SXSW 2010 Interview: Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning (THE RUNAWAYS)

Will Schiffelbein

by: Will Schiffelbein
March 22nd, 2010

One of the bigger premieres at SXSW happened on Thursday night, in order to correspond with the beginning of the music portion of the festival. The movie, THE RUNAWAYS, is a biopic about Joan Jett and Cherie Curie's early years with the band The Runaways. The film's two stars are a couple of Hollywood's biggest up-and-coming actresses: Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. I was lucky enough to sit down at a roundtable interview with them on Friday. Here's the result!

This is a movie about girls getting a sense of empowerment and working in a field where girls aren't supposed to do this sort of thing. They're supposed to let themselves be manipulated and their destiny charted for them. How do you relate to this as young actors? Do you feel that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself?

Dakota: I mean, I've always grown up thinking I can do whatever I want and be whatever I want. I don't think I've ever gone through any struggle that compares to what they did. I mean I definitely did when I started acting. I didn't get a lot of things. People said I didn't have enough hair [laughs]. They said I was too blonde and people didn't want me in their movies. I understand it was my first movie [I AM SAM]. So yeah, I've experienced things like that but nothing like they did.

Kristen: Um, yeah. Yeah. Joan always says that nothing has changed whenever she's asked about...just because she doesn't see girls literally playing the kind of music that she play, I don't think that's necessarily because things haven't changed. It's because she's really unique. I don't know if girls necessarily have that drive, but we're definitely put in boxes nowadays. They're just different [boxes]. I think it's gotten better. I've grown up feeling like I can be anything I wanted as well. She didn't, so it's different. But at the same time, I think its still easier for a guy to have a little more personality. People don't comment on it as much.

Do you think that a guy could get away with saying something outrageous that a girl couldn't?

Kristen: Yeah, no. To a certain degree, definitely.

In the movie you both sing, and you do a pretty phenomenal job at it. At what point was it decided that it was going to be done that way; that you were going to have the opportunity to sing for yourself as opposed to a sound-alike come in and do it for you.

Dakota: I don't think it ever occurred to me to not do it myself. I thought it would be so unauthentic and the easy way out. I really didn't want to do that. So, I always wanted to be able to do it. But, it was up to them to let me and if I sounded good enough.

And was it hard to not only do the singing stuff, but to also be in a movie and acting as Cherie would onstage? And as Joan would on stage? It seems to me like it would be a whole new level of acting.

Kristen: It's a funny thing. You jump into something without realizing what you're getting yourself into. We had two weeks to get ready. We had to sort of do it without thinking. We're not performers. I've never. She's never. They have such a distinct and awesome sound. It was cool.

What was it like to have Joan and Cherie looking back at you while you're actually doing this? It's gotta be kinda bizarre.

Kristen: Yeah, it's cool. Doing normal scenes with Joan that felt much more unnatural, I was just more comfortable with it. But, I never never ever got comfortable playing the songs in front of her. But that's fine. You just have to sorta forget she's there until they say cut. She was always really happy, and I think if we were doing really badly she would say we were doing really well to make us feel better.

Did either one of you have one of those, "Oh wow" moments, "This is crazy."

Dakota: I think every day I kinda had that moment. Usually in a movie, you have the two big scenes, your big moments. But, in this movie it would be like every little detail of every scene was so important because someone's life is like someone's story. It actually happened. We only had six weeks to do the movie. It was really small and kind of rushed. It was like you were doing four really important scenes, and it was l...

Kristen: Yeah, we'd only have like a half an hour. And, it would be like, "There's that. We're done with that. That's just gonna be in the movie now." It's not that it was arbitrary, it was just that's sorta the nature of making a small movie.

Were any of those moments put pressure on you to think, " I could have done that scene a lot better."

Kristen: Oh yeah. Hell yeah. We loved watching the movie, but I can't have objections like this because I'll like...[imitates throwing the pencil she's holding]. Uhhh!

Did you have to focus a lot more on your preparation? Or were you more focused on getting Joan's personality, or Cherie's personality? Were you stressed about playing these in front of her? Was there a lot of musical training going on? Or, was it just do it the best you can and move on?

Dakota: I had voice lessons, sorta. And I worked with Cherie on the songs. And, the "Cherrybomb" performance was the one I worked on the most. And that was filmed the second to last day, so I had a lot of practice with that. But Cherie's personality, at the time, was really different from how it is now. Then, off stage she was kinda quiet and there's like this one interview with her where she's talking really quiet. It's so different from her on stage persona. So, to capture that vulnerability and innocence she had was really important.

And the guitar stuff for you [Kristen]?

Kristen: Yeah, I played guitar before actually. So I had like six songs to learn. She plays rhythm guitar and plays power chords. It was less about the songs and more about how she played them. I don't look, I don't do that. I don't have her mannerisms. But uh, she was with me every single day and we were able to feed off their personality. When they're around each other, the go right back to when they were in The Runaways. They take on that same dynamic, which was really helpful.

There's been so much hype around the film. Joan Jett, of course. The GLBT community sees her as part of their community. The kiss between you two is really an exciting moment in the film for the community. It was really gorgeously done. There was not a lot of discussion from there on out about their romantic relationship. I wonder if you can speak to that. Also, do you see this as a love story as well? Even just a love story with rock and roll.

Dakota: I don't. It's not really a romance between them. I think it's just that they were really good friends. It's not really talked about after, as you see in the film.

Kristen: It was really impulsive. It says something about who they are, considering they just really loved each other. It's not a romantic thing though. It was sort of a rock and roll moment. And you know, that's how I always thought of it, yeah.

Can you guys talk about the challenge of playing someone in real life? A lot of your other characters have been fictional where you can bring something completely unique to the character. You're playing someone real, and you have to be reverent to them but also bring a little bit of yourself to it.

Kristen: Yeah, it's a totally different responsibility. Cause you always feel a huge pressure to play a character that feels whole to you because those are the only characters I like to play. So when it's a real person, you'd feel as though you were letting them down if you don't play them right. They're sitting right there and becoming one of your closest friends, a role model, someone you really look up to. But, it pushes you. It makes you better.

Dakota: And also, to see someone so happy about this experience and to be so supportive of it. Especially for Cherie and a lot of people don't know her story. They don't know who she is. I was really kind of excited to let her relive that time in her life through the film.

How did those roles come to you? Did you guys hear about the script and took interest in it? Or did someone contact you?

Dakota: Yeah, I read the script because someone sent it to me. You know, and asked me to do it.

Kristen: Floria sent me the script and I was like, "I wanna play Joan Jett." And when I met Dakota, it was an extremely exciting thing.

Do you think that individually you're anything like the people you're playing?

Dakota: I think Cherie and I are very different. We grew up in really different worlds. I can relate to starting out young and being in this world as a young person. But the music industry and acting is so different. I had adults around and my mom, but she was just on her own. Personality wise, we're quite different. She used to be quiet, but now she's just a force when she walks into a room. She's completely unafraid. I love that about her. I wish I could be that.

Can you talk a little bit about working with Michael Shannon? He's an extremely intense actor and as Kim it's almost as if he's the glue that holds the group together, as well as the film together. But some of the scenes that you all have together are incredibly intense. Was it more intense than you expect it?

Kristen: We expected it almost. We were thinking when we read the script, "How is he going to do that?"

Dakota: I think he was really in it all the time. We never met real Mike until the movie was done.

Kristen: We'd walk by his trailer and he'd be like, "Hey, Kristen. Hey Dakota." And we'd be like, "Who are you?!"

Did you get to do anyting fun at SXSW? See any bands or have any BBQ?

Together: We did both of those things!

Kristen: We saw Band of Horses and Broken Social Scene. It was so amazing, actually.

Being 15 now is much different than 15 then. You were born in the early '90s. You've spend half your lives in a country at war. You've spent half your lives after 9/11. Do you ever talk about it with friends?

Kristen: I have conversations occasionally. I think my parents were too. Every generation has been it war. It sucks. I don't have a lot more to say on it.

Dakota: I feel the same way. I've definitely had conversations about it. It started out- I remember the day of 9/11 I was doing ADR for I AM SAM.

Kristen: I was in homeroom in 6th grade.

Do you think it gives you a different point of view on the world now as compared to Cherie and Joan?

Kristen: We lived completely lives. They were very unaware of what was going on.

Dakota: They lived in the bubble of LA with disco and "The Sugar Shack."

Can you talk about what else you guys have to look forward to?

Kristen: Um, I don't have a job.

Dakota: I'm probably going to be working this summer, but I'm not sure yet.

You said that the film was shot fairly tight, in terms of constant scheduling. Was there anything you shot that you loved but didn't make the final cut?

Dakota: There were a lot of films that didn't even get filmed. They cut two days off the end of shooting.

Was there ever going to be any followup with Joan's life afterward?

Kristen: No. No. There was one scene that really killed me. She plays "School Days" back stage while the Runaways were still together, but after Cherie had left. She's like unplugged,  just doing "School Days." Which would have been so cool. And the audience is screaming "Cherie! Cherie! Cherrybomb!" So that's not in there.

Do you have any intent to actually perform yourselves?

Together laughing: No.

Dakota: That probably won't happen...haha.

Do you guys have any intent of doing more than just acting? Perhaps directing?

Dakota: I do. I wanna be a director.

Kristen: Yeah. Same here. I'd love to direct.

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