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In Drake Doremus’ future set love story Equals, all emotions have been suppressed, replaced by an intellectual curiosity that makes for one very efficient workforce. Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult play two people inflicted with SOS, Switched On Syndrome, that allows them to slowly begin to feel their feelings.
Surrounded by a population of subordinates, the two fall in love with an intensity that makes it feel like they are the last two people on earth. Stewart, who has managed to hide her “sickness” publicly, tries to suppress her feelings, knowing that if found out, the two will be sent to a rehabilitation center that ends in suicide or death. The film takes a Shakespearean twist that makes us think that the future might not be so bleak after all.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Stewart to discuss the real-life training she had for turning off her emotions and how her first love was all too close to the role. Equals premieres in Toronto on Sept. 13, with worldwide sales handled by Mister Smith Entertainment.
You constantly shift in the movie between being “on” and “off.” Was it difficult to switch back and forth between those two feelings?
It just became the most bleak, awful … It’s so sad. I’m the only person in the movie who’s switched on the whole time so even though in the beginning, we’re seemingly off, the overtly emotional displays and the more raw scenes felt amazing to do and more natural and more familiar. What was really painful was not feeling. What was truly really exhausting was to just be dead.
How did you manage to suppress your emotions for this role?
I’m playing somebody who is constantly stifling this thing and I can completely relate to that. Anybody who’s had a bad day or maybe like is just PMS-ing or just feeling too much on a certain day where you have to go and show face, I’ve had to do that a lot, an exceptional amount. I know that feeling and that is so familiar to me to feel something so hard and have to go into work and say “Good Morning,” and not show emotions.
Is there anything appealing in this world? We have pills to turn off negative emotions like depression or anxiety.
I was going to say, that’s what people try to do all the time. I think that’s why Drake conceived of this in this way. I barely even take Advil when I have a headache. I really like to feel. You need that balance.
The reason, it sounds really obvious, the only reason something feels really good, it’s because you didn’t know it before. If you fall in love, it’s because it captures you and sweeps you off your feet. If you didn’t have anxiety, then you wouldn’t have passion for anything. The reason we have anxiety is because you care and you’re thoughtful. Some people work to have a weekend and so on the weekend they genuinely don’t think about anything apart from the fact that they’re on their weekend. Some people are like that so maybe some people would be like, “Yeah that’d be great. Take away my anxiety and give me a nice lounge chair.” But I would be so not interested in that.
There seemed to be a parallel in the film with the celebrity world, being told what to do, eat, wear all the time. Is it difficult for you sometimes to do your own thing?
It’s never difficult for me to do it but it has been difficult sometimes to hear people’s response to it, to things that I just think are so insignificant, as insignificant as not wanting to wear heels for five hours or more significantly the way people choose to live their lives. Why do people care? Why do you care? I’m sorry, have I let you down or something? You don’t even know me.
I think the only hard part of that for me is that I really love what I do and I love people and want to be good to people. If I’m in restaurant and somebody doesn’t treat a waitress right, I literally will leave. I will unfriend you. You are not my friend anymore. The idea that I don’t care or if people are like “She just has doesn’t give a f—, attitude,” it truly is the opposite of that so I definitely care that people think that. But I care more about staying true to myself.
As an actor, how do you deal with the industry of celebrity?
It’s weird. It’s bizarre. It’s like this whole other form of entertainment, which I get. I just wish that people saw through it a little bit more. It doesn’t need to go away. It’s just so ridiculously gray. I think I can find a little bit of comfort in that and know that people know that. I think people understand that. It’s like something bad happens to you. You do an interview that you mess up, say something stupid, say something you don’t mean and you just think it’s end-all because it has emotionally affected you.
In a week, people will move on to the next thing because it’s business and it’s fuelled by money, therefore you can’t take it too seriously. You know for a fact that a dozen articles aren’t written about some slipup you made because they care. They’re written because it’s going to make them money and they’re going to get a lot of hits on their websites. So you’re like, “OK, I get it. Go make f—ing money on me.” It’s awesome.
In the scene in Equals where your characters first touch, the audience let out a collective gasp. Did you draw from your first love for this role?
Totally. One of the reasons I was so intimidated by this movie is because I was like, “This is gonna hurt. I don’t want to think about all that.” It’s good, it’s cathartic, it’s worth it. I feel good now on the other side of it. But at first I was like, “Oh God.” If we do this right it’s so basic, it’s so fundamental, it’s so young. Obviously Nick and I are 25. We made the movie nearly a year ago. We’re still very close to our first loves. It’s definitely something that we both know so well. It was a painful movie to make in every way. It was exuberant, cathartic and at the same time almost too self-reflective. We would go home and be like, “We seriously need a drink. Let’s just stop thinking about everything. Let’s not talk. Let’s just take a walk.”
The movie is also a metaphor for long-term relationships. What do you think is the secret to a successful relationship?
When you love something, you get to know it. Then you feel the ownership and if it changes, you only love it as far as you know it because then you’re like, “What is this?” I think maybe the key to having a long relationship is really appreciating that person’s life and not trying to own it. It’s like just stop trying. We all do it.
The thing about the end of the movie as well is it is a metaphor for ebb and flow. There are times where you’re with someone for five years and on year three you’re like “ehhhh.” Then something can happen. Maybe you take a little space or something. All of a sudden it just floods back. To just walk away can be a scary thing. The film is open-ended but with hope. If you want to keep trying, it’s worth it.
Did you see a lot of similarities between Bella in Twilight and this role?
There’s an obvious similarity there, but it’s a little bit different because in this case I played the pragmatic one. I played the one that thought this isn’t right and we shouldn’t do this. He’s the one who’s like no, let’s do this. It was a bit of a role reversal. But I love love stories.
Both of them are very simple and I think that’s why I really liked them. Both of them, you can criticize each character for being weak because they give it all up for a man. But I think that that is the most f—ing courageous thing you can do. There’s nothing weak about being subject to something. In fact, in order to open yourself up and let all of your guards down and just give yourself to something fully, no matter what anyone else thinks, whether they think it’s the right thing for you or not, I just love that. I just f—ing love that. That’s so feminine. That’s what women do. We have a faith in ourselves that is unpragmatic and in each other that’s just emotional and f—ing strong. Both of those characters are criticized for being weak, for being subject to a man, but I think that that’s a really bold and natural thing that we all want.
Do you feel typecast when you’re given those kinds of roles?
No, because I started when I was really young, as a kid and then I still feel like I’m a kid. But more so when I was younger, I was attracted to things that felt immediately close to me. That was what moved me. I know I can do that, that is me. I then feel like even with this new character that I’m playing, I wouldn’t want to play her unless I think somewhere in there, she’s there. I’m not a character actor at all. If I were to play a murderous villain, I would justify why they murdered people. I would be like, “Well you know what? They had a terrible upbringing.” I would have to understand them. I can never disagree with people that I play, which sometimes could be a problem. It could limit me, but I don’t think so. I think it just might make me better at what I choose.
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