The mantra coming from both cast and crew on the red carpet at the Sundance world premiere of Kristen Stewart’s “Welcome To The Rileys” was so uniform one had to suspect they prepped together in private: this is not a stripper movie.
Which is not to say the film doesn’t follow a stripper and prostitute—a 16-year-old runaway, played by Stewart, who will do just about any sexual act for money—but rather that these salacious elements are building blocks to tell a story about family and loss, hope and hopelessness. It’s an account the actress found all too common in the real world as she prepared for the role.
“I talked to a few girls who were working in a little, really dingy bar off Bourbon Street [in New Orleans] that we ended up shooting in,” she told MTV News. “In an odd way, they all have sort of the same story…. I did a little bit of dancing stuff, but that wasn’t really the bulk of the prep.”
Instead, the majority of Stewart’s time was spent learning to empathize with these women and the stories she kept hearing from them. And long after having wrapped production, the character has stayed with her.
“It’s about understanding who you’re playing and you have a responsibility because you feel like you can’t let them down,” she explained. “[My character] really became a part of me. I haven’t felt so personally involved in something. If I sort of flippantly played some stripper—there are some lines I thought were really funny in the movie—I think that’s good, but at the same time, I didn’t want to make something superficial.”
What she strove for was both authenticity and homage. The prospect of not achieving either was a frightening one, but as we can attest after taking in the premiere, Stewart was nothing if not believable in the role of this damaged runaway.
“I didn’t want a bunch of people who had run away from their homes, or wherever they ran away from, look at this and go, ’This girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about,’ ” Stewart said. “That was scary.”