June 9, 2012
“I don’t really know how accepted I am,” says Robert Pattinson as he sips on an enormous paper cup of Coke. “Nothing ever matters to me apart from the people with negative opinions. That’s literally it. That always drives me on to the next thing. It’s funny, you just focus on them and then the next movie. That’s the only thing you’re thinking about when it comes out.”
For someone with the world at his feet – he has the Twilight franchise behind him and David Cronenberg’s icy drama Cosmopolis as his next release – Pattinson gives a good impression of a man plagued with self-doubt. “I’ve never really taken myself seriously as an actor,” he says, fresh off a plane from Germany, where, he notes by the by, everybody seems to hate him.
“It is surprising the amount of people who think I’m going to be really dumb,” he says. “I think they think anyone who has done teen movies is just an idiot. I don’t know, maybe I am. Some of the best actors, if you talk to them, they’re not the smartest people in the world.”
Eric Packer, the character Pattison plays in Cosmopolis is not stupid. The film, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel set mostly in Packer’s limousine, concerns a financial whiz-kid who is either having sex, having a finger inserted into his bottom (an on-the-move prostate exam), engaging in lengthy overblown monologues, losing vast sums of money, dodging an assassin, seeking a haircut, or all of the above. The film premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival. The majority of reviews have been positive, particularly in Pattinson’s favour, but frankly, it could have gone either way. It is not the most easily palatable of films.
‘It’s so different to other films, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it. You read the script and you’re like, “Is this actually getting made? It’s set in a car, there’s so much talking about experimental economics”‘
“It’s funny. It got such divisive reactions in Cannes,” Pattinson says, before confessing to having compulsively sought out those reactions himself. “I was sitting in the car on the way back from the press conference, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing on my phone. I’ve never really done anything where people have hated it, or really, really read into it. It’s so different to other films, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it. You read the script and you’re like, ‘Is this actually getting made? It’s set in a car, there’s so much talking about experimental economics, and it’s getting a wide release? But I think that’s important, I would do a lot to get movies like that into the cinema again. There is some weird thing that’s happened where the only thing that can be shown is a superhero movie that has cost $250m to make. It’s the most ridiculous thing ever.”
Of course, Pattinson has had his own part in that ridiculousness. By playing abstemious bloodsucker Edward Cullen in the five-part Twilight franchise (the final instalment of which comes out this winter) he has made studio Summit Entertainment two and a half billion dollars and himself into an international teen sex object. Moving on from that role will not be easy, and this is not Pattinson’s first attempt at departure.
There was also, to name but two, this year’s Bel Ami, the adaptation of the 1885 French novel, which, as Pattinson puts it, “kind of came and went”, and Water For Elephants (2011), another relatively underwhelming book adaptation in which he co-starred with Reese Witherspoon as a circus vet. Neither particularly helped him to break into the acting mainstream. Now it’s Cosmopolis, and a role Pattinson seems equally thrilled and baffled about.
“It’s like nothing I’d really done before, and I didn’t really understand it,” says Pattinson, 26, now chewing on a toothpick, partly to rid himself of the remnants of a quarter pounder with cheese and partly because he is trying to give up smoking.
“I kept asking David, ‘What have you seen?’ I just thought, ‘Please don’t let this be a financing thing.’” He pauses. “But you need to piggy back on other people’s credibility, because people are so judgmental. Once you’ve made one impression, that’s it. I planned for it to take ten years for that to dissipate, so to get into Cannes the year that [Twilight] is finishing was fairly ridiculous.”
Cannes, it seems, was a huge deal for Pattinson. While he and girlfriend Kristen Stewart, his co-star in the Twilight movies, became paparazzi and fan obsessions overnight, you sense that he has yet to make peace with his fame. A reluctant heart-throb, today he wears a black cap, a grey shirt over an off-white T-shirt, black jeans and black trainers. There is nothing about him that says superstar, give or take the chiseled features and minder outside. Neither is there much that projects the confidence you’d expect of someone who’d driven themselves to the top of one of the world’s most competitive industries.
“Everybody liked [Cronenberg's] A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but they’re much more accessible than this,” he says. “That made me nervous, because I thought everyone wants to see Viggo Mortensen shooting people, and this is just sitting around talking about currency markets. But the first few reviews were pretty good, and I’ve never really felt like that with a movie. It’s definitely the best-reviewed thing I’ve ever done. Most of the time, I don’t read them, especially with the Twlight films, where people are overwhelmed by what their opinion of the cultural relevance of it is. But with this, I read a lot, and I was terrified.”
Cosmopolis, without any actual intent, has found itself tapping into the zeitgeist. Just as shooting on the film commenced, so did the Occupy movement. In the movie, Packer is driven through New York City, through protest after protest about the failings of a capitalist society. In life, Pattinson found the images he was filming being mirrored on news channels.
Once again, however, his memories are tinted with ambivalence. “I remember when Occupy happened in LA,” he says. “I knew a bunch of actors who went down to it. They all drove down there, because no one takes the train, and parked one stop away, because they didn’t want to be seen driving their free Audis, and then got on the train. I was like, ‘What are you doing? You’re probably ruining it for the other people!’ I guess that’s kind of a bubble; you want to say things, but you are being hypocritical. I’ve never really been in a position to give my opinion on political stuff before, it doesn’t really come up. But suddenly you’ve got to take an enormous amount of responsibility.”
‘I was always shit at auditions. Since Twilight, I’ve done two. One of them was for a job I’m doing now and it was really hard’
Pattinson’s career to this point hasn’t given him much of an opportunity to develop a huge rapport with an audience of his own age, or older. But Pattinson is also an interesting casting for Cronenberg. The director’s most recent outing, A Dangerous Method, had Michael Fassbender spanking Keira Knightley, while Viggo Mortensen analysed their every move (Mortensen, of course, being a favourite of his). But, from almost every interview that has come from Cronenberg, it seems that he does not have a single regret about plucking Patinson from teenage dreams to front such complex subject matter. And while Pattinson admits getting his head around the script was no mean feat, you sense he hopes the commitment to justifying Cronenberg’s risk-taking could change his career.
“When I got this part,” he says, adjusting his cap, “every single article that came out, was, ‘R-Patz’s struggle for credibility!’; I don’t understand who invented that thing, ‘R-Patz’, I want to strangle them. But once you’ve made that step, everything afterwards is not like, ‘R-Patz’s continuing struggle for credibility!’ You’ve got to come up with something else, so it gets a little bit easier. I was always shit at auditions. Since Twilight, I’ve done two. One of them was for a job I’m doing now and it was really hard. Two really, really long auditions that everybody was going up for. I was so happy afterwards when I got it. And it was purely because of Cosmopolis that I was thinking, ‘You can go and do this as an actor, rather than just as the guy from Twilight, because you’ve got some foreign value now.’”
For every positive review, it will be the negative that stays with Robert Pattinson. But if our conversation is anything to go by, it seems that he’s shaking off the self-censorship that came with being the face of a massive movie brand. If that happens, he might just start to enjoy himself, too.