Kristen Stewart: The Accidental Star

UPDATED 06/23/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/23/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT

KRISTEN STEWART CAN DO A LOT OF things really well: portray heartbreak to devastating effect (New Moon), rock out on guitar (The Runaways) and kick butt in academics (she graduated high school with honors late last year). But when it comes to the duties that Hollywood requires of all its stars-promoting films, attending award shows, doing the chat show circuit-Stewart can be charmingly, well, challenged. She tends to slouch on the red carpet. She mumbles and fusses with her hair while standing at podiums (heck, she even dropped the trophy at the MTV Movie Awards last year!). And when it comes to sitting for interviews, she admits she can be maddeningly self-conscious. "All I'm thinking of is the fact that everything that I say is going to be criticized-not criticized, just evaluated and analyzed," she told Interview magazine. "And it's always something that matters so much to me that doesn't come out right.... I'm sort of an in-my-head kind of person."

Of course, sometimes it's easy to forget that Stewart just emerged from her teen years (she turned 20 in April), so it's not surprising that she hasn't mastered the high art of the schmooze. Although she grew up with filmmaking as the family business-her dad's a stage manager and her mom's a script supervisor-nothing could have prepared her for the fallout from having a little vampire movie metamorphose into a global wonder, transforming her into an A-list leading lady virtually overnight. Stewart readily admits she's had a tough time adjusting to the intensity of her recent fame, which she calls "a ridiculous show." And, yes, she'd rather wrestle a Volturi guard than answer a question about her love life (for more on that, go to page 28), but the star who began her acting career at age 8 is gradually loosening up (a bit!). "I think I've gotten a lot more comfortable with talking about myself," she says. "As soon as I stopped trying to control everything that came out of my mouth and every picture that came out, that's when I became so much happier."

Okay, so the new Kristen isn't all that far off from the original version-which suits fans of her awkward appeal just fine. Let other young stars display perfect red carpet posture and tweet about the minutiae of their private lives, Stewart's mystique lies in her inability to be anything other than her raw, honest, vulnerable self. And she brings those qualities to her roles. "She is brilliant," says rocker Joan Jett, whom Stewart portrayed with painstaking precision in The Runaways biopic earlier this year. "She became me. By the time I saw her onscreen as me, I had goose bumps."

Stewart makes no apologies for taking her craft extremely seriously. And one of the biggest ironies of her Twilight success is that Stewart is an indie actress at heart. "I just made a film in New Orleans," she told Dazed & Confused magazine last year of the 2010 movie Welcome to the Rileys. "And it's going to sound funny because I play a 16-year-old street kid prostitute stripper-but it's the one film so far I mostly identify with.... It was the greatest experience on a movie I have ever had."

Still, when it comes to her far more innocent Twilight alter ego, Stewart is fiercely protective. "I feel a shared ownership of Bella," she says. "If you were to talk about the character in a way that was not at all thought out, I would be right there to say, 'You don't know what you're talking about.' I'm so defensive of her."

Stewart's close pals and castmates feel equally protective of the star. "She's one of my closest friends," says Dakota Fanning, Stewart's costar in Fanning's three consecutive movies (New Moon, The Runaways and Eclipse). "We talk about anything together. Music, movies, anything. I couldn't ask for a better person to do three movies in a row with." For her part, Stewart says she has found a kindred spirit in Fanning. "There's not a lot of young actors who I've talked to that are as into acting as Dakota and I are," she says.

But for all the gravity she brings to playing Bella, Stewart also loves to have fun-particularly when it came to Eclipse's much anticipated "tent scene," in which the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle boils over with almost comical tension. "It's a ridiculous circumstance to find yourself in," she says of being sandwiched in a sleeping bag between the two guys. "I loved playing with the three characters together."

And despite feeling torn about her Twilight fame, she has no reservations about her ongoing commitment to Bella-and to acting. "I'm really excited to do the last films because I really love that character," she says. "And I'll definitely be sad to let it go. But I just want to keep acting. I don't really know what else to do."

In Her Own Words: Kristen on Fame

"Why would you care or feel bad about a famous person? They're famous! I really appreciate everything in my life, but that's not why I started acting"

-Flaunt magazine

"I go outside, and I'm wearing a funky T-shirt and my hair is dirty, and people say, 'What's wrong with her? She needs to invest in a hairbrush.' I'm like, 'Don't you get it? I'm not that girl!' "

-On not looking like a typical Hollywood star, Allure magazine, November 2009

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