Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman star Kristen Stewart wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award this year. That didn’t stop her though from pretty much owning the red carpet at last month’s event, where she did serve as a presenter. No one was prouder of Kristen than her mother, Jules Stewart.
“It’s crazy,” Stewart replied the day after the Oscars when I asked her how it felt to be the mother of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. “I’m so proud of her and all my children (Stewart’s three sons are also involved in the film industry), but Kristen is so real in every part she does.”
Mama Stewart is well-known within the industry as a longtime script supervisor. Since the late 1980’s, she developed an eclectic resume that includes the cult favorite Meet the Applegates, martial arts epics Showdown in Little Tokyo and Mortal Kombat, David Lynch’s The Straight Story, and the family films Jingle All the Way, Flubber and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
She is now making her directorial debut with the LGBT-interest K-11, now in limited release. It centers on a straight record producer who is suspected of murder and subsequently consigned to a special jail ward for gay, bi and transsexual men. The setting is inspired by an actual unit in the Los Angeles County Jail, although residence in it is voluntary.
“I was working on a television pilot and one of the writers came to me with this idea about K-11,” Stewart recounted. “I hadn’t heard about it but once I looked into it I thought this was a great opportunity to create some great characters. It was also an unusual story, in the good sense, that I hadn’t seen before.”
Stewart co-wrote the screenplay with Jared Kurt and decided to direct it since she “felt closer to the material” by that point. According to her, it took six years to bring K-11 to the big screen and her daughter Kristen was originally going to be in it as a sweet, naïve inmate named Butterfly. “She attached herself, I think, during filming of the first Twilight when we first had a complete script.” As the process of funding K-11 went on and Kristen’s career took off, however, the younger Stewart instead committed to the recent Snow White remake, with her mother’s blessing. Kristen does make a brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in the final film as the producer’s secretary.
I asked Stewart whether the fact that K-11 is based on a real place added any extra responsibility or pressure to directing her first feature. “It did in that you want to be truthful,” she replied. “In the dorm they have a routine, and that gave us a structure; then we invented really amazing characters to put in this situation. I wanted it to be a revenge story but with a happy ending, which I think it has.”
She also spoke enthusiastically about the experience of helming this particular movie: “It was awesome (laughing), I have to say. I had a great crew and an amazing cast. It was fun, and hugely collaborative. When you have 46 people in one room, the energy is just amazing. I hope people feel that (while watching the film).”
The cast of K-11 is headed by Goran Visnjic, who recently co-starred as Christopher Plummer’s much younger lover in Beginners, and Kate Del Castillo, who is not only one of Mexico’s most popular actresses but also serves as Ambassador for the Mexican Commission on Human Rights. I asked Stewart how she assembled such a great, “name” cast for her debut film.
“Funny you should mention that,” Stewart answered. “My casting director came to me with Goran. That character could have been played by anyone since he’s the fish out of water, but we met and he was so enthusiastic about the part; I was so glad he wanted to do it.” Of Del Castillo, who plays the cellblock’s vicious Trans queen bee, Stewart said: “Kate was the first actor we cast. I wanted a female to play a man becoming a woman since (the character) was halfway there. She’s a dynamic actress, and she’s beautiful.”
I was curious as to whether the writer-director had much exposure to LGBT people prior to filming K-11. “Not really,” Stewart answered. “I have a lot of gay friends but they’re not really transgender; still, for me, it was sort of never really an issue.”
She continued: “I did learn a lot about transgender people (while making the movie) because I became friends with them on the set; there are only three girls in the film, so there are actual Trans people in it. My casting director went to the LA Gay & Lesbian Center for referrals and we cast several of them. And you know what? They were at the set on time every single day because they were so excited to be a part of this story.”
While LGBT and other viewers will ultimately draw their own conclusions about her movie, Stewart is optimistic. “I hope K-11 is well-received,” she said. “I think it’s a story worth telling and I hope they love the characters as much as I do. They are different and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of The Brady Bunch.”
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.