From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
At the start of her Twilight journey back in 2008, Kristen Stewart was still struggling to figure out how an indie actress like her could be happy in a mainstream film saga like this. "I just want to make sure Twilight's worth the ginormous attention it receives," said Stewart, who was then known for roles in critically acclaimed artsy movies like Into the Wild. "Everyone said this is a big-deal movie. But I hate when people celebrate before you have something to celebrate about." But these days, Stewart, 22, is more than happy to revel in the glory of the vampire epic. "It's the hugest compliment for people to call me the Twilight girl," she says. "I'm like, 'Please pigeonhole me!' That means I did it right. It's thrown me into the greatest position I could ever possibly imagine." It's hard to argue with that. In the four years since the first Twilight movie premiered, Stewart has gone from being a virtually unknown supporting actress to becoming an international star. She's also evolved into a red carpet fashion icon: This year she was crowned "best dressed woman" by the U.K. edition of Glamour magazine, plus she signed on to be the face of Balenciaga's new fragrance. And to top things off, Forbes magazine just named her the highest-paid actress in Hollywood-she raked in $34.5 million between May 2011 and May 2012. She earned that title by embracing big-budget roles-like the lead in Snow White and the Huntsman-as well as remaining true to her indie roots with films like the upcoming On the Road. "Challenge is one of my favorite things in life," she says. "Now I'm allowed to challenge myself the way that I want to rather than falling into things. It's awesome." And-thanks to Twilight-she's developed a loyal fan base, which has been willing to buy tickets to even her vampire-free films. "All these people created Snow White and the Huntsman Twitter handles and organized fan sites, and the same thing is happening with On the Road," says Variety's film editor Josh Dickey. Of course, all is not rosy with Stewart's fan clubs. The news that she had recently cheated on her boyfriend/costar/eternal Twihard heartthrob Robert Pattinson unleashed a lot of anti-Stewart vitriol in online forums and beyond. But Variety's Dickey doesn't think the scandal will ultimately have any long-term impact on Stewart's career. "Breaking Dawn is going to do fine no matter what happens," he says. "The problem is that the fans have idolized her as some sort of superhuman, and she isn't. She has faults; she's just a person. But the fans will come around."

If they do, it would be a fitting echo of Stewart's own change of heart regarding the film series her fans all love. In fact, Stewart is surprised by just how deeply her Twilight experience has touched her. "I've been obsessed with this thing," she says. "It's been such a personal experience, and there are people who identify with the things that I do. That shared energy is the coolest." And after that initial skepticism about being part of the saga, Stewart now credits her role as Bella for helping her have a professional epiphany. "You don't always have to just do an indie movie to feel like you're connected with it creatively," says Stewart. "You can do it on a bigger scale. It's changed my mind about that. You don't have to choose one road or another."



KRISTEN THROUGH THE YEARS

Stewart's looks have ranged from super-casual to red carpet chic, and she took a hair detour from her days playing Joan Jett in 2010's The Runaways.