It may look like Woody Allen is a heat-seeking missile when it comes to young talent: Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Miley Cyrus, and Freida Pinto have been some of the millennial actors he’s hired in recent years.
But the director’s latest bit of youthful casting -- Kristen Stewart in the new 1930s-set romance “Café Society” -- came about for very specific reasons.
“I needed someone who could play an adorable little girl from Nebraska one second … and then later in the movie you see her in furs and jewels and she’s transformed herself [into] a sophisticated beauty in cosmopolitan Manhattan,” Allen told reporters of the role, which follows, among other things, her character’s evolution from secretary to society lady.
“Kristen,” he added, “could do both.”
Starring as Hollywood secretary Vonnie, the actress indeed begins the Cannes opener as corn-fed ingenue and then makes some leaps as the film goes along. (She pulls it off, for the most part, the peeking through of some modern-flavored punkish poses in the first section notwithstanding.)
Stewart said Allen may not have always been convinced of her suitability; she even had to audition for the part. “The flitty little lady was not something he saw initially so I had to prove it,” Stewart said to journalists. And she came in with her own doubts; after all, Stewart’s style of acting and Allen’s directing aesthetic are both pretty specific — and not entirely synonymous.
“At first I was really aware of [his style] and wondered if I ever was going to fit into that,” she said. “Luckily once we got going, that [tone] that’s familiar just happened intrinsically.”
Of course, for all her acting virtues, Stewart arrives with the added benefit of a new demographic: legions of young female fans who wouldn’t necessarily be lining up for a Woody Allen film. (These are a particular asset to distributor Amazon Studios, which paid a pretty penny for “Café Society.”)
Whatever the reasons for her hiring, “Cafe Society” continues an increasingly robust art-house run for the former Bella Swan, offering a rebuttal of sorts to the earlier part of her career. (At this festival she will also debut her latest collaboration with French auteur Olivier Assays, in the director’s “Personal Shopper.”) Given Stewart’s migration from one of the biggest blockbuster franchises on the planet to more specialized prestige films — and given that “Café Society” is set in a world of commerce over art — it’s a subject that was top of mind Wednesday.
“There’s definitely an undeniably, hungry insane fervor that occurs,” she said of her experience in modern Hollywood. “And it’s really apparent when people don’t care about that kind of [artistic] stuff.”
Acting, she continued, is not something she does “because you want to entertain people and make a bunch of money. Most people do. That’s not a bad thing. But if it doesn’t hold hands with a genuine desire to make art, then that sucks. And it’s pretty rampant.”