The best thing about Robert Pattinson is how weird he is. If he weren’t acting, he’d be the one in the office grinning with half a mouth and going out of his way to avoid the water cooler. He’s friendly, but weird — with a laugh like Butt-head if he’d gone to a nice independent school in Barnes. We met in May at the Cannes film festival, once he’d finished his cigarette under a sky barely holding its rain. To call his clothes “grunge” would be a disservice to the thought that goes into grunge. It’s just messy: lumberjack shirt, T-shirt, trainers, white jeans. “I’m so hung-over,” he moans, as I turn the tape on. “I feel absolutely disgusting.”
The room is packed with soggy hacks. They sit in clusters, for 15 minutes of R-Patz, for a quote about Twilight to spread over the internet. The vampire saga is over, but remains undead. From 2008 to 2012, those five films, based on Stephenie Meyer's novels, made £2 billion worldwide and fostered a fan base still fervently in love with their leading man. To many, he will always be Edward, the immortal who cared and fell in love with Bella (Kristen Stewart). They added to the mystique by becoming an off-screen couple, too. Throw in his key role in Harry Potter and it’s unsurprising that the pallid hunk has spent much of his life in the headlines. It’s been an odd coming-of-age for the youngest of three, who grew up in a polite London suburb and, as I find out, doesn’t really like big films.
What he does like is his latest role, in The Rover, an indie thriller from the director David Michôd, who hasn’t even seen Twilight. This pleases Pattinson, who talks avidly about the film even though he went to a party last night and “forgot” he had to work. There are few more normal 28-year-old multimillionaires. We talk about a recent interview for Dior in which he spoke, foolishly, about French girls because, “I was being asked ‘What’s your favourite part of scent?’” He shakes his head at the inanity of the question. “I also told someone I use moisturiser, and then saw it written down — I’ve spent all this time trying to get credibility and there’s a f****** headline about moisturiser!’”
The thing is, he’s mortified. All he wants, and needs, now is credibility. He’s loaded: five Twilights and some fashion contracts have sorted that. So, over the past few years, since David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis in 2012, he has been seeking weird, dirty roles. He’s the only actor to have had sex in a limo — on screen — twice this decade. In The Rover, he defecates in a dusty shrub. I put a quote from Catherine Hardwicke, who shot the first Twilight, to him. “Rob’s obviously ridiculously photogenic, but he’s also so talented. I see him creating stylised, odd, wild characters.” He squirms at the first part, but loves the second.
“I’m picking things so strange, they can’t be judged in normal terms,” he says. His brain is creaking; his voice, soft and tired. “If anything’s relatable in a mass way, I don’t know if I can do it. That’s just not how I relate to anything. If there are certain character beats, I’m not going to be able to achieve them. So I like making it my own game. You can invent a new set of emotions that don’t even really make sense to you.”
In The Rover he plays Rey, a bloodied drifter in a future Australia, ravaged lawless by some unspecified crash. He may be a soldier and, as Pattinson puts it, is “handicapped”. The actor is excellent, bringing the baggage of his better-known work to a sombre, serious film — Sad Max, if you like — that pits him against Guy Pearce’s angry Eric. The pretty one sings along to a song that goes: “Don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful.” Rey’s teeth are awful: pyramid-sharp and crooked. They remind Pattinson of “the kids at school who didn’t brush their teeth” — the “weirdos”, he smirks. “Always the ones who played too many video games.”
This is what’s fun about Pattinson — or, at least, his hung-over version. There’s no filter. Most big shots would hold back from a slur about people who play video games, as most of them watch their movies, too. But he doesn’t. I suggest that the mentally and physically crooked Rey is his Miley Cyrus moment, a public ruining of something innocent. “It’s like doing Miley Cyrus,” he repeats, grunt-giggling, but I don’t think he ever thought of himself as pure. He certainly doesn’t care. He doesn’t even have a publicist. I could have asked who he’s dating, but any answer about that from a globetrotting young heart-throb in May, for a piece in August, felt hopeless. On the way out to Cannes, I read up on his love life. There were rumours about the model Imogen Kerr, and Katy Perry, and Katy Perry’s stylist.
I ask what he thinks he will be remembered for, how Google will autofill his name in the future. Stewart — his Twilight co-star, about whom he recently said, “Shit happens” — will always be there. So will Twilight. What else? “Gay?” he laughs. But it’s not really up to you, I add. Yours is an image controlled by manic fans, ones who retweet any news about any role hundreds of times a minute. “They’re very proactive,” he nods. “Good publicists. But I don’t like referring to them as ‘fans’. I think it’s gross when people are, like, ‘I love my fans!’ You don’t even know them.” He continues, saying he thinks that’s probably dubious as he’s “quite insecure”, before booming, theatrically: “ ‘How can you ever love me? You don’t!’ ” I have no idea how much of this conversation he will remember.
I grab five minutes with Pearce — who broke away from his teen-sweetheart part, Mike in Neighbours, with a series of sketchy roles in tough films — to see if he has any advice about how to escape a past. He doesn’t envy his co-star, far better known than even he was in the 1980s. “I’m glad I haven’t had to deal with it,” he says, frankly. “It’s pretty full on. Rob’s got a good sense of humour, but it gets to him, totally. He sees Twilight stuff and goes, ‘Eurgh, whatever...’ ” Pearce can’t help. It’s hard to outrun a quickly lived past. Pattinson went to the same prep school as Tom Hardy, albeit almost a decade later, and I imagine he envies his fellow alumnus’s slow-build career.
“People always ask, ‘Can you actually act?’ ” Pattinson tells me. He’s frustrated. “Well, what the hell do you think I was doing in Twilight? Good or bad, I was acting. It’s the same articles every single time.”
I ask if he has been turned down for roles because of what went before. “One job. It’s only ever been one job, when someone said, ‘I can’t cast you because of Twilight.’ ” And the film was? “Oh, just some film that flopped anyway.”
He has a list of 20 directors he wants to work with. There is “no career plan”, but he wants “people to have a good time with, to tell your friends about”. As yet unseen are films he has done with Werner Herzog and Anton Corbijn. He has made two Cronenbergs in two years, the second being the Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars. He’s sticking to his word.
“Your last job is your last job, and you’re potentially not ever going to get another job again,” he says. “So, you know, ‘I worked with Werner Herzog’ — that’s better than saying, ‘I’m doing Whatever 3’, when you get a bunch of money and shoot for 11 months and promote for eight months and then everyone says it’s shit. I think doing a movie for anyone except yourself is crazy.”
He rambles at length, as passionate people do, half monologue, half conversation. Revealing snippets come thick and fast. “I hear actors say they don’t read reviews or care about it, and I think they’re making it up. Everybody cares about it.” Or, when I ask about a YouTube video called Robert Pattinson Hates Twilight, he shrugs: “I’ve said so many dumb things.” He then accuses critics of giving “more leeway to mainstream movies made as entertainment”, and thinks the “crazy”, much derided Cosmopolis will find an audience on late-night TV. I hope so. It’s a smart film. “When people make difficult things, it’s hard enough for anyone to see it,” he says. “They are reliant on critics to buoy it up a little bit.” He’s annoyed they often don’t.
If The Rover — shot in a town of 50 people, “who live there to get away” — is the remoteness Pattinson craves, then Maps to the Stars is the celebrity he knows. On the shoot for the former, he “stopped wearing fake-dirt make-up and just looked dirty”. In the latter, he wears an awards-show suit and drives around Beverly Hills in a limo with famous actresses. It’s nebulous, with Julianne Moore as a washed-up diva, John Cusack and Olivia Williams a terrifying power couple with awful children, and Carrie Fisher as Carrie Fisher. “I thought it was hilarious,” says Pattinson. “Subversive, combative. But that’s Cronenberg.” He has seen brats like the film’s Benjie (Evan Bird), who has too much too young and loses it all, but doesn’t know why people turn out like that.
Near the end, Pearce bursts through a big curtain and tries to make Pattinson leap into his photoshoot. The younger man curls up. “I hate having my picture taken. Hate it,” he protests. He’s pushed. He flat-out refuses. “I’m way too self-conscious.” He doesn’t want to be the focus of attention any more. Playing leads, he says, isn’t fun. Big movies, he says, aren’t fun. “You just don’t get interesting parts, and you also have to work out tons for a movie you might not like. It’s a big hassle.” He just wants to make weird films and his own weird music. Not that he will release the latter. “I can’t deal with criticism very well,” he sighs. “I’ve already got it from one angle. I don’t need it from anything else.”
The whole day reminds me of the sharpest thing I’ve seen Pattinson say, a joke on an American chat show that sums him up well. It was with Jimmy Fallon, two years ago, when the host said that “millions of Twilight fans” were heartbroken by the end of the saga. “Bittersweet, isn’t it?” he asks. His guest pauses, making as little eye contact then as he did with me. “Erm,” he replies, “for them.” After our interview, I hear him struggle with questions about superheroes, and if he could survive an apocalypse. Later, he heads for another cigarette in the rain. “I’m quite good at being by myself,” he told me earlier and, as I watch him, soaking, I believe him. Actually, somewhere in his mind, I think he’s already by himself, all the time.
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