This post contains spoilers for the HBO series Irma Vep.
Kristen Stewart was bound to show up in Irma Vep. The question was not if but when show creator Olivier Assayas—who is also the sole writer and director of the HBO miniseries—would deploy his favorite actor of late, dropping her into the meta, eight-episode rumination on his own life (which is based on a 1996 film Assayas wrote and directed, itself a work of cheeky auto-fiction). In Monday-night’s finale, Stewart is finally revealed, playing an artist whose complex relationship to fame is a knowing reflection of the movie star’s real life.
Stewart plays Lianna, Eamonn’s girlfriend. All season long, Mira (Alicia Vikander) has been curious about Lianna, largely because she still has feelings for Eamonn (Tom Sturridge), who is her ex-boyfriend. (The duo messily rekindle things in episode four, after Eamonn confides in Mira about Lianna’s recent, tragic miscarriage.) Lianna, as previous episodes revealed, is a popular singer. She pops up in the first few minutes of the episode, dropping into Eamonn’s hotel late at night after finishing a concert. Aesthetically, she looks…like Kristen Stewart, which is to say: draped in a Chanel coat, Chanel tank top, and sporty track pants, her blonde hair styled into a wavy ponytail, and her signature arm tattoos on full display.
Lianna and Eamonn have a warm reunion in his suite, then immediately talk shop. All the while, Mira is spying on them in the next room, using her magical catsuit to walk through the walls of the suite and eavesdrop. When Eamonn asks how the concert went, Lianna laments that her audience still skews young. “It was the usual sea of rabid 11-year-olds,” she quips. “I’d give anything to cross over into a more mature audience.”
After they finish discussing work, Eamonn and Lianna take their conversation out to the balcony. As Lianna smokes a joint, she gingerly asks Eamonn if he’s seen Mira recently. He confesses that they had a drink together, which causes Lianna to lightly spiral. “You’re in Paris. You’re bored, alone. Maybe you need a little comfort,” she surmises. Eamonn wraps his arms around her and lies his face off. “She’s not a part of my life,” he says, assuaging Lianna’s concerns. The duo then go to the bedroom and that’s that. Lianna never finds out about the affair, ending her story line on a false, happy high. Mira narrowly escapes, exacting petty revenge by stealing Lianna’s coat and tossing it in the hotel hallway.
The parallels between Lianna and Stewart are fairly strong, at least at the start. Stewart would certainly know what it’s like being obsessed over by a young audience, having risen to stardom through the blockbuster Twilight franchise, based on the best-selling Y.A. vampire series. Though the films endeared her to tween and teen fans, Stewart made a conscious choice to weave more mature fare in between each Twilight film, including playing Joan Jett in The Runaways biopic and Marylou in an adaptation of On the Road. Two years after the final Twilight film hit theaters, Stewart had officially moved on to the next phase of her career, taking a supporting role in Assayas’s film The Clouds of Sils Maria. It was her first collaboration with the French filmmaker, and a fortuitous one: The role earned Stewart a César for best supporting actress, making her the first American performer to win the prestigious French prize. She and Assayas would reunite again for the moody ghost drama Personal Shopper, in which Stewart plays a woman searching for signs of her late twin brother in the afterlife.
However, the parallels between Stewart and Lianna aren’t quite as thrilling as the parallels between Stewart and Mira. Irma Vep is all about stand-ins. The director character, René Vidal, is a stand-in for Assayas himself. The mysterious Jade is a stand-in for Maggie Cheung, the original star of Irma Vep, who was previously married to Assayas before their 2001 divorce and eventual estrangement. Mira, an American movie star with luxury brand deals who flits between Hollywood blockbusters and serious French fare alike, can be interpreted, in a way, as a stand-in for Stewart. Assayas has said that Vikander was his first choice for the role, but has admitted that Stewart was an inspiration.
“I don’t know that many American actresses,” he previously told Vanity Fair, “so when I write a part for a young American actress, yes, I get inspired by what I spied from Kristen.”
He spoke similarly in another interview. “There must be elements of Kristen,” he told The New York Times. “Kristen is haunting the film.”
Thematically, Irma Vep about the living ghosts of Assayas’s past. Cheung—who declined Assayas’s request to act in the series—is the dominant phantasm, but Stewart is a close second. Her presence in the finale, a welcome volt of charisma, brings the meta narrative full circle at last.