By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008
Ah, teen love. What is it without angst? What 13-year-old girl would not stand outside in the frigid cold at 4 a.m. for the chance to bask in the personal glow of her passion? What true believer would blanch at being pressed against a police barricade, as the crowd behind her surges forward in hope of capturing the perfect cellphone shots of the one they adore?
"Twilight" has descended on Fair Oaks Mall, a stop on the film tour for the book series of the same name. Written by Stephenie Meyer, it is the tale of the incremental, complicated romance between the loner Bella (played by Kristen Stewart) and the vampire boy Edward. It's fantasy love by inches, and it seems that every girl in a black T-shirt and Converse All-Stars or ballet flats can relate.
"I just met Kristen Stewart and Nikki Reed!" gasps Nicole Harman, a Fairfax 11-year-old, trying to explain why her face is apoplectically pink and why she's fanning herself with her right hand, as if breath might stop at any moment. "Oh my God. I can't stand up right now. Oh my God."
(Reed plays the vampire Rosalie.)
Is Nicole a die-hard fan? Has she seen everything Stewart has ever done? Um, no. They are merely the actresses about to inhabit her most beloved characters on-screen. Which is enough.
And if Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward, had been at this stop on the "Twilight" publicity tour? Why, then it would be complete chaos. Call-in-the-police chaos. This, by contrast, is controlled insanity, measured in deafening decibels.
"I would seriously be crying my eyes out right now," Nicole says, merely imagining an audience with Edward. "I would seriously jump over the table and hug him."
On this night, Pattinson is in suburban Philadelphia; on his recent stops in San Francisco and Chicago, near-riots have broken out. To be assured a coveted autograph on this multi-city mall crawl, girls -- or their parents -- have to stand in line in the wee hours of the morning to be among the first 500 to buy T-shirts at the local Hot Topic store and be awarded a bracelet that guarantees an autograph hours later.
For Stewart -- who is making her first mall appearance -- it's nerve-racking, but not nearly as wild as she and Reed had feared.
Still, there are girls who cry when they finally approach the autograph table. There is a husband who tells her that his 23-year-old wife made him come and relishes the prospect of what he will demand in return.
The movie, which opens Nov. 21, has yet to screen for critics, and all that is available for public preview is the trailer. Before this, Stewart's most noteworthy role was as Jodie Foster's daughter in "Panic Room"; Pattinson had a gig in the blockbuster Harry Potter series as the ill-fated Cedric Diggory. Neither was a household face.
Stewart recently sat on a flight across the aisle from a woman who was reading "Twilight" with its new film-version cover -- featuring Stewart and Pattinson -- and got not a glimmer of recognition.
That was then. Now they share the cover of Entertainment Weekly. When Stewart did her first public "Twilight" event at a bookstore in Rome, it was pure bedlam: The barricades came down, and she was shoved into a security van for safety.
As Bella, Stewart is beloved -- if a bit tentatively, because readers bond so deeply with the character that they are wary of the person who dares to portray her. Just as they initially rebelled against the selection of Pattinson, because he didn't fit their imaginary vision of dear Edward.
"I got the same thing when I was cast," Stewart said in an afternoon interview before her star turn. "They didn't want to accept anyone in the role of Bella. She's the vessel. They feel like they are her."
They are Bella, who is no "High School Musical" version of happy teen perfection; she's a girl who lives in her own world -- wearing too much black eyeliner by day while sleeping with a scruffy stuffed dog at night. (It's fitting, in a twisted way, that this autograph event takes place in Hot Topic, where faux-satin bustiers in black, fuchsia, purple and turquoise sell not far from fuzzy slippers featuring Homer Simpson and Hello Kitty.)
After all the poster-signings, there is a Q&A in the middle of the mall, a sop to those who missed out. By the time Stewart and Reed arrive, the crowd has swelled to nearly a thousand and rings the balcony. Not even those up front can hear the questions or the answers. Who cares, though, really? The queries have been screened (cutting out all those messy ones about what kind of hair products they use), and a rote answer to "what's your favorite scene" is nothing compared to a turn-this-way photo op.
"Please, look over here, I love you!" shriek the girls whose view is blocked by security guards. Then they wait, desperate and smitten, holding out cameras, books and hope.