Actress Jodie Foster has already clearly taken the side of her on-screen daughter Kristen Stewart, but apparently privately consoling her wasn’t enough: She’s penned an entire piece for The Daily Beast about pervasive celebrity culture, how she wouldn’t be able to survive Kristen’s media scrutiny at the tender age of 22, and some sweet anecdotes from the set of their movie Panic Room in 2001. The essay is insightful, and it’s wonderful to see celebrities sticking up for each other and giving us a better idea of what they trade when they give up their privacy… but reading it, you can’t forget that Jodie’s sphere of influence with Kristen is woefully small. Kristen turned 11 during the filming of Panic Room, and it’s unclear how much they’ve kept in touch in the intervening 11 years.
The main point that Jodie’s making is how difficult it is to be a child actor in general, and a young actor in today’s Hollywood like Kristen is. She says that if she had started out now, she would’ve quit before she started. Kristen was an adolescent in that pre-social media period, when magazines like People still delved into celebrities’ business but there were still boundaries and standards. However, just shy of 40 in 2001, Jodie says that even then she wished she could steer Kristen away from this damaging lifestyle:
Her mother and I watched her jump around after the ball, hooting with every team basket. “She doesn’t want to be an actor when she grows up, does she?” I asked. Her mom sighed. “Yes … unfortunately.” We both smiled and shrugged with an ambivalence born from experience. “Can’t you talk her out of it?” I offered. “Oh, I’ve tried. She loves it. She just loves it.” More sighs. We watched her run around the court for a while, both of us silent, each thinking our own thoughts. I was pregnant at the time and found myself daydreaming of the child I might have soon. Would she be just like Kristen? All that beautiful talent and fearlessness … would she jump and dunk and make me so proud?
You have to question how much foresight these people really had. At the time, the Harry Potter books were only starting to gain steam, and Twilight was a half-formed dream in housewife Stephenie Meyer‘s head. No one knew what a phenomenon the YA series was going to become, how Kristen would take on this underdeveloped character who’s nonetheless become a proxy for every daydreaming girl (and soccer mom) in the country who wishes a vampire would save her from falling down and then tell her when she’s actually allowed to have sex.
And here’s the problem with Jodie’s essay: Her image of Kristen is stuck at a pre-pubescent tomboy who can give a stirring performance but hasn’t been actually pushed to market herself as a brand, to craft a fictional persona that conforms to fans’ impossible expectations. Did Jodie offer advice once Kristen and Robert Pattinson started going out and tried to coyly hide their romance from the paparazzi? Did Kristen confide in her when she was trying to play a more sexual character in On the Road but audiences insisted on confining her within the prudish, powerless confines of the Bella Swan character? Jodie is like the mother who sees that her daughter has grown up but can only reference the girl she used to be instead of the woman she’s trying to become.
Which is why it was really out of place when Jodie mentions some photograph of a kid in the ’70s:
There’s this image I have of a perfect moment. It comes to me as a square format 8mm home movie with 70’s oversaturated reds and blues, no sound, just a scratchy loop … there’s a little white-haired girl twirling in the surf. She’s singing at the top of her lungs, jumping and spinning around in the cold water, all salty, sandy, full of joy and confidence. She’s unconscious of the camera, of course, in her own world. The camera shakes a little. Perhaps her mom’s laughing behind the lens. Could a child be more loved than in this moment? She’s perfect. She is absolutely perfect.
Cut to: Today … A beautiful young woman strides down the sidewalk alone, head down, hands drawn into fists. She’s walking fast, darting around huge men with black cameras thrusting at her mouth and chest. “Kristen, how do you feel?”
Is Kristen the child? Is it a metaphor? I feel like I’m in eleventh-grade English again and not following along.
One part that struck me as really cocky is when Jodie contemplates an alternate life where she hadn’t gone into acting at the age of three:
Sarah Tobias would never have danced before her rapists in The Accused. Clarice would never have shared the awful screaming of the lambs to Dr. Lecter. Another actress might surely have taken my place, opened her soul to create those characters, surrendered her vulnerabilities. But would she have survived the paparazzi peering into her windows, the online harassment, the public humiliations, without overdosing in a hotel room or sticking her face with needles until she became unrecognizable even to herself?
Granted, I’ve never seen either of the movies she references — I know, I suck for never watching The Silence of the Lambs – but were her performances so groundbreaking that the movies would have been lesser without her? Considering Hollywood as prioritizing profit over art in many cases, you imagine that the studios would have found someone else. And if she is referencing the high points of her early career to draw comparisons to Kristen, which movies is she saying would have floundered with her? Adventureland, maybe, but not Twilight. Summit would’ve found another Bella Swan to create a hyperbolic love story with Rob on- and off-screen. Maybe this other actress would still have cheated with Rupert Sanders out of 22-year-old stupidity—or pretended to for a PR stunt, depending who you believe. That’s one part of the essay where I thought she gave everyone maybe more credit than they deserved.
Or maybe we should just be thankful that someone is taking Kristen’s side, now that Rob is eating ice cream with Jon Stewart and getting all the sympathy.
Photo: Columbia Pictures