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“This thing with everyone knowing you,” he says one day in Baton Rouge, where he’s filming the fourth and fifth installments in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn: Part I and Part II, “it’s weird, because people have this one-sided relationship where they look at your picture and feel they know you more than someone they actually know.” And, Pattinson adds, “I don’t really know myself that well.”
And so—given his aversion to air travel, and his feeling that he could use some time to get to know himself—Pattinson decided that, when he had to get from Los Angeles to New Orleans to join the Twilight cast in November, he would drive. “It was awesome,” he says of the trip, which he made with two friends from London. “I went on service roads the whole time. I navigated it on an iPhone.” This updated Kerouacian adventure took them through Arizona and New Mexico, where they came upon the tiny Native American town of Zuni. “It didn’t seem like America at all,” Pattinson says nostalgically. “Me and my friends were the only white people.”
They stopped in a bar in Lubbock, Texas, where, for the first time in as long as Pattinson can remember, he sat and had a beer, undisturbed by paparazzi or fans. “No one recognized me or anything,” he says. “And I was like, Ah, this is really cool, sitting there eating chicken wings and stuff.” He’d been searching for a place where he could feel what it’s like to just be himself, and thought he had finally found it.
But then something happened. Word got out. “They always find out somehow,” he says resignedly. Suddenly there were a thousand people in the street, and the police had to come and control the crowd. A bouncer asked him, “You want us to go and knock someone out?,” and Pattinson says, “I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t need to hit anybody.’ ” Now he and his friends were trapped in the same bar that had been an oasis of anonymity. A police escort had to take them back to their hotel.
A few months later in Baton Rouge, Pattinson says he doesn’t feel like going out, as there’s no telling when a simple trip to a restaurant might ignite another riot. “And I’ll just be like this,” he says, putting his head down on the table, hiding in the crook of his arm. He picks his head up again and—oh, wow. He can’t escape his looks any more than he can escape the attention of his fans. His face has a kind of gorgeousness one sees in the faces of children, with its perfect pale skin, red lips, large eyes. It’s hard to say it any other way: he’s beautiful.
But such superlatives are probably just the kind of thing that would make him cringe and sweat even more profusely than he’s doing now, through his light-blue cotton button-down. He seems nervous; he says he’s nervous. This interview thing isn’t his thing. “I’m just so boring,” he says, running his hands repeatedly through his thick brown hair until it stands on end. “I’m just so dried up.” He’s chain-smoking American Spirits, drinking coffee and water and Snapple iced tea, nibbling at chocolate-covered pretzels left in a bowl for him by his assistant.
Outside, we can hear the growling of dogs. “I hope they’re not killing poor Martin,” says Pattinson, getting up from the kitchen table and peering out the window. Martin is a stray, the underdog of a pack of dogs belonging to the assistants for Pattinson and his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart. The assistants are sharing this cozy rental house in a quiet residential section of Baton Rouge. They’ve lit a crackling fire and scented candles to keep Pattinson comfortable while he does his interview.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Pattinson says, returning to the table. Ever since he came back to the Twilight set, he says, he doesn’t feel—well, quite himself. “My brain doesn’t work anymore. I haven’t any memory. I can’t write. All I can do is sign my name. I tried to write the other day—it looked like I was writing in Braille.” I ask him to write something on my notepad; he does, and it’s illegible. “See?” he says. “It looks like spiders have written it.”
There’s a joking element to his bleak description of his state of mind, but he’s being serious as well. It seems the restrictions of living in the bubble of his immense fame are starting to get to him. “I’ve just kind of stopped doing everything,” he says. “I never change the channel in my trailer. I just watch reruns of House of Payne and Two and a Half Men. I love Cops—I think it’s my favorite TV show.
"God,” he says, laughing, “I sound like such a loser.”
Wake Me When It’s Over
‘Kristen is very focused on being an actress,” Pattinson says, later, of Stewart. “I mean, that’s what she is—she’s an actress. Whereas I—I just don’t really know.”
Among the many things that now dog Pattinson wherever he goes are questions about the nature of his relationship with Stewart, 21. They are widely rumored to be having a torrid romance, something they refuse to confirm (even Oprah couldn’t get it out of them). Other rumors maintain that talk of a romance is just publicity for the Twilight movies.
“Are you asking me if I’m really a vampire?,” Pattinson says, laughing, when I join the nosy chorus, asking if his on-screen love mirrors his relationship in real life. As I wait for an answer, Pattinson literally starts squirming. “Yes. Um. No, not really,” he says. “It’s pretty hard to … It’s just very traumatic,” he says cryptically.
“I mean, are you very intense about each other?,” I ask.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says finally. “She’s cool. Even before I knew her I thought she was a really good actress. Like, I saw Into the Wild, and I thought she was really good in that. I still think there are very few girls in her class that are as good as she is. It’s funny that she’s the one doing this huge—thing.” That is, Twilight.
“When this is over,” says Pattinson, meaning the seemingly unstoppable Twilight entertainment machine, “the media will lose interest” in their alleged affair. He hopes. “There’ll be nothing to say. It won’t fit into a headline anymore. It won’t fit into a template.”
But the big question for Pattinson—and one he seems painfully aware of—is whether the Twilight craze will ever really be over, if he can ever go back to just being Rob, whoever that might be. The fourth and fifth movies in the saga don’t come out until November of 2011 and 2012, and with fans as obsessive as the so-called Twihards (not to mention a marketing machine as effective as Summit Entertainment’s), the phenomenon could go on for as long as there are teenage girls with a taste for the macabre and nothing better to do.
A role as iconic as Edward Cullen could prove as lethal as a vampire’s bite to a young actor’s career, despite the movie immortality and fame and fortune it brings. (This year, Pattinson was No. 15 on Vanity Fair’s “Hollywood Top 40,” which cited earnings of $27.5 million in 2010 alone.)
“There’s a massive reward,” Pattinson concedes, but “being in such a specific pigeonhole right now, it’s very strange. Having a persona people recognize, it’s the thing that probably gets you paid the most—but it’s also the thing that virtually every actor in the world doesn’t want.’Cause, like, no one would believe me if I wanted to play something ultra-realistic, like a gangster or something.”
I ask him whether he could break out and do something completely different—like Shakespeare. “If I did that now I’d get assassinated,” he says with a rueful laugh. “Everyone would just be like, What the fuck?”
He finds himself in an awkward position, not knowing if he even wants to be an actor forever, but also facing the possibility that he won’t ever be allowed to move beyond one particular role. He sounds wistful when talking about the careers of contemporaries he admires, like Jesse Eisenberg (“He’s just really cool”) and James Franco (“He’s done something really interesting with his career”).
“I’ve always said to my agents and stuff, like, it’s going to be 10 years” before people forget about Twilight, he says. “And that’s totally understandable. Normally people keep working and working until their big break. You just keep trying to make the best of your decisions. Like I try to think how I used to think before all the Twilight movies.”
And that’s how he decided to make a movie about an elephant.
Water for Elephants, in theaters this month, is based on Sara Gruen’s best-selling 2006 novel about a traveling circus during the Depression. Pattinson plays Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary-medicine student who loses his parents in a car accident and hops a circus train, becoming the keeper of its exotic animals, including a very problematic elephant.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob says the reason he took the movie was because of the elephant,” says director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend). “He really fell in love with the elephant.”
“She was the best actor I ever worked with in my life,” Pattinson says of Tai, his Indian-elephant co-star, who lives in Southern California, where the movie was mostly shot. (Tai appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1992, posing with Goldie Hawn.) “I cried when the elephant was wrapped,” or filmed her last scene, says Pattinson. “I never cried when anyone else was wrapped.”
But one of the main reasons he chose to do the film was that Jack Fisk, the Oscar-nominated production designer (There Will Be Blood), told him it was going to look like Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, for which Fisk did the art direction in 1978. “I had an image of what it would look like,” Pattinson says. “I kind of pick things in a weird way.”
“He’s a cinephile,” says Reese Witherspoon, who plays Marlena, a circus performer and Pattinson’s love interest in the film. (In 2004, when Witherspoon was 28, Pattinson, then 18, played her son in Vanity Fair, but the footage wound up on the cutting-room floor, so, he says, “it doesn’t count.”)
“For a young guy to have seen so many movies is really amazing,” Witherspoon says. “I mentioned Design for Living”—the Ernst Lubitsch-Gary Cooper comedy from 1933—“and I was so surprised he had seen it.”
“He’s a bit like a film student,” says Lawrence. “He watches a lot of stuff and can talk about movies very intelligently.”
Still, Lawrence admits having been “worried,” before meeting Pattinson, about casting him in Water for Elephants. Pattinson’s movies, apart from the billion-dollar Twilight series, have so far not been tearing up the box office. He did several roles in smallish films before getting the part of Edward Cullen, and then 2010’s Remember Me, which didn’t benefit from a Twilight bounce.
“The Twilight films are so stylized,” Lawrence says, “you wonder what the actor can do. But then after meeting Rob I really calmed down. He has that thing; he’s magnetic. He’s a real movie star. He reminds me of James Dean. And he seemed a lot like [his Water for Elephants character] Jacob, someone who was just becoming a man, strong but uncomfortable in his own skin. People are going to be surprised. His performance was very nuanced and naturalistic.”
‘He’s exploring who he is as an artist,” says Witherspoon. “He was always asking me and Christoph”—Waltz, the Austrian actor from Inglourious Basterds who plays Water for Elephants’ brutal animal trainer, August—“to work on dialogue and character with him. He’s very committed to the work. I hear so many horror stories about young actors with attitude showing up late or hung over, and there wasn’t any of that. He worked so hard.”
Somehow Pattinson maintained his concentration in the face of the hordes of Twihards who plagued the Water for Elephants set on a daily basis. “I’d never seen anything like that, ever,” Witherspoon says. “They were waiting at five o’clock in the morning to see him. Young girls. Where are their mothers?” she asks.
“I think it’s really annoying for him,” says Lawrence. “We shot for a week in Tennessee, and news got out, and riding down the road to the set it was like Woodstock. Cars for two miles. People camped in the grass. We were having dinner at the hotel in a private room, and they were clamoring up to the windows, so the waiters shut the blinds. So they just start screaming and banging on the windows, clawing at the windows. And then you hear this desperate voice: ‘Rob! I just want to touch your hair!’
“I’ve worked with Will Smith,” Lawrence continues, “and he’ll sign autographs, and everybody’s happy. But this is a whole different thing. Rob could get ripped to shreds. They will rip the clothes off his body and pull his hair out.”
Entourage of None
You have to wonder how Pattinson deals with it all. He’s not Leo of the Titanic years, running around to nightclubs with an entourage, blowing off steam. He’s not Keith Richards (whose autobiography he says he just finished reading), numbing himself with substances. Pattinson says he is “allergic to pot,” and, now that he has to be in shape for the Breaking Dawn films, he doesn’t even drink. (He’ll appear with his shirt off in Breaking Dawn: Part I, which he says he dreaded: “I never understood the nudity thing. I’m so envious of people who can walk around naked.”)
“I’m, like, a compulsive eater,” he says, by way of a revelation. “I’m going to be so fat when I’m older, it’s ridiculous.” But this is hard to believe, judging by his narrow frame. He tells a story about wolfing down most of a 40-ounce bag of Pretzel M&M’s while reading a book of essays by David Foster Wallace. “I had a complete breakdown and literally threw them down the toilet,” he says. Keith Richards he isn’t.
What he seems to be is a reluctant star, craving normalcy, and committed to educating himself. “He probably read 20 books while we were shooting,” Lawrence says. “He was always there with his Kindle in between takes.”
Pattinson counts among his favorite books some comically scathing takes on human folly: Eat the Rich, by P. J. O’Rourke, and Money, by Martin Amis. He declares that he is “just like” Money’s narrator, John Self—an advertising executive and addict working in the 80s—and would like one day to play him in a film version. “It’s made for me, this part,” he insists.
But just how he is like this character remains a mystery. He admits he doesn’t “do anything, ever”—meaning anything scandalous—although he confesses a certain admiration for Charlie Sheen and his “little escapades.” “I like crazy people who don’t give a fuck,” he says.
But Pattinson is engaged in somewhat loftier pursuits. He says he’s writing a script based on a Lillian Hellman novel. Before his workload became prohibitive, he “used to go to the cinema every single day.” He says he “learned so much from [French New Wave director Jean-Luc] Godard,” and reels off a list of obscure Japanese movies he reveres.
“Fuck,” he says at one point. “I sound like such a snobby little shit.”
He never went to college. He grew up in Barnes, a suburb of London, where his mother, Clare, worked at a modeling agency and his father, Richard, sold vintage cars. (He has two older sisters, Lizzy, a musician, and Victoria, an advertising executive.) “He has a really nice family,” says Witherspoon, “people who love him and support him, and he is equally loving and supportive of them. It all bodes very well for his future.”
Pattinson attended a boys’ school, Harrodian (coincidentally at the same time as Mick Jagger’s son James), which he calls “artsy.” He says he wanted to be a political speechwriter and was applying to go to college for a degree in international relations when he landed the role of Cedric Diggory, a doomed wizardry student at Hogwarts, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). He’d been dabbling in acting and modeling and, with this modest success, decided he would move to L.A. and try his luck there. He says he spent most of his time going to movies and playing music in bars (he’s also a musician and songwriter). He didn’t have a girlfriend: “I’m not one of these guys who’s constantly in a relationship, not at all,” he says. He was thinking of quitting acting and going home when he was cast in Twilight.
Knowing he’s a thinking sort of young man, it’s all the more interesting to consider what’s going on in Pattinson’s mind in the middle of this circus of fame. “It is weird,” he says, trying to make sense of it all. “You have to wonder, What do they want?,” meaning the Twilight fans.
They follow him to movie sets around the world like Deadheads, sometimes leaving jobs and families to hike the Twilight trail. When he dyed his hair a shade of red in January of this year, they dyed theirs in solidarity. “A 17-year-old girl in Australia hacked into my e-mail while I was on it,” says Pattinson. “Then a 15-year-old girl in England did the same thing.” He told his lawyers to sue.
“I’m afraid of buying a house or anything,” he says, “ ’cause if there’s one paparazzi outside for one day, then they’ll never leave.” He mostly stays in hotels, he says, because “the best way to deal with it is to move around all the time.”
“I can’t really understand it even now,” Pattinson says of Twilight’s intense appeal. “It does have an angle which is attached to something quite primal in girls. I guess people want it to define them, like ‘I’m a Twilight fan.’ That’s crazy to me. I think people really just like being part of a crowd. There’s something just tremendously exciting about hyping yourself up to that level.”
He also gives credit for the success of the films to Summit Entertainment’s award-winning marketing team. Last year their “Team Edward/Team Jacob” campaign presented a Sophie’s choice to Twilight fans, asking them to support one of the two lovers rivaling for the hand of Bella, Kristen Stewart’s character—Pattinson or Taylor Lautner, who plays the werewolf Jacob.
“I didn’t realize how much people responded to the Team Edward/Team Jacob thing,” says Pattinson. “Everyone was like”—advertising-executive voice—“ ‘So, are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And they were like, ‘Represent your team!’ And I was like, ‘I don’t have a team.’”
He says the experience of becoming a product—with his face on wallets, tote bags, board games, and of course multiple action figures—can get “weird.” “With Twilight,” he says, “you’ve got to please the franchise”—a word the people at Summit repeat with a kind of reverence. “Like, when we were doing the poster shoot for Water for Elephants,” he says, “the shoot was like 10 minutes long, whereas the Twilight poster shoot was like two days, in every position. And we were like, ‘Why are we doing this for so long?’ And they were like”—corporate voice—“ ‘Oh, it’s for the toys and the Burger King hats.’ And not that I have a problem with it—it’s difficult for movies to make money …
“Whatever,” Pattinson says, drawing on a cigarette. “There’s nothing you can do about it. That’s the way it is. But it is weird being part of that, kind of representing something you don’t particularly like …
“God,” he says, “I just really headbutted it.”
He’s hoping that he can transition into a new persona—Rob Pattinson, serious actor—with increasingly sophisticated roles. He was recently cast in David Cronenberg’s next film, Cosmopolis, an adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel. “That’s the thing I was worried about,” he says, “that people wouldn’t take me seriously enough to do movies like that, and I just got one.”
With mega-fame, it seems, a certain amount of alienation has set in. “It’s funny now,” Pattinson says, “like, trying to socialize with people. There’s this cautiousness about people which I just find really weird.
“Or I’ll be walking down the street,” he says, “and people’ll be like, ‘Fuck you!’ ” He laughs. “And I get a lot of people wanting to beat me up. Men in bars and stuff. I just leave.” He shrugs.
“But you’re not really allowed to complain about any of this,” he says. “You’re just supposed to be grateful. And obviously—I get it. You’re lucky and you should appreciate your luck. But, I mean, it just seems if you even hint that there’s a bad side to any of this people will be like—Liar! I guess it’s because people want to have it as a dream.
“God, I always talk about fame, and it’s just so boring!,” Pattinson exclaims, sounding disgusted with himself, bolting out of his chair. I tell him it’s perfectly understandable, considering what he’s been going through these last few years. “Yeah, but every time you read about someone famous talking about being famous, you’re like, ‘Shut the fuck up,’” he says with a laugh.
The growling outside has gotten louder. We can hear yelping too. Pattinson flings open the door, saying, “I can’t take it anymore.”
“Martin, get in here!” he shouts, whereupon a skinny, wet black dog instantly runs into the house, wagging its tail energetically and gratefully, dripping water everywhere.
Pattinson shuts the door before the other dogs can come in. “Just look at them waiting to get a piece of him,” he says. A couple of boxers have gone to the window, where they’re looking in, staring, glowering, if dogs can glower.
Martin jumps on the couch and shuts his eyes, exhausted.
Pattinson pets his head. “There, there, boy, you sleep,” he tells him.