For once, Kristen Stewart seemed at ease.
The 20-year-old "Twilight" star was enjoying a rare moment of anonymity at one of her favorite restaurants, a rustic hideaway shrouded by a canopy of ferns, perched alongside a twisty road in Topanga Canyon. Notices for a local farmers market, a childbirth preparation class and a 70th birthday celebration for John Lennon decorated the haunt's bulletin board.
A few honeybees circled the veggie burger on her plate as she chatted about playing a teenage runaway-turned-stripper in her latest film, "Welcome to the Rileys," a drama coming to theaters Friday. She wasn't running her hands through her hair, or incessantly shaking her leg, or stuttering as she tried to express herself — all of the characteristic nervous tics she's often displayed in public since the first "Twilight" film rocketed her into a frightening orbit of celebrity two years ago.
Then, suddenly, her face fell. A stranger was timidly inching over to her table.
"Could I take a picture for my girlfriend in Thailand?" the man, who appeared to be in his 30s, asked. "She's a great-looking girl. I just recently got into your movies with her. Is that cool?"
Stewart paused, her left leg slowly beginning to bounce. "Yeah," she sighed. "Yeah, sure." She posed for a photo with the interloper.
Oblivious to her agitation, he lingered. "What's your name again? Kristen, right? Want me to show you my girl?" he asked, beginning to flip through images on his digital camera. "Just for her to know that I picked up breakfast at your restaurant. You know, we're the type of people that don't get out much."
Finally, he retreated. Stewart pulled the hood of her black sweatshirt over her head.
"It's strange when you become a novelty," she said, slouching down into her seat. "It's sort of like, 'Yeah, sure. Go put this on your Facebook so your friends can laugh at it.' Because that's what they will do. And I usually say no to people like that, when they're like, 'Yo, yo, can I get a picture of you?' And it's like, 'No, … you,' '' she said, interjecting an obscenity. "That's what I'm thinking."
Stewart, it's clear, is still grappling with fame, which came at her hard and fast when at age 17 she took on the role of Bella Swan in the "Twilight" vampire franchise, whose fourth installment begins production next month. She's always trailed by paparazzi. A frenzy breaks out whenever she's spotted off-set with "Twilight" co-star Robert Pattinson; tabloids speculate breathlessly about their personal lives.
(One celebrity website, for example, recently gushed about its "exclusive new details" on the pair's visit to a Play N Trade video game store in Prairieville, La., where they are preparing to film the first part of "Breaking Dawn." If you must know, they reportedly bought the game "Fallout: New Vegas.")
Unlike other young stars like Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan, who seem to relish sharing tidbits about their lives with fans on social networking sites like Twitter, Stewart has strenuously resisted constant demands to divulge more of herself to the public.
In past interviews, she's displayed a penchant for stuttering and eye rolling, consequently developing a reputation for being sullen, or awkward. During a 2008 interview with David Letterman, she self-consciously referred to herself as "actually really boring."
"I don't have a personality fit for television. I just don't," she admitted, sounding genuinely friendly. "Even when I really feel like I've had fun with something and been totally fine and we talked about stuff that I thought was interesting — even then. I don't know. It's getting easier. It used to be a lot worse. And it's totally my fault, too. I guess I just put too much pressure on myself before, and it showed."
Though she started acting half a lifetime ago — garnering early acclaim from the likes of Jodie Foster, who co-starred with her in 2002's "Panic Room," and Sean Penn, who directed her in 2007's "Into the Wild" — Stewart says she's been unable to nail a performance as a carefree, charming or cute interview subject, because that's simply not who she is.
Sixteen-year-old Dakota Fanning, who costarred with Stewart in "The Runaways" this year, picked up on her uneasiness during the film's media tour.
"I think that her being uncomfortable doing interviews — Kristen is exactly who she is. It's something that I admire her for," Fanning said. "When she's doing an interview, she really thinks about what she's saying. She's a truthful, honest person, and wants that to come across so badly."
Things got so bad, her team sent her to media training.
"Basically, they told me that I should be ready for any question that's thrown at me, and I should have a stock answer, because then it won't confuse things and you'll never be caught off guard," she recalled. "And there's no way to do that. There's no way to be prepared for a conversation with someone you don't know about something that means the world to you."