Robert Pattinson: “The attention I get now is just mind-bending.”
British actor Robert Pattinson on becoming the object of every teenaged girl’s affection with a lead role in blockbuster Twilight.
Robert Pattinson appears ill suited to the celebrity life that awaits him. The 22-year-old Londoner is starring as ferociously handsome teenage vampire Edward Cullen in the movie adaptation of the novel Twilight, and thanks to the response to the movie in the US – where it recouped its $35 million budget on its opening night, before taking over $100 million during its first week on release – he has become an overnight sensation.
“Really, I’m a bit of a loner and not that good with dealing with loads of people,” he smiles when I ask about his newfound celebrity. “Most of the time, I feel that going out is a complete waste of time. I’d rather stay in a create something rather than go out and talk.”
This is not, I must confess, the response that I was expecting. Pattinson is clearly a creative type – both he and one of his two older sisters, Elizabeth, are accomplished musicians – and yet with his obvious good looks and innate charm, he seems the sort of fellow who would revel in his status as teenage idol.
“Not really,” he says. “It’s funny, but about a year ago I’d talk to girls and no-one would be interested.” This I find hard to believe.
Really, it’s true, and then when it was announced that I would be in Twilight, and the book’s author gave me her seal of approval, everyone seemed to change their mind. The attention I get now is just mind-bending.”
Not of all of it, he notes, is welcome. During the recent promotional tour for Twilight in the US, Pattinson was subjected to a bout of ear-piercing wailing that would have made The Beatles proud. It should be noted, however, that a fair portion of Twilight fans are even younger than those shrieking and fainting for Lennon and McCartney, and he recalls with horror the moment that a seven-year-old girl approached him and asked whether he’d bite her neck.
“That was really rather freaky,” he notes. “So many younger girls are obsessed with this character and all that desire. They see Edward as unthreateningly sexual.” Indeed, this seems to be the secret to the Twilight saga’s success.
The books’ author, Stephenie Meyer, is a devout Mormon (the idea for her story coming in a dream), and her four novels – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn – have a sexual undercurrent without featuring sex itself. “I think that’s true,” concedes Pattinson.
“The success of the books does, I think, comes from the fact that fans can yearn and lust after Edward, and yet certainly in the first book, there’s no actual sexual contact.” Hence young readers can splash about in a pool of teenage lust and obsession, without, courtesy of a cleverly constructed plot, needing to dip into the turbulent waters of scary teenage sex.
In Twilight, Pattinson’s character is a vampire living with his clan in rain-sodden Washington State. He and his brethren have forsworn human blood, choosing instead to live within our society. However, when Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart in the movie) moves to their small town, she incites both his desire to love and his desire to feed.
In short, he’s not sure whether to nuzzle her neck or to bite it. As a result, Edward and Bella’s passion remains unconsummated. “Basically, Twilight is a big metaphor for sexual abstinence, and yet it’s both sexual and erotic underneath. There are so many elements in the story which are sexy.”
For the story’s target audience of adolescent girls, much of that sexiness stems from Edward himself. In the book he is presented as a vision of perfection. “I was put off,” admits Pattinson. “I read the book before I read the script and I couldn’t even get through it. I was saying there is absolutely no way in the whole wide world that anybody can play this guy. Then I read the script and a lot of the description was taken out and I could get a little bit more connected.”
Such is the fan fervour surrounding Meyer’s stories (the author has been dubbed the new J. K. Rowling), with Breaking Dawn selling 1.3 million copies in the US on its first day on sale that many fans were in uproar when Pattinson was cast.
The Twilight websites went into meltdown, the oestrogen-fuelled chat-rooms berating both the Brit and those who chose him. After all, apart from his role as Cedric Diggory in 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and then The Order of the Phoenix in 2007, the boy playing their beloved vampire was almost entirely unknown.
But then it all changed. “As soon as Stephenie had given me her support, the tone changed overnight and suddenly everybody loved me!” says Pattinson.
They certainly love him in Hollywood. He has already signed on to star alongside Dennis Hopper in the film Parts Per Billion, and the Twilight sequel, New Moon, will surely now get the green light.
Admittedly, his character is less prominent in New Moon, but Pattinson is still set for an extended spell in the spotlight. “It’s bizarre,” he says, “but I never really had any aspirations to be an actor when I was young. I wanted to play the piano in a bar, to be the old dude with a whisky glass, all dishevelled. I love the piano; they’ve actually used some of my music in the film.”
Pattinson was born in Barnes, the youngest of three children, to a father who traded classic cars and mother who’d worked for a modelling agency. It was his father who encouraged the young Robert into acting, although his motivation wasn’t entirely artistic.
“When I was younger my dad spotted a bunch of girls in a cafe and they were all really excited, so he asked them where they’d been,” he explains. “When they said that they’d been to drama classes, he reckoned I should get myself down there!” Which the young Pattinson promptly did, working backstage until, one day, “a bunch of people left. I was the only one still there and got the lead role by default.”
That lead role was in the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, his performance earning him an agent. The agent then secured him an audition for the fourth Harry Potter movie, where he was subsequently cast as Cedric.
“I kind of blew it after the Potter films,” he concedes. “There was a chance for me to really kick on and use the exposure but I didn’t really want to do anything. Looking back, it was a good thing – I was able to teach myself how to act for a start. I could have done some more teen movies, but I thought what was the point? I’m not all that fussed by making loads of money.
“In fact, I’m a bit of miser. The car that I have I got when I came out to LA for $2,000 I still have. It’s a death trap and has nearly killed me five times, but I don’t care. I’m going to squeeze every dollar I can out of that car.”