LOS ANGELES — At first, the paparazzo didn't recognize the middle-aged man who slipped discreetly into Kristen Stewart's Mini Cooper. All he knew was that the guy wasn't her boyfriend, Robert Pattinson.
But as Stewart and her passenger approached Pacific View Trail, it quickly became clear that they were more than friends when the pair started pawing each other like teenagers in the "Twilight" star's car.
The photographer started snapping images and called his agency, FameFlyNet Pictures, to request backup. Soon, three additional shutterbugs were also trailing the couple.
But it wasn't until the photographers uploaded their photos back at the office that they realized just what a sensational scoop they had uncovered. After pulling up some pictures from the premiere of "Snow White and the Huntsman," it became clear that Stewart's make-out buddy was Rupert Sanders, 41, who had directed the 22-year-old in the adaptation of the fairy tale.
"That was when we realized, "Oh, my God, she's not just cheating on Rob — this guy is married and has kids,'" recalled Scott Cosman, the owner of FameFlyNet. "It was pretty scandalous, and it had so many different angles to it."
Countless stars have committed such indiscretions over the years, but the Stewart-Sanders scandal seized the attention of the public and Hollywood particularly strongly last week for a number of reasons: the unambiguous photographic evidence (which quickly landed in US Weekly); the brazen nature of the lapse, given Stewart's heretofore strongly guarded, cautious public persona; the rapid and pained public apologies by both parties; and the questions the tryst cast over not one but two films — the upcoming "Twilight" finale and plans for a "Snow White" sequel.
Stewart has been a tabloid staple since the "Twilight" vampire film series skyrocketed her and Pattinson to fame in 2008. She's long been followed by paparazzi and for years has taken pains to guard her private life — rarely even acknowledging her four-year relationship with Pattinson.
But once the photos surfaced Tuesday, both the actress and the director issued public apologies within hours. It was not just the speed of Stewart's statement that was notable but also its intensely heartfelt, personal nature: "I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry."
The apologies elicited both empathy and cynicism, with skeptics calling them a calculated public relations effort to minimize any career ramifications. In November, the final entry in the "Twilight" series ("Breaking Dawn — Part 2") will hit theaters, and both Stewart and Pattinson will have to promote it worldwide.
While the tryst seems likely to make those duties awkward, perhaps more concerning for Stewart are the questions that now arise over Universal Pictures' planned "Snow White" sequel. "Snow White" has taken in more than $380 million worldwide, and a sequel would help to cement Stewart's status outside the "Twilight" franchise. (For Sanders, the stakes are also high: "Snow White" was his feature debut as a director.)