The Runaways had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last night, and response was pretty positive all around. Director Floria Sigismondi’s film tells the story of the band in which Jett got her start as a rock and roll rebel back in 1975. It focuses on Jett’s strong bond with lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), who at 16 years old became a hypersexualized jailbait icon at the hands of their manager Kim Fowley (played with appropriately disturbing gusto by Michael Shannon).
The cast and their inspirations were on stage at the premiere to give their thoughts on the project once the screening had finished, and although Stewart was ballsy enough to embody Jett down to the mannerisms, the gait and even the singing voice (both she and Fanning are using their real voices in all the performances in the film), she remained the painfully nervous and shy girl she is in person. She looks uncomfortable in public and seems to overanalyze every word that comes out of her mouth, terrified of saying something she’ll regret. When asked about the challenge of taking on this role, though, she did manage to make a statement before going back to hiding behind Jett.
“Everybody knows Joan Jett, right, but nobody really knows how hard it was to become her,” Stewart said. “We’re pretty lucky. We’ve grown up being told that, as girls, we can do whatever we want and that just wasn’t the case for them. Considering how important it was for Joan and Cherie, I was surprised how open they were, instantly. They didn’t even know who we were. She has such an undeniable presence. It not like it takes a really perceptive person to get to know somebody like that.”
Jett herself had plenty to say about how it felt watching her teenage years on screen, and the actresses who made it happen. “Very surreal, but in a good way. These two becoming us was really incredible, and I have to give them such credit for their work ethic. It wasn’t just a gig. It wasn’t like they took this role and said ‘oh, it’s a gig, I’ve got another movie in three months.’ They were deadly serious about it, and you could see that in all their preparation. I wanted to be there for Kristen to get whatever she needed from me, whatever that might be, and I was also willing to get out of her face if that’s what she needed. I didn’t want to be over her shoulder, but I wanted to give her all the tools that she might need to do what she needed to do. I thought it was great seeing this experience up there, and I’m amazed it took 30 years.”
Even Currie had nothing but great things to say to Stewart. ” Joan, I knew from the minute I met her that she was going to be the godmother of rock and roll, and I was right. Kristen, I think you had the toughest job on this one because you had to be the incredible Joan Jett, and everyone was watching you and everyone was waiting to see what you were gonna do. I’m really proud of you. I thought that was almost impossible.”
Of course, Currie reserved her best praise for the one who brought her story to life. “Dakota Fanning is my favorite actress of all time.”
Fanning is only 15 years old, which made her perfect to portray Currie’s teen years in the limelight, but also really showed how creepy the ‘man’s world’ was back then – and is likely part of the reason Currie herself said Shannon’s performance as the domineering Fowley was incredible, and that he truly scared her. Fanning’s age is likely to get some controversy brewing when she’s dancing around in a corset and her underwear, but considering she’s already been involved in a rape scene in Hounddog, it might not. Besides, it really drives home the point about the sleaze the Runaways had to deal with to get their music out there.
She did mention how important it was to do justice to Currie’s life story. “When I first met Cherie, she had such a big personality,” Fanning said. “She wore her emotions and her feelings and her thoughts on her sleeve, and she was very open and honest with me about how she felt during this whole process and experience, and to have her there for me was unbelievable, and that was probably the only reason I was able to do what I was able to do.”
Jett was very open about her feelings, too. “It’s a really personal thing for us, and this was our dream, so it was really important and it is very emotional to see this happen. We really believed in what we were doing. We felt we were doing great rock and roll, we weren’t hurting anybody. We were just trying to have fun, and people took offense to that. So it became the principle – following your dreams and not letting other people dictate what you’re gonna do in life.”
For all the obstacles that her band smashed through to earn their success, Jett isn’t convinced there’s been much progress. “You know what? I don’t think things have changed at all,” she said. “I think 30 years after The Runaways, where are all the girls? The girls with guitars and drums are out there, it’s just that people don’t know it. I’m not quite sure what that is, if the threat is still so present. What’s so threatening about girls playing rock and roll?”