This year, on the first Saturday of the festival, Kristen Stewart showed up at Soho House's late-night lounge where all week celebrities like Matt Damon, Kate Hudson and Jude Law had been dropping by without incident. Security was tight but unobtrusive, the atmosphere was comfortable. Moments before Stewart's arrival, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and other stars were already inside socializing between the first and second floors. Stewart was rushed through the door and hustled up to a private area that no one knew existed; the energy of the place changed completely. Guests were either ushered out or up the stairs. It felt tense. A rumour started circulating that we would have to turn over cellphones. There is nothing like the rage of a Hollywood agent who thinks he has to give up his BlackBerry.
Then, one by one, the celebrities were escorted up to where Stewart was hiding. John Krasinski and Emily Blunt went up the stairs, Joseph Gordon-Levitt too, and Alexander Skarsgard and more, all of whom had been content to hang with the regular special people, now made aware that there was a secret room for the privileged that had been unlocked presumably by Kristen Stewart. Soho House has built its brand on taking care of its star clientele but still, you can imagine the curiosity level for the people left downstairs, not to mention the natural inclination to want to get into where they were being kept out of, which, of course, also heightened the increasingly anxious mood.
Stewart stayed just over an hour. As soon as she left, everything opened up again. Krasinski and Blunt went back downstairs. Other celebrities resumed roaming around among non-celebrities, no one worried about not being able to tweet on their iPhones any more, and it felt like the hall monitor had just turned the corner and everyone went back to having fun again instead of pretending to study.
Kristen Stewart is the celebrity who dominated the gossip headlines at TIFF 2012, including much column space in this paper. She came to Toronto to support her film On the Road. It was her first public appearance since she was caught cheating on boyfriend Robert Pattinson in July. Stewart was heavily scrutinized from the moment she arrived. Was she wearing Pattinson's T-shirt at the airport and did that mean they'd reunited? Was she sending him a love message through the paparazzi? When she scratched her ear on the red carpet, was she signing to him that she was thinking of him?
If Stewart is the top gossip story of TIFF 2012, George Clooney and Stacy Keibler's romance held that title at TIFF 2011. Clooney and Keibler had just made their first appearance together as a couple at the TIFF premiere of The Descendants. It was a huge story. On the first Saturday of last year's festival, traditionally the busiest party night of the schedule, they made a brief appearance at the Vanity Fair party before deciding, together with Bono, that they preferred the relaxed vibe of Grey Goose Soho House instead. They were familiar with the private club's reputation as a place where celebrities can hang out with other creative types fan-free, without the pretension of typical Hollywood parties. Clooney and Keibler were super chill all night, requiring no special attention, easily moving among civilians, having such a good time that even the head of Clooney's security team was inside dancing and drinking. They stayed for over four hours, no fuss the entire time.
Twi-Hards, the rabid Twilight fan base responsible for elevating Stewart to mega-stardom, are an obsessive and perceptive community, a fact Stewart is well aware of, having lived the last three years in the stranglehold of their devotion. Stewart has claimed over and over again that she is uncomfortable with the level of fame that she's achieved, or, she might say, been burdened with. She has presented herself, in many ways, as the antithesis of Lindsay Lohan, allergic to attention, thoughtful and sensitive, more interested in talking about books than her hair and makeup, and often criticized for being fidgety, awkward and unpractised, if only because it looks so different in comparison to the fame-whoring behaviours of the young Hollywood scandal starlets who've been running around getting arrested for the last decade. Drama accompanies them wherever they go.
But … drama seems to follow Kristen Stewart around too. And while it would be easy to point the blame at Hollywood's favourite usual suspects – an unfair, overcritical media and crazy fans – it's worth considering whether Stewart herself, despite her protestations, is an active participant in fuelling the hysteria that seems to constantly surround her.
What's the difference then between how George Clooney does it and the Kristen Stewart approach? Clooney is just as famous (come on, more) than Stewart. People care just as much about his love life as they do hers (come on, more). How do you reconcile the person who claims not to want the attention or any special treatment with the one who comes to an already exclusive place and requires it to be even more exclusive? Inside Soho House, you couldn't blame the media and you couldn't blame the fans. But maybe it was for our benefit. There is always, at every TIFF, one celebrity who emerges as the main event. Stewart played that part beautifully. She gave us something to talk about.
Lainey Lui is a reporter for CTV's ETALK (weekdays, 7 p.m. ET) and gossip blogger for LaineyGossip.com.
Special to The Globe and Mail