You got your start as a child. Did you always see yourself acting into adulthood?
It was never a preconceived thing. It was always arbitrary, I think. Subsequently, I became very passionate about acting. Now, there is no reason for me to stop doing this.
What impact did working with Sean Penn on Into the Wild have on you?
It definitely opened my eyes to a different creative process. His direction is very specific, but still, he lets things happen. He just wants you to go for it. Once he picks his characters, he gives you that confidence. Plus, I really enjoyed working with Emile [Hirsch]. He’s such a good friend of mine. That was like a little section of my life. It was very fruitful.
How did that contrast to making Twilight?
Well, as much as we all had control over our characters, we were trying to portray something that already existed in book form, so it was very different.
One hates to use the word, but how do you feel about being part of a franchise?
I accepted the role of Bella Swan because it was something I felt compelled to do, even though I thought was very ambitious. I knew that we had a devoted fan base, but I thought it was exclusive. I thought it was going to be a cult movie. Well, I was wrong. But it’s good because I’m so used to working on small indie movies and putting so much time into them, and then they never see the light of day.
Do you have a particular movie in mind that you would like to see get made?
Right now, people are terrified of making anything to do with the current war because the last two movies about it weren’t successful. But there is this movie that James Woods is trying to make, and it’s having a really hard time because people are so afraid of it, although it really has nothing to do with the war. We’re not saying anything about it. It has no opinion. It’s a coming home story about a girl who goes to war as a Marine and comes home a double amputee. It’s one of, if not the most powerful stories I’ve read in a long, long time. I would do anything to get that made.
What do you like to read?
I’m into classic literature. My favorite book is East of Eden. Steinbeck calls it “The Big Book.” It covers fundamental ideas of good and evil. Other favorite writers ... oh, it’s so hard when you can only pick a couple of writers. It always seems like you are trying so hard to look like an intellectual.
Lay it on us!
I love Camus. The Stranger is one of my favorite books. Kurt Vonnegut. I just read Hot Water Music, which is a collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski. I don’t normally like his work because it’s usually rambling and drunk, but these stories were so good.
Where do you live now?
I live in Los Angeles with my family. I haven’t moved out yet.
You are 18 years old, the age at which your peers are going to college. How is your life changing?
Nothing is really changing. I have had a consistent working life. I go from movie to movie. That may sound like a lot, but I only ever do things because I need to do them. And nothing is changing. People keep asking how my life has changed since Twilight. I’m pretty low-key. I go completely 100% unnoticed in LA. And as for school, I have a future in academics—it’s just not a conventional, structured one. I can’t deal with the structure. I have authority issues. I don’t like to be told what books to read.
So you follow your own curiosity.
Yeah, and I know a lot of actors who say that as a way of making excuses for not going to school, but I’m being entirely honest. I have that thirst, I just don’t need anyone telling me what to do.
It also sounds as if a radical change in lifestyle would not be appealing.
No, it wouldn’t! I still don’t know what it’s like not to be able to go where I want. But I don’t think it will be a problem. I’ve always been able to sneak by. Unless you are someone like Tom Cruise, I feel like there are ways to get around that. My love for what I do outweighs the inconvenience. And that is really all it is: an inconvenience.
Who do you hang out with when you are at home?
My friends are actors. My best friend is Nikki Reed, who is also in Twilight. And my boyfriend, Michael Angarano, is also an actor. I never thought I would date an actor, but he’s my best friend. I’ve known him since I was 13 years old. I live in the Valley. I’m sort of a typical Valley Girl. We just sit around and play guitar and watch movies and hang out.
Is it helpful to be with someone who understands what you do?
Yes, for sure. If you don’t do this, then you don’t get it.
Do you think that you’ve become a different person since you made your first movie?
Sort of, but also, think about when you were five years old. Don’t you feel like you’re the same person now? Like you were fundamentally who you are when you were a little kid? We are who we are at five.