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Star Market: Can the Indie-Minded Kristen Stewart Become a Box-Office Star After Twilight Fades?

Kristen Stewart is the lead actress in one of the biggest Hollywood franchises ever, and if she seems caught off guard by her massive fame (and she does, often), she's not as shocked as Jodie Foster. "I am surprised she is an actress," Foster recently told E!. When Stewart was just 11, she played Foster's daughter in the David Fincher thriller Panic Room, and "I didn't think [stardom was] where she was headed," Foster confessed. "And even though her mom said, 'No, she really, really wants to be an actress,' I felt like, 'Nah, she won't because she really doesn't have the stereotypical personality.'"

What Foster means, of course, is that we're used to seeing our female movie stars a certain way: bubbly, ambitious, and willing to do hard time in run-of-the-mill romantic comedies if it eventually leads to eight-figure paychecks and one prestige picture that nets them an Oscar nod. To say the least, the 20-year-old Stewart has circumvented that route on her path to the top, but what comes next for such an unconventional starlet? Does Kristen Stewart actually want to be a movie star, and what kind of post-Twilight prospects does she have? Vulture asked industry insiders those questions to answer that Star Market perennial: If Kristen Stewart were a stock, should you buy, sell, or hold?

Stock History: Before landing her transformative role in the 2008 film Twilight, Stewart had carved out a career as a promising child actress. Aside from a few bids at the mainstream (it may be hard to believe the super-serious Stewart ever starred in a comedy called Catch That Kid, and yet it happened), Stewart spent adolescence honing her indie bona fides in films like The Safety of Objects, Undertow, Fierce People, and In the Land of Women. Her offhandedly sexy performance in Sean Penn's Into the Wild put her at the top of several directors' wish lists, including Catherine Hardwicke's, who cast Stewart in what would become a five-film Twilight saga.

Since then, Twilight has taken up most of Stewart's time, though she did squeeze in an acclaimed performance as Joan Jett in the little-seen rock biopic The Runaways. Several of the indie films Stewart shot prior to the release of Twilight have been trickling out since — this weekend's Welcome to the Rileys, where she plays a foul-mouthed stripper, is the last of them — but by and large, Stewart's been too wrapped up in Bella Swan to truly test her mettle outside the franchise.

Peers: Stewart leads a pack of under-25 actresses like Mia Wasikowska (21), Emma Stone (21), Carey Mulligan (25), and the surging, similar Rooney Mara (24). She's closely followed by The Lovely Bones star Saoirse Ronan (16), her Twilight colleague Dakota Fanning (also 16), and Dianna Agron (24) from Glee.

Quote: If you need more proof about how wildly Stewart's career swings from vampire blockbusters to the art house, here it is: She'll earn $25 million for doing the final two Twilight films, but for Welcome to Rileys, she settled for scale plus ten (meaning, the SAG-negotiated minimum weekly payment plus the agent's usual 10 percent commission, which is also picked up by the production).

Market Value: In Twilight films, Stewart has earned numbers that are simply incomparable to any other actress; it's rare enough that any Hollywood franchise would be female-led, let alone one that routinely pulls in almost $700 million worldwide with each installment. The question is, can Stewart bring any of her mainstream appeal to her smaller films? So far, she hasn't been able to; Adventureland and The Yellow Handkerchief were both underperformers, and for all the heavy hype and paparazzi attention that her casting brought to The Runaways, the movie's wide release was scuttled before it hit the $4 million mark.

What Hollywood Thinks: As an actress, Stewart is well-liked and in high demand, but as a movie star, people aren't so sure. "I think she’s great," said one top agent we spoke to. "The taste of Stewart, and really, of all these girls who are her peers, their tastes are [movies like] Welcome to the Rileys. They have a depth that, at this age, is highly unusual. For a while there, there was nothing interesting happening with this age group: You had all these girls — Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Amanda Bynes — you'd see them look in a mirror, and you'd know there was nothing looking back at them. You can almost tell there's nothing going on underneath. That's what Miley Cyrus is doing now with The Family Bond at Universal: 'A CIA agent discovers he has a teenage daughter when she shows up in the middle of a mission!' You do these overly commercial movies, and then you're out of gas at age 24."

But is Stewart going to do any commercial movies outside of the Twilight franchise? "It's hard to say," admitted a manager. "She doesn't appear to be funny, so she better be genuinely able to deliver when it comes to drama. Most women become stars through romantic comedies, so if you can't or won't work in that area, you need to be either extraordinarily talented [or] work in drama. And then, even Nicole Kidman burned out. So unless you're Kate Winslet, too indie is not the way to go."

Many of the insiders we spoke to commented on Stewart's famously press-shy personality. Though some of her reticence is understandable, given the overwhelming interest in her relationship with Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, one publicist claimed that the enthusiasm gap between Stewart and her more press-savvy compatriots is hurting her.

"My gut is that she's not done much to make new fans," said the publicist. "She doesn't seem to be happy or excited about what she's doing. She always seems very disinterested, and she projects this image of someone who's grungy, shy, closed off. I think the Twilight fans don't really care, but when this series ends, I'm not sure what she does. She needs to find a way to balance the authenticity she seeks to embody by softening up a bit. Who's going to stand by her after the Twilight movies come out? What they're doing [with her PR] is sort of a dangerous game: She's the 'Queen of the Tweens!' What happens outside of that genre?"

The Analysis: The agent we spoke to thinks Stewart should take a cue from her old Panic Room co-star: "It seems pretty obvious, but I think she could have a Jodie Foster career. By that I mean, just going from doing high-quality work — not necessarily big box-office stuff — but doing quality work all the way from her late teens into middle-age adulthood ... You succeed by doing movies like that, because eventually, it's just about the work. Look at 21 Jump Street: Johnny Depp and Richard Grieco were both on the show. But Grieco does If Looks Could Kill [an execrable William Dear action-comedy]. Depp does Edward Scissorhands with Tim Burton. Now Johnny's one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and Richard Grieco hasn't had a career for fifteen years. So yeah, avoid the 'obvious' payday, because it's so true: Eventually, it's just about the work."

But is the work there for Stewart at a studio level? When Foster was still coming up, there were far more female-led dramas with mainstream budgets; these days, there are precious few. Certainly, she can rely on her Twilight megafame to go indie for a while — it's what Winslet did after Titanic — but the cycles of stardom churn much more quickly these days, and if Stewart really does want to be a movie star, the clock is ticking for her to leverage that Twilight clout to land another major role. (She was considered an early contender to reunite with Fincher for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — which would have made her the rare woman to lead two enormous franchises — but timing and Fincher's desire to cast a relative unknown conspired against her.)

The manager we spoke to thinks this is the time for Stewart to fight her indie instincts, if only to cement her future. "I actually might go in the opposite direction and say, 'Let's do something very commercial and see if all your Twilight fans show up.' If they don't, of course it's a problem. But if you don't at least try, you're just delaying the inevitable. At some point, you have to prove you can open a movie, because with franchise people, the question is always, 'Outside of your franchise, can you pull your audience?' I mean, sure, there are some movies no one is going to go see, even if Leo DiCaprio is in it. But if you do something that's in your wheelhouse and if you can deliver your audience, you're set for life. That's what's called a 'movie star.'"

The Bottom Line: On the precipice of her next phase, Stewart's in an interesting predicament, albeit one that most actresses would kill to have. The tomboyish, intense actress is often compared to men like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, but she doesn't have access to the roles both actors got. At the same time, she's hunting for the sort of dramatic parts that foreign actresses historically hoard for themselves, but Stewart hasn't yet proven her range or fidelity with accents.

Though Stewart may have been spooked by the middling box office earned by Pattinson's attempt at non-Twilight success, Remember Me, it's time for her to make the mainstream leap. She flirted with Wanted 2 this year — an unexpected and somewhat encouraging sign that she's not utterly averse to big studio pictures — but Stewart doesn't have to don Angelina Jolie's stilettos to prove her commercial appeal. A lot of brainy, independent-minded directors are making genre flicks for the studios these days; why not team with one of them for a cerebral thriller or sci-fi flick? Those filmmakers want Stewart, the question is whether she wants them.

Buy/Sell/Hold: Buy if you own no shares (after all, we've still got two Twilight movies left to go), but hold if she's already in your portfolio.

Photo: Patrick McMullan