It is a humid dusk in midtown Atlanta, and Kristen Stewart is perched on a too-tall bar stool at Saltwood Charcuterie & Bar in the Loews Hotel, her petite legs swinging free as she talks about girl prison. Not a literal Orange Is the New Black penitentiary—more the psychological and social incarceration all women feel at various points in their lives, when we are expected to smile, please, endure, accept, be grateful, acquiesce, apologize, bend over, be happy. Stewart, 25, knows all about girl prison: how a woman can be punished for not falling in line, for not reflecting what the culture deems she should, for not being, “I believe the operative words are, accessible, easy, and uncomplicated,” she says with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.
Stewart, in town filming Ang Lee’s military drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, is not, and has never been, any of those things. She spent years being taken to task for striking doleful poses on the red carpet, or not shining in talk-show settings, or daring to have desires beyond those the public prescribed to her because they believed they had the right to shape her persona since she was a young girl in a series of blockbuster films based on best-selling books. Finally, she decided to embrace the rebel labels thrown her way and say, “Fuck it all!”
“I lit my universe on fire,” she admits with a sly smile, “and I watched it burn.” Stewart drops her head, tugs at the hem of her simple black sweatshirt. Fans away a mosquito. Yanks a fallen tube sock from its cotton pool in her Converse sneaker. “Speaking very candidly,” she says at last, lifting her chin and swallowing a gulp of her vodka tonic, “it was a really traumatic period in my early 20s that kick-started something in me that was a bit more,” she pauses, then settles on the word, “feral.”
On reaching peace with her public image: “I’m really proud that I am able to move forward and not fall into every mental crater. That’s a new thing for me. Age has made me smarter and calmer. And it is fucking awesome.”
On her appearance and cutting her hair: “My hair was such a crutch. I looked quote unquote ‘sexy’ no matter what. I could hide behind it. As soon as I didn’t have all that hair, I had to let my face hang out. I felt more confident than I had in a really long time. And it felt really good. Maybe to most people long hair is prettier. But then what? Is your main goal in life to be desired? That is boring as fuck.”
On apologizing: “Lately, I’ve been doing less of the 'I’m sooooo sorry.’ And more of the 'No. Fuck. Jesus.’”
On the best advice she’s received: “Patti Smith told me to always take care of my teeth and lungs.”
On her success at a young age: “Between ages 15 and 20, it was really intense. I was constantly anxious. I was kind of a control freak. If I didn’t know how something was going to turn out, I would make myself ill, or just be locked up or inhibited in a way that was really debilitating.”