An Ode to Kristen Stewart’s Nervous Tics

Whenever I am under any amount of stress, which is occasionally every other minute of my daily life, I find myself stammering, darting my eyes away, and nervously chuckling. I call it “Going full K. Stew.”

The anxiety-riddled cadence Kristen Stewart has poured into every role throughout her career has always attracted me to her as a performer. In many Stewart roles, you can find her signature words, “um,” well,” and “ah,” appear in every other dialogue exchange despite the variety of character types she portrays, ranging from a high school girl in love with a vampire, Princess Diana, and however you want to describe that creepy girl from Crimes of the Future.

But it wasn’t until I watched Rose Glass’s intense revenge romance thriller Love Lies Bleeding that I realized Stewart’s nervous tics are not just her signature. They’re also the element that grounds each of her characters in reality.

In Love Lies Bleeding, her character Lou has more daddy issues than a Marvel hero. As a kid, her drug lord father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris), groomed her to become his protege, working as daddy’s little hitman against her will. But as an adult in 1989 New Mexico, they’re close to estranged with her hoping to either avoid him forever or bring him to justice. When her new bodybuilder girlfriend Jackie (Katy O’Brian) gets Lou involved with a crime plot they must cover up together, Lou becomes a vessel of anxiety and panic.

Given the effects of her trauma, Lou is devoid of a poker face to save her life. She’s terrible at lying, skittish in her cadence, and all about the tics and no treble when shit hits the fan. Yet, her rizz-less motion elevates the film’s pulse-pounding atmosphere. It also adds a layer of psychological character depth that took me by surprise. Stewart’s tics, along with dreamlike blood-soaked imagery, help illustrate the pain Lou faced during childhood and how it carried over to her day-to-day life. It’s something many of us queer folk who had not-so-good childhood can identify with — although hopefully our trauma involves less murder than Lou.

Her nervous tics can also humanize people whose celebrity has reduced them to iconography, as she did for Princess Diana in the Academy Award-nominated Spencer. Here, her nervous tics are subdued but still omnipresent, contributing to Diana’s constant torment of isolation. She embodies the depression and loneliness Diana faces, and her expressionism brings a refreshing humanizing aura. She brings her to life in a way actors often fail to do so when portraying a famous figure.

The beauty of Stewart’s nervous mannerisms in her roles is how acutely they represent the deep stress and anxiousness we all face as people. We’re big balls of anxiety these days, especially given the current state of the world. No matter how bleak or overwhelming the situation, stress has become a defensive, reactionary response, resulting in many of us having nervous tics of our own. Often on-screen, when characters panic, they still think clearly, their actions messier than their speech pattern. But with K. Stew, her naturalistic vocal hesitation and uncertain facial expressions add a true-to-life dimension that always feels relatable. The way she pauses with filler “um’s” in between lines makes it feel like she absorbs every conversation her character participates in. Whether in a movie where her girlfriend tricks her into a homophobic Christmas or a movie where her girlfriend horrifically hulks out when mad, her stress-riddled approach immerses the viewer. It’s as if she’s asking, “Isn’t this how you would react in this situation?” The answer is often, yes.

Nervousness is a skill Stewart possessed as far back as Twilight and it has only increased with her abilities. The built-in anxiousness she elicits can control a whole movie’s tone, atmosphere, and rhythm. Her authenticity as a worry-wart makes me feel seen as the anxiety-ridden person I am.

Kristen Stewart’s tic tactic mirrors our emotions under pressure, making us feel deeply connected with her characters. To misquote another beloved queer actor: K. Stew, you are all of us.


See more Kristen Stewart nervous tics in Love Lies Bleeding, now playing in limited release and opening wide this Friday.

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Rendy Jones

Rendy Jones (they/he) is a film and television journalist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. They are the world's first gwen-z film journalist and owner of self-published independent outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics' Choice Association, GALECA, and a screenwriter. They have been seen in Vanity Fair, Them, RogerEbert.com, Rolling Stone, and Paste.

Rendy has written 8 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. In interviews about her work Kristen seems to often mention that she likes to read the script before agreeing to roles because she wants to be confident she can actually “accomplish the job” – I wonder if that is about checking that there is space for that expressive anxiety that you mention so eloquently here.

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