„The uncertainity is part of it“
Being on Hollywood’s A-list, his own fame still seems to perplex him somewhat. Robert Pattinson‘s weapon: a self-deprecating sense of humour. An encounter with the British actor in Berlin.
Robert Pattinson perches on the edge of a yellow sofa and fiddles with a bottle opener. The soft drink in front of him has been open for a while, but he doesn’t put it down. The British actor is nervous; his fingers continually stroke the wavy steel object as if it were a worry stone. He doesn’t like the media circus and rarely gives interviews like this one at Berlin’s Hotel de Rome.
Since the boy from Barnes in South West London was thrust into the limelight – where he has remained for the past ten years – he has feared talking nonsense or divulging details about his personal life, both, to him, are equally horrifying. His weapon: a self-deprecating sense of humour. Time and again he lets out a loud peel of resounding laughter, to make it clear just how laid-back he wants to be.
Because the problem is, the thirty-year-old shot to global fame with the Twilight saga and he has been trying to shake off the role of the romantic vampire Edward Cullen who fell in love with mortal Bella ever since.
His new film is also such an attempt. In the epic The Lost City of Z Pattinson plays neither the beau nor the seducer. In fact, (forgive me) he’s not even good looking. For his role as researcher Henry Costin, he fasted, let his beard grow out and had a prosthetic gaping wound crawling with maggots glued onto his sunken cheek.
„I think pretty much every actor feels like a fraud“
“We used real maggots, it was disgusting,” he laughs loudly as he talks about shooting the film in the Columbian rainforest. “The maggot scene where I ate one from my face was actually cut out of the movie.” Instead there is a second where Costin’s shirt rides up as he bathes in the Amazon. Revealing his back. No, there are no nude scenes, not even a kissing scene, with Robert Pattinson.
His good looks were encouraged from an early age. At twelve, his Mum got him his first few jobs via her modelling agency. Back then, his two sisters liked to introduce their androgynous brother as “Claudia”. After puberty, his physique became too masculine and the bookings began to dwindle.
Pattinson dubs it “the most unsuccessful modelling career ever”. Pure coquetry. Currently, he’s a model for Dior, photographed by Karl Lagerfeld. Right now he’s wearing a monochrome outfit from the French fashion label: white shirt with cardigan, jeans and sneakers, all in black. His famous hair is deliberately mussed.
“I think pretty much every actor feels like a fraud in some ways,” he says self-critically, as he strokes his two-day beard with his free hand. He doesn’t know why. “Perhaps they’re a type of people who are attracted to playing other people, I guess.” His own fame still seems to perplex him somewhat.
“I‘ve never really thought about a career“
At 15 he ended up on the stage as a substitute in a London theatre by chance. An agent was in the audience. While other actors struggle for years, his third role brought him worldwide attention: In the fourth Harry Potter film, he met an untimely death as the handsome Cedric Diggory in a fight with Lord Voldemort. It meant the 19-year-old was part of an international blockbuster franchise. No mean feat for someone who never went to drama school.
“Every movie you do is like going to acting school. You don’t need a teacher, you can find one in every director,” says the self-taught thespian today. He finds it strange to think that there is only one prescribed or correct way to play a role. “It’s all totally random.”
Not Robert Pattinson. At 22 he became a sought-after sex symbol in Twilight. At 23 his salary hit the 20 million mark – he had made it onto Hollywood’s A-list. “I‘ve never really thought about what everybody else wants,” he says, almost apologetically. “Or not even about a career! Maybe one day I’ll have to.” Another loud laugh. Ha ha. “Might be coming pretty soon.”
Too late. In 2010, Forbes and Time Magazine named him as one of their 100 Most Influential People.
“For me, the uncertainity is part of it“
Nevertheless, Pattinson’s British understatement seems at once credible and likeable. He has always emphasised how difficult he found the role of the vampire, the immortal 17-year-old with no opportunities for character development. The romantic saga spanned five films, while Pattinson also dated leading actress Kristen Stewart.
During the Twilight years, which continued until 2012, Pattinson decided to emancipate himself from the character. An almost impossible undertaking. He shot one to two additional films per year, many arthouse and independent projects, but the catch was that in every one of those years there was also a reunion with Edward Cullen and his brown contact lenses.
Doubts still eat away at him, he admits. “For me, the uncertainity is part of it,” Pattinson says of his inner drive. He can’t stand actors who are conceited and think they’re not going to mess this up. He likes the idea that for every performance there is the chance of complete failure. “It’s like watching a concert or something, you kind of want this teetering on the edge, like your life could just fall apart.” Big words, romantic words, more film than reality.
„I don’t know really how to appeal to people“
Up to now there have been no stories of pretentiousness or tantrums on set; instead he reads the classics while working. He takes the business more seriously than he takes himself. “When you’re on a job you can have all the training you want. If it’s going to go wrong, it’ll just go wrong. It’s a kind of weird alchemy that needs to happen to get something interesting.”
Practically every director praises Robert Pattinson, his seriousness and his talent. When he hears such compliments himself, he rumples his hair, like he’s doing right now. His name has become a door opener and a box office guarantee, yet he doesn’t appear to trust the hype about himself.
When he meets loyal fans at film premieres, he takes the time to give autographs and smiles for the cameras. They camp out overnight to catch a glimpse of him at premieres and scream from talkshow audiences, he often seems overwhelmed by the force of adoration. As if he can’t quite believe it’s really for him.
“I don’t know really how to appeal to people and do things that they want, because that changes so quickly.” He claims it is practically impossible to predict what will go down well. “Other than,” he says, cracking up, “doing another Twilight movie.” But then the vampire must be allowed to have aged a bit by now, surely? He stops short. “What do you mean”, he says, jokingly indignant, “I’m too old to play a 17-year-old?” Again, there’s that Pattinson laugh. Of course he could. Clean-shaven. His fans would go crazy, but for him it would be a step backwards.
This evening he’ll be confronted by a screeching mob at the Zoo Palast, the same as always, despite his beard and scar in The Lost City of Z.
„At the end of the day, you’re gonna die alone“
“How I chose things is very easy for me,” he says, the bottle opener still in his hand. As a rule, he only does things that excite him. With this film, he liked the fact that the men were following their aspirations. “Yes, it’s incredibly selfish, but at the same time, eventually, at the end of the day, you’re gonna die alone. You have to do what you have to do sometimes. Sometimes a dream can be at the expense of everybody else.” Again, those are some lofty words. And he laughs.
He has had to give up some dreams of his own. He wanted to be a musician; he had a band, he can sing and play piano and owns over a dozen guitars. One of his two sisters is a singer and dissuaded him. But Lizzy Pattinson’s opinion wasn’t the decisive reason. He is afraid that his audience will never see him as Robert Pattinson on stage, but rather always as Edward Cullen.
However, this is perhaps partly his own doing: he composed some songs for the Twilight soundtrack. He shuts down the subject of his music career quickly, but with a smile. “This and a few other things I’ve been doing recently really excited me about acting again. It’s really nice how everything’s going now.”
His private life also appears to be going well. He has been in a relationship with British musician FKA Twigs, whose real name is Tahliah Barnett, for three years – for two of which they’ve been engaged. The pair is rarely seen at events and they don’t talk about each other in interviews.
It was likely in part for her that he moved from Los Angeles back to his hometown two years ago. He claims the almost seven years he spent in Hollywood always seemed like a “holiday” to him anyway. He lived in huge mansions that he christened “Versailles”, was dogged by paparazzi 24 hours a day and could never go out. In London, however, the press largely leaves him alone.
Trump: „Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart“
Pattinson had what was likely his bitterest experience with the media in 2012 when his relationship with Kristen Stewart imploded. The US actress was splashed across the tabloids when the paparazzi caught her cheating. Stewart made a public plea to Pattinson for forgiveness, which was in itself astonishing as up to then the pair had never publicly confirmed they were in a relationship. The tabloids, paparazzi and fans went completely berserk. That year “Robsten”, both before and behind the cameras, was history.
This made one person above all very happy: Donald Trump. He waded in on Twitter in October 2012, making eleven Tweets on the topic within a month. “Everyone knows I am right that Robert Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart,” wrote Trump. “In a couple of years, he will thank me. Be smart, Robert.” In another Tweet Trump invited him to his Miss Universe contest, because the relationship with Stewart was supposedly “permanently broken”.
A few weeks ago, Stewart hosted the US show Saturday Night Live and insinuated the US President is in love with her ex-boyfriend.
And what does Pattinson have to say? Does he have a word of advice for Trump? For the first time, Pattinson seems to agonize. “I hope,” he says hesitantly, “he has more interesting things to think about now.” He lets out an embarrassed laugh and takes a sip of his soft drink.
The son of a car dealer has not become an arrogant snob, but rather Robert Pattinson, the reluctant star. With or without Edward Cullen.