Attending the Toronto Film Festival to support On the Road, Kristen Stewart is doing all the usual things celebrities do to promote films: she's participating in media junkets, she's walking the red carpet, she's present at Q&As. If it weren't for all the ridiculousness surrounding the recent "cheating scandal," Stewart would be just another movie star doing the "movie star" thing (albeit with Twilight fans aplenty).

But who is this girl, really? None of us know her. At all. We think we know her based on what we're told about her, the little glimmers or details about her personality we glean from interviews, articles or snippets of gossip we hear through the various grapevines. Do I know her? No, I can never claim that. But in the past 24 hours I've seen her three times, and spoken to her once -- not for an interview, but candidly, in a hallway at the InterContinental Hotel in Toronto. In that brief five minutes I learned more about Stewart than I ever could have from any interview or gossip mag.

More on that in a minute; first, I want to let you know what I saw at the On the Road gala premiere last night. I saw a depressed, very blank-eyed Stewart, hitting all her marks on the red carpet and doing her thing for the cameras. Media, fans and laypeople alike were salivating at the chance to snap her picture, many of them the same people who demonized her for cheating.

After the movie premiere, Stewart, director Walter Salles, Garrett Hedlund and Kirsten Dunst all came out on stage to answer questions from TIFF CEO Piers Handling -- all carefully orchestrated, mind you -- and they took a pathetic two questions from the audience. Handling's question ("Was it hard for you to play such a difficult character?") elicited a response from Stewart that no publicity rep could predict, nor could Handling himself control. Her long answer (roughly two minutes long) was rambling and stop-and-start, and she even choked up at points. It was obvious that this was not planned.

She somehow went from talking about her On the Road character Marylou to discussing "first loves" and how she was a "bottomless pit" -- she didn't know how she pulled through. At this point, no one knew if she was talking about herself or her character. Above the incessant "click click click" of the cameras in the audience, you could hear her voice quiver as she spoke. It was sad, not solely because of the subject matter, but also because she wanted to talk about "it" and it was clearly an issue she'd been told not to discuss. I don't know what you think about it, but shouldn't people be free to speak as they choose? It was all very bizarre.

Did we ever stop to think that maybe she has something to tell us? Something not heavily scripted or concocted in back rooms, weighing numbers and debating what will happen to her career if she does this, or if she does that? Or maybe she has nothing to say and this just slipped out, which sometimes happens when people are dealing with major changes in their lives; maybe she wants to figure her life out on her own -- as she should-- without this constant intrusion and constant judging. If you stop and contemplate the amount of pressure that puts on someone (think about a normal break-up you've experienced, now add four billion tons of pressure on top of that), it's a wonder she hasn't completely lost her mind. Oh, but it's OK, she has "people" to help her with that.

And speaking of "people," let's get back to the InterContinental hallway. No less than four security guards were standing outside her junket hotel room, not to mention the heavy swath of publicity reps circling about. I was waiting to conduct my interview with Hedlund and Salles (but not Stewart), and as I was sitting there, Stewart emerged from the room and stood across from me in the hall, leaning on the wall, seemingly bored. No guard did anything to stop me from talking to her -- she may as well have been one of my colleagues, or just another person at TIFF. Here's how most of it went:

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," I said. "How's it going?"

"You know, it's fine," she said.

"I don't think they want me to talk to you," I said.

"Why not?" she said. "That's weird."

"I have no idea," I said. "I know. I saw you in your movie last night. You were really great."

She looked to her right, saw her PR team coming down the hallway, and quickly moved to abscond to her hotel room, but before she ducked into it, she leaned back out, smiled an easy smile and said, "Thank you."

I interview celebrities on the regular, and somehow this very brief encounter (combined with the events at the premiere) touched me in a way I've never been touched before. She had no idea who I was, no idea if I was hotel staff, a journalist (I wasn't wearing any badge whatsoever), a publicity rep, or a crazy fan who snuck into the hotel. Our conversation was normal and regular, so simple it's almost laughable -- but it spoke in huge neon letters to me.

Stewart, at the moment, is just another person who happens to be ridiculously famous. She's going through a very rough time and is working hard to promote her film (and will undoubtedly go through hell promoting Breaking Dawn: Part 2), all the while being sheltered by a phalanx of protectors. Let's leave her a bit of breathing room, shall we?

CATEGORIES Movies