TIFF Press Conference: Kristen Stewart Discusses Embodying an Icon in Seberg

By Danita Steinberg

In the TIFF feature Seberg, Kristen Stewart plays American-born French New Wave actress Jean Seberg during a tumultuous period when she was targeted by the FBI in the late 1960s because of her political activism.


On Sunday, Stewart was joined by writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse and director Benedict Andrews at a Festival press conference.

Andrews recalls first encountering Seberg. “I have an indelible memory of when I first saw her in film class. Our teacher would get prints of films and we watched Breathless and her performance in that movie blew my teenage mind. Even now, it’s such a modern, freewheeling performance. She set a new path for what truth is in cinema.”

Stewart wasn’t that familiar with Seberg’s work before she signed on to do the film. “I had only seen Breathless but watching more of her films, her first few performances are some of my absolute favourites. She just had this sprawling energy. I’m a huge fan now. I became very protective of her.”

Shrapnel has a personal connection to Seberg. “My grandmother was actress Deborah Kerr so I got to talk to her about her memories of Jean. They were in Bonjour Tristesse together. She described Jean as this new energy. I was fascinated by her. And then you discover more about what happened to her and you can’t believe it hasn’t been told before.”

While making the film, a strong presence was felt on set. “The film felt full of something. It was sort of spooky. There was shit going down that didn’t make sense. We definitely felt her,” elaborated Stewart. For the record, she believes in ghosts.

Andrews also believes Seberg was there in spirit. “This cat walked into frame and was like ‘I’m in the movie.’ I think it was Jean.” The film coincidentally premiered at Venice on the 40th anniversary of Seberg’s death.

One can’t help but compare Stewart and Seberg as Stewart is someone who is often misrepresented in the press. “Jean and I both share this fierce commitment to not trying to control the public’s impression of us. The frustrating and gutting thing is when you feel stolen from. We are actresses that want to be looked at but when that’s used against you, I know that feeling.”

Seberg is a political film that feels extremely timely. Andrews said, “For me the responsibility is in the work. As a filmmaker, I’m attracted to complex human behaviour. Jean was a truth seeker and I think that was in her openness and idealism in her politics and her choices she was making as an actress.”

“When people say you shouldn’t put politics in art it’s like, have you ever seen art?” adds Stewart.

Seberg premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 8 at 6:00 p.m. with additional screenings on Monday, September 9 at 9:15 a.m. and Saturday, September 14 at 6:15 p.m.

We Really Like Her, Danita Steinberg’s podcast with Emily Gagne about women filmmakers can be heard on Spotify.