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Hysteria, unfortunate onanism, big sorrows and independent changes, Robert Pattinson, the freed marionette
P.44 Portrait: Robert Pattinson
Age 27, Robert Pattinson is a little bit in need of freedom, partly because of his fans troop who have set him up as the ultimate celebrity doing so that his everyday life became impossibly complicated. All the contrary of who is the new idol of the independent cinema: a real nice guy, shy, music lover, AND clever. A little sensible sweetheart almost boring in fact? No, not really.
Robert Pattinson Chronicle Of a changing icon
For a long time, Robert Pattinson had only been a Twilight character: a kitsch romance actor, sex-symbol of all the teenagers of the world, and press people favorite which were delighted of his complicated love affairs with Kristen Stewart. And then, there has been his meeting with David Cronenberg in 2012 in Cosmopolis, which marks the début of a new orientation more independent in his career and changed his image. From the Barnes suburb, where he was born, to his new Hollywood life, portrait of a pure bold actor, victim of a very long misunderstanding.
Since centuries, nothing would have bothered the quiet and calm of the little town of Montepulciano, located in the Tuscany’s heart, in the Sienna province. Its inhabitants lived at the rhythm of country labor, and the everyday life seemed to have stopped at the Renaissance, in which we could find all kind of architectural vestiges everywhere in the city. The time passed quietly, deaf at the modernity noises, until this fateful month of May 2012 when Montepulciano would live for a brief and intense moment a time of fame. During a few days, the city hall accepted to welcome the Twilight Saga: New Moon set, the second episode of the successful franchise, the most expected movie for teenagers from all around the world. Everything nada been set to avoid incidents: a set had been installed on Piazza Grande which dominates the city, 1,500 Italian extras participated in the scene and a mass of bodyguards had to surround the actors, including the lead man, Robert Pattinson. But nothing went as planned “It became very strange, completely crazy”, remembers Chris Weitz at this day, the director who is nevertheless experienced. “The city had been invaded by entire buses of fans from all around the world. We were overwhelmed but we had to keep the situation under control and protect Robert, because the girls became crazy as soon as they saw him”. In the general bustle which retarded the beginning of the set, the director remembers a precise event: “Amongst the fans, there was an handicapped girl with a wheelchair, and the crowd demanded Robert came to talk to her. We thought we were back in Middle Age. He finally went to talk a bit with the young girl. Really, I thought she was going to stand up and walk. But no.”
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Apart from the joke, Chris Weitz sums up perfectly what Robert Pattinson’s last few years looked like: an enormous madness. From 2008 and 2012, the time the Twilight franchise lasted, the five movies adapted from Stephanie Meyer’s books earned three billions dollars in total. Robert Pattinson became, for his part, one of the biggest pop icon from this century beginning. Thanks to his romantic vampire role, he had been imposed as the sex symbol of an entire generation of teenagers, and provoked a hysterical wave comparable to the one known by Leonardo DiCaprio during Titanic, for better and for worse. The better: he became a multimillionaire at only 21, and has known how to use his fame to concentrate on more prestigious, doing, from Cosmopolis by David Cronenberg in 2012, an independent turn which made him one of the most passionate actor from his time. The worst: he sacrificed a good part of his youth, and has to live now under constant protection because of the phenomenon Twilight. “He did not predict this immoderation”, sums up his friend, the actor and director Brady Corbet. “Now, his every day life is a permanent game of hide and seek: he has to protect himself from fans and paparazzi, he has to think about his safety every time he goes out.”” Even when we go to the restaurant with him, we have to enter from a hidden door” testifies David Cronenberg, who offered a new role for the actor in his last movie, Maps To The Stars. “He cannot live as a normal human being anymore, he has no freedom anymore. He loves Toronto, my city, because the people don’t bother him. He can go to a bar without a bodyguard. In Los Angeles or everywhere else, it is impossible…”
He thought the first Twilight would have been art movies about vampires. He did not have any idea what was waiting for him” David Cronenberg Bears, Mates, and a GuitarIn this surrealistic environment where each of his moves are organized in advance by a mass of assistants, and where the least of his gestures are analyzed by press, the logic would have been Robert Pattinson going mad, he would have rejoined the long list of pop icons sacrificed on the verge of fame. But, if we believe his relatives it would appear he chose another destiny. All of them portray him as a “natural”, “healthy”, “sane”, “feet on the floor” (head on both shoulders) actor. Robert Pattinson, they told us, it is the story of an ordinary man propelled overnight to a superstar status, a normal guy who has found, despite of himself, on posters stuck on teenagers’ walls all around the world. “You would be surprised to see him outside of movie sets: he stayed very cool and authentic, the kind of guy going to bars and play music with his friends”, noticed again Brady Cornet, who knows the actor since he moved to Los Angeles, and is a part of his close friends (which counts the actor Tom Studdridge).
The Director of Remember Me, Allen Coulter, who met Robert Pattinson a little bit before Twilight, shares this vision about a guy preserved from the medias craziness: “He has been overtook by his fame. He was embarrassed, stunned. He has quickly become and for a young man, it is not easy. He is a sensitive guy, and he does the best he can, as opposed to all those celebrities who succeeded and who did anything.” All those who worked with him agree to say Robert Pattinson has kept a cold head in front of the Twilight phenomenon. On blockbusters or independent movies sets, the actor is known to not make any wave: we have never heard of ego crisis or whims.
Birth of a “strange” baby-starTo understand this capacity to resist the Hollywood siren calls, maybe we need to remind you of a little detail: Robert Pattinson is British. He was not born in Los Angeles in the star system cult, but in Barnes, a residential suburb in South London. There, life is quiet, bucolic, not to say boring: the district is composed of houses, pubs and public schools which welcome a majority of white privileged school students. “The only strangers, here, are Swedish”, says a little girl from the neighborhood, pointing us the way to take to the Pattinson’s house: “You will recognize the house by its big façade, his parents have money.” It is there, in this middle-class environment that Robert Pattinson has been raised by a father selling classic cars and a mother working in a advertising agency. He has known an ordinary childhood, marked very soon by his musical learning (his sister, Elizabeth, signed at the age of 16 a contract to sing in a band), and his scholarship in the crested Harrodian School where he met his mate Tom Studdridge. The theater, he has gone there for one and unique reason: in his depressing district, it was the best way to meet girls.
At a few miles from the Pattinson’s “bunker” house, stands the Barnes Theatre Club, the little suburb company where he began, and where they always remember young Robert, reciting his firsts ranges: “About fifteen children who went by the theatre became professionals, but no one has had the same career as his”, tells Darrol Blake, a former BBC director, who supervised aspiring actors. “Robert, he, was good in all of his roles.” And be had unstoppable asset compared to his competitors: a particular appearance, sexy and androgynous, which made him sign his firsts modeling congrats at 12 years old and to be spotted by an agent, Stephanie Ritz, whose the reason of his success. She is the one who obtains for him his firsts tries, including a germane-British telefilm, Ring Of the Nibelungs. Carol Dudley was the head of the casting. She remembers the day Robert Pattinson went through her door: “He was at the time unknown. He was weird, he was not used to this kind of exercise”, she says. “At this age, children going to those auditions already have experience. They say the first audition has to be made before the loss of the fifth tooth. Him, he was shy, you could feel he was not in his comfort zone. But he had his head on his shoulders and he was, more importantly, well surrounded. I remember thinking he was going to go far if he kept this equilibrium…”
A year later, in 2005, he got a little part in Harry Potter And the Goblet of Fire, his first participation in a blockbuster. Everything goes on and his name begins circulating in London, whereas he goes to multiple castings for movies or plays. “He knew from now on he wanted to complete focus on cinema”, tells Robin Shepperd, the director of the BBC telefilm The Bad Mother’s Handbook, who keeps an impressed memory of the actor: “Robert was not even twenty but appeared much more mature. He had an analysis capacity and a rare wisdom for his age. He refused to be too exposed in the media outlets. It was striking. Becoming an actor was not necessarily synonymous of fame for him.” On sets, he distances himself by his work capacity: “He was a young man on the watch, on alert” notices Campbell Mitchell, artistic executive from one of his first telefilm, The Haunted Airman. “During a basic scene, he had to use an old razor but he had never used one before. Well, he rehearsed like mad to be sure to have the right gestures. He was someone very intense. When he had to get wet, to be covered in blood, when he had to force himself a way or another, he went, he let himself go. He was not precious.” To involve himself complete in his roles, study his characters, it is a method Robert Pattinson will always keep, and which sometimes saved a movie, as says Stefano Falivene, operator chief on Bel Ami: “Robert has been the most professional actor on set. Comparing to the others, he respected what he had to do. We complained about a lot of whims from a lot of actresses during the movie, but he never caused any problems.”
A handjob and a lot of tearsRobert Pattinson seemed to be calibrated for success: well educated, first student in his classes, hard-worker, he had everything to become his generation’s baby-star. But it is not a reason to be mistaken about the actor’s nature, who has nothing to do with the infallible machine his relatives try to sell us. In reality, the biggest teenagers’ sex symbol is a worried guy, really anguished who has, let’s say, difficulties feeling at ease with his body. The Little Ashes crew can testify that. In this period movie released in 2008, Pattinson was the painter Salvador Dali and had several gay sex scenes, including one of masturbation he had difficulties with, at the point he thought about stopping his career. “He was really embarrassed”, tells the director, Paul Morrison. “I remember once, he refused to show up naked on set until we assured him at 100% the only people there were the only necessary ones to film the scene. It was borderline paranoia.” The Spanish actress Marina Gatell remembers this moment: “Dali’s lover, after being rejected by him, had to have a sexual relationship with Magdalena, the character I played, meanwhile Dali was masturbating and watching them. Robert had nothing else to do than watch and masturbate. But he was not at ease at all. He could not stop crying. In this room, this atmosphere became extremely sad, barely bearable.” Other anecdotes of this type confirm this image of a fragile and sensitive actor, unable to control his emotions. On Water for Elephants set, a very soft sex symbol shared with Reese Witherspoon had become a media imbroglio. The rumor ran in the press that the actor did not dwell well with pressure , and that he finished the scene in tears at the mischievous moment. Sympathetic, Reese Witherspoon tried to save the pretense, affirming in a TV interview that he simply had a cold at that exact time. But some time later, Robert Pattinson has contradicted his co-star and revealed the truth himself: yes, he really cried during the scene, and he assumes completely.
This claimed hyper sensitivity, it is mostly what explains the actor’s immense popularity. For all the Twilighters, principally teenage girls, he is a reassuring sex symbol, a kind of romantic ideal dangerous and touching at the same time. “He is not only a sexy boy, a kind of boy next door. He has also an unique and moving glance. The first time I met him, I had the impression he had an old soul – we could have believed he had already lived a century, and he was a solitary person”, testifies Catherine Hardwick, first Twilight director. She is also the one who convinced the actor to audition for the vampire role in her movie, after seeing him in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. She describes the day of the tries: “He had a long brown lock of hair and a little belly. I think he drank too many bears at that time. He was nervous but charming. I invited him home to meet Kristen Stewart, who I already chose for the feminine lead role. I made them rehearse the confrontation in biology scene at the beginning of the movie. And then, we went to my room, where I asked them to kiss on the bed. The chemistry between Robert and Kristen was immediate.” We all know the rest: five Twilight movies will be released until 2012, engendering billions of dollars, and Robert Pattinson would leave London for good to lead his career in Hollywood.
Twilight: the golden cageIf the pop culture books retained that Robert Pattinson became a celebrity thanks to Twilight, the actor is trying, nowadays, to get rid of this image and free himself from the character Edward Cullen. Even if he has never declared it publicly, it was becoming more and more difficult to live with Twilight, at a point he almost “showed some signs of depression”, explains Elliott Davis, chief operator on the first movie. “He was really involved on set, but honestly: he was not happy. The first Twilight success probably devastated him, he understood the trick closed on him.” This trick, Elliott Davis explains its outcomes: “The Summit Entertainment studio were on the edge of bankruptcy. Our movie had such success they want to prolong it: they found their goose that lays the golden eggs. In this context, the actors had a lot of pressure. Without them, the saga would not exist. So they had to stay, go on with the next movies, whereas the studios did not care anymore about artistic quality. The most important thing was the business. Robert found his way too, of course. If he decided to continue, it was only for the money. He had no contractual obligation. But it has to have been an incredible pain for him.” David Cronenberg confirms us and relates his conversation on the subject with the actor: “He confided to me he thought the first Twilight would have been art movies about vampires. He did not have any idea what was waiting for him.”
What was waiting for him, was a kitsch franchise for teenage girls, and all the problems going with him: fanatics kids all around the world, an image reduced to one of a sex symbol a little bit ridiculous, and the toxic pressure of the press, especially as Robert Pattinson had the bad idea to form a couple with the lead woman of Twilight, Kristen Stewart. Both of them nurtured one of the biggest story for media outlets of the hears 2000, entertaining the mystery about their real nature of their relationship. Marketing fabrication to sell Twilight to the kids? Simple friendship reinterpreted as a torrid love story by the medias? Everyone wondered about the secrets of their story at the same time the movie were released. Not Elliott Davis: “You had to be blind to not see they were a couple”, he says. “As soon as the set began, they instantly got closer. They helped each other a lot and protected one another from the enormous pressure the film entailed. In reality, their relationship began with Twilight and ended at the end of the saga.” Truth: A few month after the fifth episode, the headlines in the medias announced their breakup. Pictures showing Kristen Stewart with another man, the director Rupert Sanders, making Robert Pattinson the world’s most famous deceived boyfriend. In response, the depressed actor decided to sell their house in Los Angeles, and talks about his misfortunes in the medias.
The end of the Twilight era was testing for Robert Pattinson, who thought – once again – to set aside his career to concentrate on his first passion: music. Since his first rock band formed during his teenage years in London suburb, the actor never really stopped and continued composing songs or giving improvised concerts, with his friend Bobby Long in particular, a folkie British. Moreover it is the first thing Catherine Hardwicke remembers from her meeting with Pattinson, to who she gave the opportunity to have a few composition on the Twilight original score: “We were three to leave for a cabin in the mountains to work on the music. Rob began taking the guitar and recorded songs while watching the finished movie on my computer. He was completely happed by music, he seemed to have lost all his natural shyness. I did not know his voice could be so intense and moving.” But instead of producing his first album, (“which will arrive soon”, promised his friend Brady Corbet), Robert Pattinson was once again caught back into the cinema after his Twilight period, giving his career a second dynamic, now placed under the sign of independent cinema.
Leos Carax, for realThe real brilliant blow Robert Pattinson succeeded to do was to reinvent himself in only one film, leading us to forget his teen icon image stuck to his skin – when, just comparing, Ryan Gosling spent ten years going out of Disney Club. This opportunity, the actor obtained it thanks to one and unique person: Colin Farrell. Until the beginning of 2011, he was David Cronenberg’s favorite for the lead role in Cosmopolis, adapted from one of Don DeLillo’s novel. But the American actor hesitated for too long, his agents wanted a too high salary, and he ended committed himself to the movie Total Recall, leaving the field open for the second choice: Robert Pattinson. It took all the movie producer’s perseverance, Franco-Portuguese Paulo Branco, to convince the actor to accept the role. “He hesitated a bit at first, I think he was afraid of the challenge it represented”, remembers the businessman. “He began refusing the deal, but we insisted, David and myself, and then he gave his agreement: he understood it could be a turning point in his career.” The most complicated thing was to deal with agents and managers who surrounded him, even if Robert Pattinson agreed radically revising his salary expectations: him who worked for 12,5 millions dollars per Twilight episode, agreed earning 1,2 millions of euros, in a movie which the total budget was 15 millions euros.
For both parties, the Cosmopolis case was a win-win: first, the actor could redo his reputation working with one of the biggest director in activity; second, David Cronenberg assured with his lead actor a big visibility on media outlets and the assurance of easy financing. Stayed a simple question: is Robert Pattison able to meet the challenge of a movie with hyper complex dialogue? Does the actor from romantic teen movies have the shoulders to convert himself in an exigent cinema? The selection of Cosmopolis for the Cannes Festival in 2012 confirmed it. Paulo Branco, he, has never had doubts on the question: “As soon as I met Robert, I understood he had temper, that he could not be reduced to his fame only”, he says. “Moreover I was surprised by his knowledge of cinema: he is a boy you could have a very rich conversation about cinema. He confided for example that Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf by Leos Carax was one of his bedside movie.” Another anecdote marked Paulo Branco too, who is still amazed: “To prepare his role, Robert not only read Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo: he read all of his books. Yet, I know of anyone who did. And, they met too, they talked for some time, they seem to perfectly hit it off, despite DeLillo is wild.”
On the set of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the director Chris Weitz remembers he too has been surprised by the celebrity’s attitude between scenes: “He was not like other young actors hanging around set. He preferred going alone in his caravan with a book and we did not see him for hours.” Other anecdotes of this kind portray the hyper curious actor, reader of Houellebecq and fan of the director Ernst Lubitsch, of whom he collected the masterpieces before Bel Ami’s set. Going more and more towards art-house films – we will find him soon in Weber Herzog or James Grey’s movies -, Robert Pattinson did not simply look for ameliorating his image, but to affirm his tasted and his desire of a singular cinema.
Nevertheless, taking the fold of independent cinema was not without an adapted period for the actor. After years of bathing in the Twilight Saga blockbusters broth, the powerful Director’s strict biases seemed far away from his habits while collaborating with David Cronenberg. The Canadian director reveals then he had the impression of being confronted to a first timer during their first collaboration for Cosmopolis. “At the beginning of filming, he told me: “I have never seen anything like that in my life.” I answered him: “Never seen what?” And he said this: “A man like you on set. You take all the decisions.” And I answered him: “Rob, there is no one else. Just us. We do not have studios on our backs. The only producer’s preoccupation is for us to be happy. You understand, we are doing this movie together. Just us, we take the decisions.” I think he has never really filmed in a movie of that type. Until there, he always had to report to directors who had to call the studios every time they wanted to make a decision, change a costume or a haircut. With me, there is no phone.” Moreover, wink of fate, in Maps To The Stars, the last Cronenberg Movie, he plays an idealistic young man coming from the depth of USA, arriving in Hollywood to make career without being aware of the game’s rules in which he put his feet in. When we asked Cronenberg if we have to see a resemblance between this role and the former Twilight glory, the director does not hide it: “There is a resemblance, indeed. Robert never hoped to be a celebrity. He wanted to be an actor, and he was trapped by celebrity.” The good news is he decided to keep his chains.