PARK CITY, Utah -- Kristen Stewart found common ground between herself and the taciturn Guantanamo Bay Marine guard she played in Camp X-Ray, which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
"She had aspects that I have and that I really felt," said Stewart of Pvt. Amy Cole, assigned to guard the detainees held for years at Guantanamo Bay. The film is a fictional story about a friendship that develops between Cole and Ali, a suspected terrorist imprisoned on the U.S. Naval base since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
Stewart spoke of portraying someone not so different from herself, presumably in contrast to playing a teenager in love with a vampire in the Twilight movies.
When asked about her experiences filming, she joked: "I forgot how to turn left. I was constantly rotating," referring to her character doing rounds in a small cellblock, often pushing a cart of library books.
On a more serious note, she spoke of the importance of preparation for the role.
"Rehearsal was very necessary," she said. "Luckily there's a lot of material [for research]. There are multiple documentaries we watched. There were memoirs written on both sides of the coin. And then I hung out with this really awesome Marine for three days and learned things in a very accelerated way."
Among them, how to stand and walk like a Marine.
"He literally showed me how to walk," said Stewart. "It's not like a physically strenuous role, but it should be clear I have training -- even though I just walk around in circles."
As key as her ramrod-straight posture was, it also was necessary to delve into her character's internal state.
"What was important to me was figuring out who she was," Stewart said.
When asked further about the role, she deferred to her co-star, Payman Maadi, who plays Ali.
"You're so charismatic," she said to him.
Maadi cheerfully took the cue. "We rehearsed for like a week. It was just like theater rehearsals for us. We shared a lot of ideas. It was very important to get the vibe.
"We did another thing: Some of us stayed in cells. We asked to be locked up. I stayed there for a couple of hours."
Added Camp X-Ray writer-director Peter Sattler: "We just left him there."
Maadi quipped: "I just came out for this. I'll go back."
Sattler said he sought to approach the story from a personal, not political, angle.
"I've always been attracted to small stories about big things," Sattler said. "Guantanamo Bay is a weird subject. It is fraught with all sorts of prickly things to tiptoe around. Because there's so much propaganda surrounding it, from the beginning we really wanted to make a movie that was not propaganda at all, one that didn't tell you what to think, but just kind of presented a very human story."
The idea derived from an image he saw in a documentary in which a detainee and a guard were talking about books on a nearby cart.
"I thought, 'Wow, what if you just did this kind of two-hander, one-room type of movie where these two characters just talk? What would these two people talk about? What would their relationship be like? It seemed like a cool way to address Guantanamo Bay indirectly. It's not about Guantanamo Bay, but we can still kind of touch on the subject. "