds when the pair were cast as a couple and Davis says while the outpouring of love made her feel accepted, she wonders why it's taken so long to get to this point.
"That's the weird thing, that it's the first," Davis says.
"And it's great but it still feels late. There is no part of me as a teenager that would have been shocked to see it. So, it feels like it's notable because it's the first, but it's also notable because it wouldn't have felt weird many, many years ago for it to exist."
DuVall, who is gay, was clear in her vision that she wanted her LGBTQ take on the rom-com to follow the genre's usual rules and tropes.
In her view, so many same-sex romance and drama films have dark storylines and tortured lead characters that the most radical thing to do was follow the standard, mass appeal rom-com formula but with a gay couple front and centre, experiencing all the same emotions.
"You're like 'oh, it seems to feel the same, we all have the same feelings of loving each other'," says Stewart of DuVall's approach.
"It seems pretty obvious but I guess to some it's not so obvious and it's really nice to say 'here you go, have a nice serving of gay broccoli'."
Stewart says the fact Happiest Season was backed by a major studio but didn't feel tokenistic is testament to DuVall's authentic perspective.
"It didn't feel like finally the studio system was catching up to culture and going 'oh, we have to make a gay movie now? OK, I guess we have to otherwise time is going to pass us by'," she says.
"It actually felt real and good and really well intentioned. I think Clea is brilliant and she assembled this incredible group of people and she didn't let any of us down."
As far as attitudes towards, and acceptance of, the LGBTQ community might have come in 2020, Stewart says there is still a misconception that coming out is easy, even in a liberal city such as Los Angeles or an accepting work environment such as Hollywood.
Her experience - at one time she and Robert Pattinson were one of the highest profile and most scrutinised straight couples in the world - was all the more complicated by living some of her most formative years in the public gaze.
"I love the public gaze - I became one," she deadpans.
"It was not so hard but I guess it was retrospectively difficult to be a young, queer person but I was really only aware that I was gay when I fell in love with a woman. I was like 22 when that happened so any latent internalised shame or homophobia is something that I only recognise now."
Stewart also agrees that shows such as the Emmy-winning Schitt's Creek, in which the fact that Levy's character David is gay is presented as entirely incidental, are helping to change attitudes and after working with Levy on Happiest Season, both she and Davis want to be "best friends" with him.
"Dan is also the funniest, most warm, thoughtful, nice comedian who never makes fun of anyone and never takes cheap shots and is really an observant and brilliant person," Stewart says.
"And he's an incredible actor and so emotional. He needed to do both (comedy and emotion) in this and I think it's such a nice opportunity for anyone who is a fan of Dan - I don't think you see this on Schitt's Creek."
Happiest Season opens in cinemas Thursday