GQ April 2009
He's Hot, He's Sexy, He's Undead
Two years ago, Robert Pattinson was a forgotten extra in a 'Harry Potter' movie.
Then he got cast as a blue-balled vampire in 'Twilight,' the year's kazillion-dollar movie franchise,
and every woman in America over 14 wants him. Too bad he's not sure he wants them
by Alex Pappademas
Photographs by Nathaniel Goldberg
A few days after we meet Robert Pattinson for the first time, we will call up his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, who will say this about him:
"He can't lie," she says. "It makes things a little scary for him sometimes. But it's my favorite thing about him."
Funny—by then, it would be our favorite thing about him, too. We spend a Tuesday afternoon with Pattinson, in a little bakery-café on Doheny Drive, in West Hollywood, and the whole time, he seems to be telling the truth compulsively, heedlessly, helplessly, as if he'd been shot with a sodium pentothal dart while parking his car.
Pattinson's other problem—he admits this early on—is that he can't abide a conversational lull.
"I just say the first thing that comes into my head," he said, "out of nervousness. During interviews I'm literally shitting my pants. I don't want there to be a silence, because I'll start crying."
It's December; Twilight, in which Pattinson, 22, plays an adorably tortured perma-teenage vampire too principled to drink human blood, has been in theaters for about a month. Long enough for it to gross more than $150 million, long enough for the studio to pull the trigger on the first of three potential sequels by replacing director Catherine Hardwicke with one of the guys responsible for the American Pie franchise, not long enough for Pattinson to grasp what any of these developments mean for him, or the importance of dissembling in the presence of reporters.
He slides into his chair, dressed all in black, with a weeks-old beard, hair crammed under a wool cap, looking like Justin Timberlake researching an off-Broadway turn as Terry Malloy. His clothes smell like he has recently purchased them off the back of someone less fortunate than he. He's just come from a big-time meeting with a director and can't wait to tell us how weird it was. Some guy offering him a part, maybe, in a movie so double top secret he couldn't tell Pattinson what it was about. "He wouldn't say anything," Pattinson says, "and he also wouldn't leave," so Pattinson sat there and talked about himself for three hours and drank enough coffee to make a rhino's heart explode.
"God, I don't remember the last time I ate," Pattinson says.
In a vampire movie, he'd have said this with a suggestive eyebrow-wiggle, and then they'd cut to our pallid corpse tumbling out of a Dumpster. Stupid journalist. Instead, Pattinson goes on, filling dead air. He explains that the place he's staying at in L.A. has a microwave, and that he's never had a microwave before, and that he spends a lot of time looking for new things you can microwave. Those frozen cheeseburgers, from the store. A carrot. Did we mention that he's had about nineteen cups of coffee? He asks the waiter about the soup. It's chicken vegetable. He orders a Coke.
Here is what Pattinson says about getting the part of Edward the vampire in Twilight:
"I took half a Valium and then went into this thing—and all this stuff happened."
Okay—to be fair, that's not all he tells us. He was on the verge of quitting acting, he says. He'd followed up what was, back then, the biggest role of his career—in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as Cedric Diggory, sort of the haughty blond Iceman to Harry's Maverick—by getting fired from a play in London, where he grew up. He was in Los Angeles, crashing on his agent's couch, looking for an American job.
That's all Twilight was to Pattinson, at first: an American job. He didn't know about the cult, about the fans who'd followed Edward and Bella, his perpetually imperiled mortal lady friend, from the first book—which turned author Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon stay-at-home mom from Arizona, into the biggest publishing-industry phenomenon since Potter's J. K. Rowling—through three increasingly thick-as-a-brick sequels. He didn't know that as soon as the movie adaptation was announced, those Twilight fans—about 98.999 percent female and 100 percent fervent—started burning up Internet message boards with deeply felt opinions about which actors were right (and wrong, wrong, wr0ng!!!!) for the male lead. All he knew was that he couldn't remember how to do an American accent. He was freaking out. Hence the pill.
"It was the first time I've ever taken Valium," he says after a second, perhaps realizing how this sounds. "A quarter. A quarter of a Valium. I tried to do it for another audition, and it just completely backfired—I was passing out." (Don't do drugs, kids.)
He auditioned in Hardwicke's bedroom; Hardwicke videotaped him and Stewart performing one of the movie's big love scenes. By then, Hardwicke had already met with hundreds of potential Edwards. "I'd seen a zillion really cute guys," she says. "But that was the problem. They all looked like the super-cute kid in your high school. The prom king, or the captain of the football team. They didn't look like they were from another world and time."
They did the scene. There was a vibe. Hardwicke waited a day to decide—"No matter how much I fall in love with the person, I make myself review the tape, to make sure I wasn't just overwhelmed by something in the air"—but says Stewart told her, right there in the room, "It has to be Rob."
"Everybody came in doing something empty and shallow and thoughtless," Stewart says. "I know that's a fucking great thing to say about all the other actors—but Rob understood that it wasn't a frivolous role."
Hardwicke still had to convince Summit Entertainment, the studio bankrolling Twilight, that Pattinson was the guy.
"There was a call from the head of the studio," Hardwicke says. " 'Are you sure you can make this guy handsome?' "
They sent him to a trainer, dyed his hair and cut it. Pattinson immersed himself in the lore—the novels and Midnight Sun, Meyer's unpublished, unfinished retelling of Twilight from Edward's point of view. ("I was a vampire, and she had the sweetest blood I'd smelled in eighty years.") He showed up to shoot the movie with a lot of ideas about how it could be more than a horror-tinged tween romance. How Edward could be less like the turtlenecked Prince Charming from the novels—"If you met a guy like that in real life," he says, "you'd think he was kind of dorky"—and more like the edgy dude burning himself with cigarettes in the corner at the high school party. Less hottie, more monster. He thought that at the end of the movie, when Edward and Bella slow-dance to Iron & Wine on prom night, they shouldn't kiss. "I thought that would be interesting," he says, "for a teen thing."
In the books, Edward refuses to go all the way with Bella, fearing he'll vamp out in the heat of passion, but because he's a 107-year-old vampire, he's got seduction game like no 17-year-old alive. The story fuses the bodice-ripping True Love Never Dies sensuality of the vampire mythos with the True Love Waits ethos of Bush-era abstinence education; it's a heavy-breathing romance in which all physical affection represents a slippery slope to horrible undeath.
The movie amps up the lust. Bella and Edward's relationship plays out like a goth remix of Splendor in the Grass, and Pattinson seethes like Warren Beatty driven—forgive us—batshit by a hundred-year case of blue balls.
Twilight got mixed reviews but opened huge anyway, pulling down $70 million in three days. By then the screaming had started. Girls who'd been in love with Edward on the page suddenly had a real-live human to focus their passion on. The cast's public appearances occasioned Hard Day's Night hysteria. In London, Pattinson's friends watched in horror as the crowd swallowed him. At a mall in San Francisco, Pattinson was supposed to sign autographs for about 500 fans at a Hot Topic store; a few thousand showed up. Pattinson claims not to remember the chaos that resulted, although he says it in a shaky voice, like someone claiming not to remember shit that went down in Nam.
Pattinson says he's always been hypersensitive about being looked at, that when he was a kid and somebody'd make eye contact with him on the bus or something, he'd freak out. He's one of those tall people who hunch, trying to disappear. Then all this stuff happened. He wasn't ready. His first thought, whenever he finds himself in one of these crowds, is always, Someone could very easily stab me.
He isn't complaining. We don't want to make it sound like he's complaining. But he can feel all of it making him crazy. It's like being a fugitive in your own backyard. The other day, he went out, shook off three paparazzi-mobiles, hit the drive-thru at the In-N-Out. He was going to eat a burger in the car. He drove around and found a gas-station parking lot a few blocks away, intending to sit there and eat, "just hidden, in the darkness.
"And I turn around," he says, "and in the car next to me, there's a woman giving a man a blow job! Right there, in the car park!"
This is what this kind of attention does to you; to do the things that normal people do, you have to go where normal people go to do furtive things.
Somebody got pictures of him anyway. Hidden in the darkness! Like some kind of Hamburglar!
He tries not to go out if he can avoid it. Stays home, watches movies, microwaves. Mostly, though, he reads about himself on the Internet. According to the Internet, there is another Robert Pattinson out there, living a very different life. A creature of the night, eager to sink his fangs into anything with boobs and a pulse. All bullshit, Pattinson says, but he reads the stories anyway, out of a kind of masochistic narcissism.
And he admits to reading it, which is the really weird part. He reads the gossip blogs and the Twilight fan fiction ("It's surprisingly hard-core. And very well written"). He knows what the fake Robert Pattinson said on the fake Robert Pattinson Facebook page. (The fake Robert Pattinson claimed to have nailed Kristen Stewart. The fake Robert Pattinson was kind of like Chuck Bass, if Chuck Bass were uncouth enough to trumpet his conquests on somebody's Wall.)
Part of the problem is that gossip abhors a vacuum, and for all intents and purposes, Pattinson didn't exist as a public figure until he was cast in Twilight; his celebrity is a movie tie-in product, like the Edward action figure or Twilight, the perfume (smells like "lavender and freesia"—as for what freesia smells like, you're on your own).
For what it's worth: He grew up in London. His mom worked for a modeling agency, his dad was a luxury-car importer. He did some modeling as a kid, some amateur theater, some British TV, took a break from a fancy prep school to do Harry Potter. There's so little to know about him that everything he says now becomes hyperimportant, data to be gospelized. A reporter asks him something stupid about his hair, he makes a dumb joke about never washing it, and suddenly his clip file grows fat with stories about his deplorable personal hygiene. Sometimes he doesn't even have to say anything. People make stuff up.
"There's literally not a single [true] story that could be written about me," he says. "I never do anything."
We ask him to cite an example of something untrue that's been written about him.
"There's this thing about my supposed girlfriend," he says. "There's this one girl who's consistently mentioned. It's like, 'He's dating this Brazilian model.' "
"Yes," he says. "What's her name—Annelyse. I've never met her."
Annelyse's last name is Schoenberger; after she was spotted with Pattinson at a Kings of Leon concert last October, aggrieved R-Patts fans accused her, on the Internet, of having an "alien face."
But c'mon, we say to Pattinson. We ask you to deny something and you give us the Brazilian model? That's the celebrity-relationship-denial equivalent of claiming you have a girlfriend in Canada. Did you really propose to Kristen Stewart every day while shooting Twilight?
"I said that in some interview, as a joke—'Oh, I proposed to her multiple times.' And then it gets printed: 'On the set, he proposed multiple times.' "
(Later we ask Stewart about this: "He probably proposes to several girls a day," she says, bone-drily. "It's sort of his thing. He thinks it's cute.")
Okay. What about the love triangle between you, Camilla Belle, and Joe Jonas from the Jonas Brothers?
"That's the funniest one," Pattinson says. "No. I mean, yeah, yeah, I'm friends with Camilla."
He starts to explain how Belle, best known for playing a cavegirl in 10,000 BC, dated, or is supposed to have once dated—we have trouble following the thread—his friend, an actor named Tom Sturridge. So you're supposed to have stolen her from your best friend, we ask, before you stole her from the other dude?
"From the Jonas brother, yeah," Pattinson says. "I'm completely out of control. It's funny, though, because I met her at her place the other day, and there's a security gate, and even the security woman—I guess she knows that Camilla lives there, and she was like, 'Oooh!' "
Okay, we say. So you're picking her up at her apartment?
"Like, once," he says. "But it's like—they always say 'A source said,' and I don't know a single person that could be a source."
But we've seen pictures. You guys were walking in Venice Beach, after lunch.
"That's the extent of it," Pattinson says. "I mean, Camilla's the nicest—she's a saint. And it's funny that she's being portrayed as this home wrecker. She's literally the most unlikely person to be a home wrecker. It's just ridiculous."
So it's a friendship, we ask him, that's been misinterpreted?
"I mean—yeah," he says. "I don't see people. I don't even have people's phone numbers. I almost don't want to have a girlfriend, in this environment."
This is maybe the most poorly executed denial we've ever heard. This is, in fact, how we would deny dating Camilla Belle if we wanted as many people as possible to believe that we were totally hitting that, while still coming off as an untruthful person. Either Pattinson can't lie, or he can't lie very well.
It's funny, because Pattinson worships Jack Nicholson, who's legendary for giving interviewers less than the time of day. And he loves Brando, citing a YouTube clip of the actor giving a characteristically performance-arty and uncooperative press conference in the mid-'60s. Brando could do that, of course, because he was Marlon fucking Brando. Brando could show up, burp the alphabet in front of a couple of Associated Press guys, and catch the next plane back to Tahiti. Pattinson understands that this isn't an option for him.
"The only way to establish any kind of mystique," he says, "is to completely shut up and never talk to anyone. And I'm contractually obligated not to shut up."
Pattinson hasn't shot anything new since Twilight wrapped. He won't be in front of the camera again until this spring, when he starts shooting the next Twilight movie, New Moon, due out in November. But in the meantime, he'll show up as young Salvador Dalí in a period drama called Little Ashes, about the pre-fame bromance between Dalí, director Luis Buñuel, and poet Federico García Lorca.
Pattinson auditioned for the movie two years ago, during a post–Harry Potter, pre-Twilight career lull. He'd been thinking about putting acting aside to focus on music. (Two of his songs, including the Jeff Buckley–ish ballad "Never Think," appear on the Twilight soundtrack.)
He'd read for the Lorca part, but when they asked him to play Dalí, he said yes. "I wanted to have a vacation in Spain," he says. "But it became just—really, really hard. I'd never done a job that was so hard."
There was no budget. Most of the crew spoke Spanish; Pattinson didn't. He spent a lot of time by himself, trying to figure out how to play the part, worried he'd look like an idiot. (For what it's worth, all that effort is up there on the screen. Pattinson's Dalí starts out as a walleyed, puffy-shirted Simple Jack type before morphing into the twirly-mustachioed culture-hero Dalí of dorm-room-poster fame. It's one of those movies in which you can tell Dalí's having an aesthetic breakthrough because he starts pressing really hard when he paints.)
"In a lot of ways," Pattinson says, "I was kind of crossing lines of what I thought I was comfortable doing. I had to do all this naked stuff."
See, Little Ashes contains a fair amount of homoerotic activity, some of which is portrayed artfully and obliquely (Dalí and Lorca dive together in a moonlit sea) and some of which is, y'know, not (Lorca makes athletic, spiteful love to a woman while Dalí masturbates gloomily in a corner). It's the kind of project you could imagine a guy in Pattinson's place taking on post-Twilight as a way of telling the world he's versatile and/or fearless. Except it wasn't.
"I thought I'd never get another acting job again," Pattinson says. "So I was like, 'Yeah—why not try to do something weird?' There's all these gay sex scenes. And y'know, I haven't even done a sex scene with a girl, in my whole career."
(While he says this, he's pinching the skin on the back of his left hand and sort of twisting it clockwise with his right.)
"And here I am, with Javier [Beltrán], who plays Lorca, doing an extremely hard-core sex scene, where I have a nervous breakdown afterward. And because we're both straight, what we were doing seemed kind of ridiculous."
(Now he's sort of laughing.)
"Trying to do it doggie-style. Trying to have a nervous breakdown while doing it doggie-style. And it wasn't even a closed set. There were all these Spanish electricians giggling to themselves."
He's pretty sure the only reason Little Ashes is getting any kind of promotional push is that he's in it.
"It's nothing," he says. "It would never have been released. I mean, that's a terrible thing to say, but this was a movie where we didn't even have stand-ins! We were scrambling, the entire time. We didn't even have trailers."
He hasn't actually seen the finished film. He says he hasn't seen any movie he's been in since the Potter movies—not even Twilight. He took his mom to the American Twilight premiere, squirmed through the first ten minutes, then bolted. "I went out and sat in the car," he says, "having a full-blown panic attack." Ten minutes in, he looked up and realized someone was videotaping him.
He doesn't want to watch himself on film because he's worried he'll look like a fraud. Even before he started acting, he says, "I was constantly thinking that I was faking my emotions. I was constantly attacking myself: You're a fake, you're a fraud."
"I remember when I was a teenager thinking my girlfriend was cheating on me, and going around riling myself up. Pretending to cry. It was totally illegitimate—I actually didn't feel anything. I went to some pub and then went crying all the way home. And I got into my dog's bed. I was crying and holding on to the dog. I woke up in the morning, and the dog was looking at me like, 'You're a fake.' "
Was she actually cheating on you?
"No," Pattinson says, laughing. "I thought I'd seen her with another guy, but she wasn't even there. I spent three days apologizing to the dog."
Then there are girls, interrupting. Two of them—young, dark-haired, apologetic yet googly-eyed—approach the table to ask for an autograph. One of them hands him a Victoria's Secret shopping bag to sign.
"Victoria's Secret!" he says, brow arched. "What did you get?"
"I work there!" the girl says.
Pattinson asks whom he should make the autograph out to.
"Well," the girl says, indicating her friend, "it's her bag, so—Patty. Her name's Patty."
Patty's bag is made out of that stiff, slippery, possibly-suitable-for-use-as-heat-shield-tiling-on-the-Space-Shuttle shopping-bag paper, and Pattinson can't make a mark on it. Realizing there's a crisis, Patty—who's been sort of hanging back—steps up, suddenly emboldened, and says, "I have another pen. The movie was really good."
"And you look just like you do on film," the first girl says. "Which is a compliment. Because some people don't. Like, Heidi Klum comes into our store all the time—"
"She looks different," Patty says.
"She looks different," the first girl says, then adds, softly, dreamily, "You look exactly the same."
"Really?" Pattinson says, frowning. "People always say the opposite. What's your name, sorry?"
"My name's Eva," the girl says. "E-V-A."
"I always thought I could hide," he says. He poses for a couple of pictures with the girls. The wallpaper on Patty's cameraphone is a picture of Pattinson as Edward.
"Did you have that on there before?" Pattinson says. "That's hilarious."
Pattinson doesn't know what his first real post-Twilight project is going to be. When we ask him about Parts Per Billion, an indie drama he was supposed to star in with Dennis Hopper and Rosario Dawson, he says he doesn't know, that the start date kept moving—"That's the annoying thing about doing little films"—and sure enough, a couple of weeks after we talk, it is announced that he's dropping out of the movie to focus on prepping for the Twilight sequel, New Moon, about which he knows very little, because he's "never told shit about anything."
"I'm completely in the dark," he says. "No one will even give me the script."
They're keeping you in a box.
"Yes," Pattinson says. He mimes opening the lid of a coffin. "Shut up, Edward!"
He has a hard time even thinking of New Moon as a sequel, because it's so unlike the first book. "I don't know how they're going to make a movie out of it," he says, "because Twilight's a love story, and New Moon is just—Bella's manic-depressive throughout the entire book. There's very, very little happiness, and there's nothing teen-y about it."
This may be the best-case scenario, that the Twilight movies will get darker and Pattinson will have a chance to throw some real heat, performance-wise. Hardwicke says that back on the Twilight set, before the movie's franchise future was a sure thing, she and Pattinson "talked about a lot of other projects. He's obviously ridiculously photogenic, but he's also so talented and has so much insight. I see him creating stylized, odd, wild, fantastical characters, like what Johnny Depp does."
Which would be great. But the worst-case scenario is that after four vampire movies—or, depending on how they carve up the 754-page behemoth that is Breaking Dawn, the last book in the series, five—no one will ever take him seriously as a mortal. There's a chance that Twilight will go down as his 21 Jump Street, and there's a chance he'll be doomed to stalk the Twilight-convention circuit forever like some undead Mark Hamill, signing pictures of his 22-year-old self for an endless line of Pattys and Evas grown plump with age. We try to gently raise this issue by asking him if he's got a post-Twilight game plan. He talks about starting a production company, maybe putting out his musician friends' records. We note that he hasn't mentioned any goals that involve acting.
"I'm not massively concerned about doing lots of acting jobs," he says. "If it all just went, right now, I'd be like, 'All right. I don't really care.' That's probably a stupid thing to say. But I don't, really. I think it'd be much worse to do a load of stuff that's really bad. Because then you can't go into another career. If you've made an idiot out of yourself, you're never going to be taken seriously, as a lawyer or something, if you're, like, a joke actor. The only thing I want from anything is to not be embarrassed."
Still, we say. You didn't talk about your acting. We totally gave you the window to James Lipton it up. (Or to try to convince us that you're More Than Just the Sexy Vampire, we think but don't say.)
"I literally have nothing to say," he says. "So I don't think, Oh, I wish they'd asked me about my craft instead of my hair."
Is there anything you wish you'd gotten to talk about in this interview?
"Okay," he says. Deep breath. "I fucked Joe Jonas."
We knew it!
"I love him."
Maybe he's lying when he talks about the future, when he acts like he doesn't care. But maybe he really isn't massively concerned about what he's going to do. If you don't commit to a goal, you don't have to worry about what you're doing, or not doing, to make it come true. About what having your name on four or five vampire movies will do to keep you from getting there. About the choices you're making and the ones you're letting time and inertia and other people make for you. Maybe hanging back and reading about your life in the tabloids is less scary than committing, at 22, to something that might turn out to be beyond you. Or maybe he really does think about becoming a lawyer. Who knows.
Pattinson checks his phone. He has no new messages.
"Not a single person calls me," he says. Not long ago, he says, he turned on his English cell phone for the first time in six months; he had two missed calls, from giggling teenage girls asking to speak with Edward.
We ask him what he has on tap for tonight; he mumbles something about "somebody's birthday," then talks about the social circle he's developed in this city. "It's so weird," he says. "It's like, 'You were just my L.A. friend. I didn't intend to have any responsibility for you whatsoever.' "
("Somebody's birthday," incidentally, turns out to be a quasi-star-studded dinner at Il Sole on Sunset Boulevard; "L.A. friends" in attendance include girl-kissing pop temptress Katy Perry.)
Pattinson offers us a ride to our hotel. As we're getting up to leave, he glances out the window behind him. "Well," he says, "you'll be encountering the other end of it now."
"The 14-year-old paparazzo is outside," Pattinson says.
Sure enough—when we get outside, there's this kid, a scowling Dennis the Menace type in baggy jeans, blasting away with a giant camera.
"You look really young," Pattinson says to the kid, who's backing out into oncoming traffic, still shooting. "How old are you?"
"Sixteen," the kid says. He looks 14. The moment couldn't be more Felliniesque unless we were being pap'd by a dwarf in a loincloth. For a moment, following Pattinson across the street to his car, we recoil, trying to hide in our sweatshirt hood; then we remember that we're nobody, that the kid could not give less of a crap about us, that if we walk away from Pattinson, out of the kid's field of vision, he'll leave us alone. We imagine what it would be like if this were our life, all the time. It would drive us mad, and we would probably live in fear of it ever stopping, because of what that would mean.
A few days later, the pictures show up on the Internet. It is breathlessly reported that Pattinson was enjoying a late-night snack (it was actually about six o'clock) with a "mystery male" (us) on Thursday (it was Wednesday). We're in a few of the pictures with him. Pattinson looks goofy, possibly stoned, but still handsome, whereas we look sweaty, guilty, and possibly inbred.
We make it to the car and speed off. Pattinson's old '89 BMW finally died a few weeks ago, so he's been driving this rented Audi S4. It's a total junior-Endeavor-agent-on-the-make ride. We point this out. "I think my agent does have this car, actually," Pattinson says. Before we've gone fifty feet, the windshield steams up and Pattinson can't see a damn thing. He hasn't driven the car on a cold day before, and he doesn't know where the defogger button is.
He turns on the heat—"That's supposed to do something, right?"—and then merges into traffic, still blind, cursing his way into the left lane. "I think I'm better off on Melrose, because there aren't any pedestrian crossings," he says. "You're going to regret accepting this lift."
Then he hits another button. Success. The windshield starts to clear and at last Pattinson can see where he's going.
Alex Pappademas is GQ's staff writer.