Actress Kristen Stewart
Actress Kristen Stewart arrives Friday night at the downtown Arlington Theatre to accept the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award for her role in the 2021 film “Spencer.” (Steve Kennedy photo)

Actress Kristen Stewart received the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award at the downtown Arlington Theatre on Friday night, honoring her most recent performance in the 2021 film “Spencer.”

The event took place just weeks before the 94th Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, for which Stewart has been nominated in the Best Actress category.

“The night before the Oscar [nominations] were announced, I was worried that two names were going to be left out — Penélope Cruz and Kristen Stewart,” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said. “And then I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and the name Kristen Stewart was announced and I said, ‘All’s well with the world, thank goodness.’”

The American Riviera Award recognizes actors for their achievements and significant contributions to American cinema. Past recipients of the award include Delroy Lindo, Renée Zellweger, Viggo Mortensen, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Annette Bening, Sandra Bullock, Mickey Rourke, Tommy Lee Jones, Forest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane.

Ahead of the award, Stewart joined IndieWire editor-at-large Anne Thompson for a question-and-answer session and conversation on her career thus far.

Stewart talked about her interest in acting and filmmaking beginning early, with her father being a stage manager and television producer and her mother being a script supervisor.

“I was 9 or 10 years old, and the feeling that this adult in the room was moved by something I was doing, and we suddenly were sharing these feelings,” Stewart said about one of her first movie roles. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m an actor and I never want to not be an actor.’”

In one of her first major roles, Stewart starred alongside Jodie Foster in “Panic Room” at age 12.

“[Foster] definitely assumed I was going to move into a different area of this job making movies,” Stewart said. “I think I’m just kind of a masochist. I love it so much, I love how much it hurts, I love how scary it is. I think when I was little, it kind of seemed like I couldn’t handle that, but I can.”

While it’s “Spencer” that earned Stewart her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress this year, she has appeared and starred in 44 films during the past two decades, including the “Twilight” saga, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Charlie’s Angels” (2019), “The Runaways,” “Speak” and more.

“It was her 2008 role as Bella Swan in the first installment of the ‘Twilight’ saga that turned her into a global movie star,” Thompson said. “And we all fell in love with her.”

Written by Steven Knight and directed by Pablo Larraín, “Spencer” follows Princess Diana, played by Stewart, through the Christmas holidays in 1991 at the Queen’s Sandringham House in Norfolk, England, in the wake of Prince Charles’ affair. The historical fiction film depicts Diana’s struggle with mental health problems and the tension between her and the rest of the royal family at the time.

Actresses Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron

Actress Charlize Theron, right, presents the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award to fellow actress Kristen Stewart. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

“[Diana] is impossible to not absorb,” Stewart said. “I felt this power, I felt taller playing her. I felt like I could bring people together. … I really felt this power, even if it was totally made up and something I was convincing myself of. Her life helped me do that and that felt good.”

Fellow actress Charlize Theron, who starred alongside Stewart in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” also made an appearance Friday night to present the award to Stewart.

“It’s not an easy task to take on the most iconic figure we probably know in modern history, but you let us into this character. You gave us a glimpse into [Diana’s] soul in the most tactful and heart-wrenching way,” Theron said to Stewart as she presented the award. “You just invite us into the characters that you play in the way you inhibited them and the way that it doesn’t feel forced or intrusive.”

The 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues through March 12, with film screenings and special celebrity tributes or panels occurring each day. More information on the festival’s lineup can be found here, as well as on its digital program guide.

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Serena Guentz, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at