The Equals team hit the Lido today for a Competition screening of the futuristic love story from Like Crazy helmer Drake Doremus. I sat down this afternoon with stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult to talk about the film that’s a sort of timely, sci-fi riff on Romeo And Juliet. The film has its red carpet screening tonight in Venice and then heads to Toronto where a U.S. deal is expected to close. There’s also potential for a TV series, exec producer Russell Levine tells me.

equals kristen stewartEquals is set in a sleek, bright future where emotions have been banned and relationships are outlawed. Anyone who exhibits signs of feeling is diagnosed with SOS, or Switched-On-Syndrome, for which there is no cure. Stewart plays Nia who actually has SOS but doesn’t let on. When Hoult’s Silas finds he also has it, the two fall for each other and decide to escape. Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce also star. Reaction at the first press screening last night was enthusiastic even if some of the reviews have been mixed. The two leads have received strong praise.

Doremus broke out with Sundance 2011 Grand Jury Prize winner Like Crazy and followed that up with Breathe In. Equals forms the third part of a trilogy about love.

equalsGiven its themes, the film comes with “really great timing,” Stewart says. “I think the biggest killer in this life is fear. I think a nice healthy dose of it can be motivating, but if you let it debilitate and dictate how you treat other people, it’s very ugly.” The movie, she says, is about two kids with natural desires and society’s denial of those instincts. “That’s really painful to watch, and it happens rampantly. So the movie is definitely, courageously saying ‘It’s worth it, you pursue that and treat yourself, because who the hell knows?”

A candid Stewart admits, “I was nervous going into the movie because of how simple it is and overtly emotional. I’m 25. I’ve been through some stuff and I knew it was going to be painful and I knew if I didn’t do it right I would have hated myself.” The hardest part was “not allowing yourself to feel something. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I’m in a mood, my mood shows.”

Hoult for one had difficulty keeping his moods in check on the last day of shooting which was also the final scene of the film. “The end of shooting is already a quite emotional experience so you’re already in this heightened emotional state and that scene… I’m not really a big bawler and I’m not meant to feel anything at this point (in the film). But Drake was playing a song on the set and he says ‘Whenever you’re ready’ and I was standing there and I was just crying. I was like ‘OK, (I’m not supposed to) feel anything now, but there’s a lot of feeling right now.’”

Stewart and Hoult had met casually before taking on Equals, but got to know one another closely through a rehearsal period that included Doremus having them sit together repeating the same phrase over and over for an hour. Hoult says he’d only ever done this when he auditioned for Mad Max: Fury Road. “It’s a really smart thing which makes you forget about what you’re doing. You focus more on the other person,” he tells me.

He and Stewart have something in common having started their careers at early ages and then continuing with both indies and huge franchises. Hoult tries to balance things like X-Men with doing smaller projects because the tools required are “very different mechanisms.” Actors he’s worked with and admires include Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. “They are at an age when it really starts to get interesting. I’m trying to do different things and work with good people and learn.”

Stewart says her choices are “life choices.” She wants to be able to “thrive commercially and the only way I could do that would be genuinely. So everything I’ve ever done that ended up being big or started out being big and ended up not being big, I was always just as invested in those projects as I have been in every small indie. I never choose things in order to switch it up… It sounds like pretention, but it is an art, and it consumes you. I get really stoked when something comes around that’s commercial and they want me because that means I can do these next three things that I’ve been lining up.”

Later in the day Stewart, Hoult and Doremus attended a press conference for Equals where the actress mused, “Do we still exist if love doesn’t exist? If you don’t have passion for something — maybe not for another person — but if you have drive and passion and curiosity, that’s what keeps our world spinning. If you take that away, why would you want to learn anything?” Then she answered her own question, “Would we still exist if love didn’t? No.”