Kristen Stewart should be in the next Captain America

Last month, recovering Twilight victim Kristen Stewart made a casual comment during an interview about how she’s a big fan of Marvel’s superhero movies, and would love to be in one if given the chance:

Stewart: I love watching those movies. … I would love to show people that I can do more than just be ‘Kristen Stewart’ in a different movie, in a different circumstance. … I’m sure I could get on board with Captain America, you know what I mean?… It would just have to be the right thing.

These kinds of comments make news all the time with actors, and it tends to bug me. Actors are not casting directors, and some actor mentioning what they’d like to be doing isn’t really a story, despite how often entertainment websites try to make it one. However, I’ve been wanting to talk about Kristen Stewart for a long time now, and this seems as good a time as any. It’s always bothered me how Kristen Stewart, despite having a noteworthy career long before the Twilight Saga, suddenly became the poster girl for bad acting when those films came out. I’ve always been a fan of hers, and honestly, it’s time I spoke up about this.

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Frankly, someone with as much visibility and success as Kristen Stewart doesn’t really need defending, least of all from little old me. She’s rich, famous, and gets to do what she loves for a living; I doubt she cares much what the internet thinks of her. The internet loves to hate, and they’ll use any excuse to feel superior to someone better off than they are. It’s my estimation that “bad actors”, that is to say, actors that are legitimately incompetent at their chosen profession yet somehow continue to find work in notable projects, are next to nonexistent. People simply don’t get very far in the industry if they genuinely lack any useful talent.

Yes, there is such a thing as nepotism, and yes, making the right connections is what actually gets you in the door, but unless you have at least a passable screen presence, it usually doesn’t matter who your uncle is. Keanu Reeves? Good actor, great screen presence. Shia LaBeouf? Decent actor, even if he is a jackass. Hayden Christensen? Well, okay, he does always seem terrible, but then again, I’ve never seen him in a good movie, so it’s hard to judge. Even Natalie Portman was bad in the prequels.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the internet’s chosen punching bags tend to be women, and especially women who have been hired for their looks more than anything. Moderately talented actresses like Jessica Alba or Megan Fox, who mostly get cast as little more than eye candy by producers who really don’t care much how convincing they are in any given role as long as they look good onscreen, are the target of a lot of abusive talk online. I have no idea if Megan Fox has a good performance somewhere in her, but I do know Michael Bay probably isn’t the one to bring it out (remember, he openly admitted to casting her for her abs). I didn’t think Cameron Diaz was a very good actress either, and then I saw The Counselor and she floored me.

The film industry has a naked tendency to value a woman’s appearance over her acting abilities. That’s not to say they don’t value the handsomeness of men as well. I mean, it’s Hollywood; they like beautiful people. More often than not, film is about creating an idealized version of reality. But it still must be pointed out that there are a lot more Danny DeVitos walking around than Kathy Bateses.

Also, film is a collaborative art form, and how convincing an actor comes across is much more of a group effort than you may realize. Not all actors can deliver a good performance that really comes across onscreen when they’re stuck with a director that doesn’t give a crap.

So when Jessica Alba walks into an audition, she’s probably not going in planning to just bat her eyelashes and get the role based solely on the grounds that she’s drop-dead gorgeous, and it’s not her fault that they keep putting her in roles she’s not right for simply because they prioritized sex appeal for the part. Hate the game, not the player, is all I’m saying.

Unfortunately, most people do tend to hate the player. After all, when you have to sit through a bad movie and need someone to blame, it’s a lot easier to hate the face right in front of you than some theoretical casting director. And more than anyone else, women still have it really hard in the industry, and are far more scrutinized than their male counterparts. George Clooney gives a bad performance? People blame the movie. He’s a good actor, and way better than this, and so on. Halle Berry gives a bad performance? Blame her, clearly she’s a no-talent slut blowing someone in a position of power to get to where she is.

But enough about tangentially related gender issues. We’re here to discuss Kristen Stewart’s acting talent, and why I think it would be just grand if she scored a role in the next Captain America movie.

Criticisms of Stewart’s acting basically come down to two points: 1) She has a blank, emotionless face, and 2) she always plays every role the same way. Well, the first point is pretty easy to debunk: No, she doesn’t, and if you honestly think that, you’ve probably never seen her in anything other than the Twilight Saga or maybe Snow White and the Huntsman, in which case I’d recommend you go watch some of her good movies.

Have you seen Panic Room, in which she worked for David Fincher and held her own alongside Jodie Foster at the tender age of twelve? Try Adventureland, which is probably the most quintessential Kristen Stewart role ever. But probably the best performance of her career was when she played Joan Jett in The Runaways.

Kristen Stewart should be in the next Captain America

You see, in the same way that actors with more out-there acting styles like Nicolas Cage or Gary Oldman are often mistaken for overacting, Kristen Stewart, who has a very subdued approach, is often mistaken for underacting. She’s subtle about expressing emotions, which is perfect for a quiet indie drama like Adventureland, but not so much for bombastic soap opera like Twilight.

As for playing every role the same: Yes. Yes, she does tend to. So does Clint Eastwood. And Bruce Willis. And Bruce Campbell. And Samuel L. Jackson. And George Clooney. And Jack Nicholson. And Morgan Freeman. And Anthony Hopkins. And Ian McKellan. And Patrick Stewart. And Al Pacino. And Robert De Niro. And Christopher Walken. And John Malkovich. And Liam Neeson. And any one of a thousand popular character actors. And you love them for it. You get excited to see them in movies because you want to see them do what you’ve already seen them do a hundred times.

This is what character actors do. They specialize. They do one kind of role particularly well, and that’s what they’re generally hired to play. This is how movie stars are made. This is how icons are born. This is how impressionists make their living. Kristen Stewart is best at playing the disaffected, slightly awkward, uncomfortable-in-her-own-skin quiet girl, an attitude that is, yes, pretty much the same as her public persona, just like most character actors.

Kristen Stewart should be in the next Captain America

When used properly, she excels. The problem with her in the Twilight movies is… Well, the main problem is she friggin’ hates being in them! You think you hate the Twilight movies? Trust me, you will never hate the Twilight franchise as much as Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson do. After all, you didn’t have to devote half a decade of your life to being in and promoting the damn series. Stewart tends to be a little more professional about it, making her discomfort known with a subtle, passive-aggressive insincerity in interviews more that outright animosity. But there’s no shortage of clips on the internet of Robert Pattinson expressing his utter loathing for the series.

But beyond the fact that it’s hard to act well when you hate your job, Bella Swan is a role that was both made for Stewart and yet the worst possible thing she could have done. Bella is very much written as the awkward, detached loner Stewart specializes in playing. But because the character is so flatly written, with no adequate motivation for her attitude, all of Stewart’s mannerisms suddenly become much more obvious and annoying because there isn’t a real character behind them anymore. When she’s not given anything substantial to latch onto, the audience’s attention starts to wander, giving them time to think things like, “Gee, Kristen Stewart sure bites her lip a lot, doesn’t she?”

It’s a real shame, because if she had found a role in a better franchise to finally launch her into A-list status, those very traits that people hate about her now might have been her most endearing qualities to many of those same people. After all, her laid back, disaffected, dare I say “punk” attitude is the same kind of Daria-esque personality people find endlessly lovable in actresses like fellow indie-star-turned-A-lister Ellen Page.

Part of the reason I like Kristen Stewart so much is she seems so very “un-Hollywood”. Everyone who’s ever met her comments on how they would’ve never guessed she was an actress if they didn’t know who she was. Despite becoming one of the biggest stars in the world, she still manages to come across as down to earth. She seems rather uncomfortable in the spotlight, and she channels that into her performances, usually to great effect.

It’s tragic her career went the way it did. When someone becomes as instantly and inescapably famous as Kristen Stewart did, some backlash is expected, and since it was through something as divisive as Twilight, the hatred was only compounded. And now, we’re seeing the same thing happen to poor Shailene Woodley; And the cycle begins anew.

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