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In some ways, it's a shame that Kristen Stewart is saddled with the ridiculous pressures of the gargantuan Twilight franchise; as Bella Swan, she doesn't have the chance to do more than be a teenager in swooning, epic, vampire love, whereas in other, smaller performances, she has a fascinating intensity. The terrific young actress, a mere twenty years old, takes on a very different role in Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys—as Mallory, a stripper and sometime hooker in New Orleans, she's the tenderly young, wild and bruised heart at the center of this emotional character study, which follows what happens when Mallory meets a grieving married couple (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo), who have a deep heartbreak of their own.
At a recent press conference, the actors opened up about what drew them to this small yet potent film.
James Gandolfini: Yeah, me too.
Q: Is this guy having a classic midlife crisis with his life?
James Gandolfini: I think he's questioning, I think you look back on your life when you get to that age, and you ask how do I get here? With me, it's mostly good, and with him, it's not what I expected. It's not what the man expected. I think for him, he has to go back in his mind, and figure out what to do now. I think a lot of people do that, but they can't go anywhere or disappear. I think he takes the opportunity to figure things out.
Q: And the accent?
James Gandolfini: Sometimes you make choices, and you look back and wonder, just like we were talking about, and I really don't know what else to say about that.
Melissa Leo: When I as his wife heard him talking to me, I made up this story in my head, that he had moved to Indiana. He was from some other place and trying to make an Indiana-an out of himself. That was my story.
James Gandolfini: Southern Indiana, I had a dialect coach.
Melissa Leo: It's a really peculiar accent.
James Gandolfini: I took a stab at it.
Q: What surprised you the most about playing a stripper. Were those bruises make-up?
Kristen Stewart: Yeah, they were. I got the bruises initially in rehearsal. I learned how to pole-dance, even though you never really see it in the movie. You do, for a second, in silhouette. It really hurts and you don't realize that of course it's going to show. I think, there were so many, and I was like, do you keep all of them? Was that too much? I think what surprised me the most was the fact that I was so unaware of the fact I was walking down the street with my robe open and wearing fishnets and not caring at all. I had no inhibitions, I wasn't scared.
Q: Kristen, what was some of the preparation you did for the movie?
Kristen Stewart: Some of it was books, and Raised by Wolves really got me. This guy followed this group of runaway kids in Hollywood, they really just let it all out. We didn't have that much time and it was really comforting to know that everything was in the script so that I could, once we started shooting, I didn't have to add a thing. The elements were already there.
Q: For James and Melissa, how did you guys establish that you were a couple, considering you had a limited amount of rehearsal time?
James Gandolfini: I... like her. We just did it. She's very professional, and also, pretty good lookin', which always helps. It seemed to work. Where are you from, New York City? Honestly, that stuff helps. It just gives you shorthand. I enjoyed it, and that can show. Can I just say something about the places [Jake Scott] picked for [filming in] New Orleans? It's an incredible city for the lack of rules, regulations, and everyone being on top of you. I remember the strip club that he picked, and the places he picked, and I'm no wilting flower, and you're walking up the stairs in this strip club and on this step, there were hairs hanging off the bottom of the stairs. You could see it, these steps hadn't been cleaned in hundreds of years, and just the feel of it really helped all those scenes we had to do. He didn't pick places and then dirty them up.
Melissa Leo: I want to say about working with Jimmy, I still have the engagement ring that Lois (her character) wore. That likeability and just hitting it off, it's amazing when you work with a terrific actor and you can just pretend. I think a willingness on both our parts and a warmth I felt from Jim right when meeting him, it's so easily done and hard to find words for.
Watch the trailer: