One of Hollywood's biggest movie stars often retreats to a nondescript building on a quiet industrial street in Van Nuys. For Kristen Stewart, the hide-out provides an escape from prying eyes of the paparazzi, a place where she can play arcade games and read scripts in her own private office. And if the 22-year-old ever needs motherly advice, all she has to do is walk down the hallway.
That's where her mom, Jules Stewart, is busy plotting her own career. At 58, the elder Stewart is trying to emerge from the shadow of her daughter, who rocketed to fame on the vampire franchise "Twilight."
After spending three decades as a script supervisor on films such as "Mortal Kombat" and "Little Giants," Stewart's directorial debut "K-11" will hit theaters Friday. But she's worried that people will think the only reason she got her $3-million gritty, L.A. jail drama made was because of her famous offspring.
"It's extremely frustrating for me, because she's 22 years old and I'm almost 60," said Stewart, who looks almost Goth with her long jet-black hair, chunky silver rings and sleeve of tattoos. "In terms of life experience — hello! — I have it all over her. It's not like I came out of nowhere."
Stewart has worked on dozens of films since arriving in Hollywood at age 16 from her native Australia. Her knowledge of the industry helped her daughter break into the business: The young actress' first role — she had no lines — was in 1999's "The Thirteenth Year," a Disney Channel television movie on which her mom was also employed.
Director Brian Levant, who has collaborated with Stewart on pictures such as "Are We There Yet?" and "Snow Dogs," said he has long felt Stewart had the potential to command a set. As a script supervisor, she learned a lot about how directors work, serving as the liaison between the director and the editing room. She monitored shoots on sets daily, taking notes on what scenes have taken place and ensuring the internal continuity of the movie by making sure actors looked and sounded the same from shot-to-shot.
"She's a very strong woman. She's got a black belt, for God's sake," he said with a chuckle. "On my movies, she would come up to me and whisper, 'Isn't this scene really about so-and-so?' She wasn't just marking the tape and making people match. She was really more concerned with the big picture."
"K-11" was initially supposed to feature Kristen Stewart, who was willing to take a supporting role in the picture even after she became a household name. Her mother — who co-wrote the movie with Jared Kurt — eagerly reworked the part, tailoring it to Kristen — but when the actress' schedule became too hectic, she dropped out.
The role may have been a stretch for the tween star anyway. The film is set in a dormitory called K-11 that houses self-identified gay and transgender inmates in Los Angeles' Men's Central Jail. The Sheriff's Department began K-11 — real name: K6G — in 1985 in an effort to protect gay inmates from sexual and physical abuse.
Kurt actually spent time in the module and came to Stewart to help him make a movie loosely based on his experience.
"You would think [it] would be really easy to get financiers if [Kristen] was attached, but it wasn't," Stewart said. "You can't take ['Twilight's'] Bella Swan and put her in jail with a bunch of transvestites and expect people to go, 'Oh yeah, no problem.'"
Still, "K-11" is trading on the actress' name to promote the film. In email blasts to reporters, Jules Stewart is being touted as "more than just Kstew's mom."
In fact, "Youth in Revolt" star Portia Doubleday took on the part once envisioned for Kristen Stewart, joining a little-known cast that includes "E.R." veteran Goran Visnjic and Stewart's 27-year-old brother, Cameron, who makes his living as a grip and has his acting debut in "K-11."
The project, Stewart said, was financed by two French businessmen she met at a dinner party who were looking to get into show business; she declined to identify them by name.
With scenes of rape and drug-dealing, "K-11" doesn't stray from dark subject matter — but Stewart has long had an interest in the macabre. Her Valley-based production company, Libertine Films, is decorated with vintage weaponry, oversized crucifixes and numerous images of wolves. Stewart has actually rescued wolves, and keeps four as pets. (And no, Twi-hards, her obsession has nothing to do with Jacob.)
"I was that weird little kid that sat in front of the TV set and watched 'Frankenstein' and 'The Werewolf' and 'The Mummy,'" she recalled. "Those are like the ultimate stories. It's sort of like bad news travels fast. No one cares that you're rich and you're happy and you're beautiful — they want to know that you're sick and there's some crazy secret."
There's no doubt that she's a proud mom. Still, she struggles to curb her competitive instincts with her own daughter.
"To the world, I have no name. I am 'Mama Stew' — that's what they call me, all of her zillions of fans. Or I'm Kristen's mom; I'm famous for being her mom," she said with a shrug. "Most of the female directors that are successful in this business came up through the ranks. And I'm hoping to follow in their footsteps. I have my own career. My own thing going on. And I would hate to think that it's because of my 22-year-old that I got to direct a movie."
Even the star of her movie understands her frustration. Visnjic, who plays an inmate who mistakenly lands in K-11, said that in the weeks leading up to the film's 15-theater release, he's noticed that the majority of the reports about the film is about Kristen.
"I just read some review about the film, and it was really good, but the big title was, 'Kristen Stewart's new movie,'" the actor said. "Underneath, they explained she only gave a voice-over for one tiny little scene. People try to make it about Kristen, but the fact is, this is Jules' movie, and Kristen doesn't have anything to do with it."