Vanity Fair - December 2009
Twilight’s Hot Gleaming
Not since Titanic unleashed Leo-mania has an actor sparked the overnight adulation that greeted Robert Pattinson’s 2008 debut as Edward Cullen in Twilight. As the vampire saga’s next installment arrives, the author explores the frenzy, isolation, and sheer embarrassment of Pattinson’s past year, his instant connection with co-star Kristen Stewart, and the life he wants when this $10 million gig is over. Plus: Exclusive outtakes from Bruce Weber’s cover shoot.
by Evgenia Peretz
Time was, girls were in short supply at Comic-Con, San Diego’s annual comic-book/science-fiction/fantasy conference. Now they’re packed into Hall H (capacity 6,500), waiting super-patiently through all the dork stuff—the endless Tron Legacy preview and a panel where all the geeks in the audience got worked up about some weird, tricked-out, like, car. Then The Final Destination, in which a bunch of people get impaled, decapitated, and churned up by escalators and cars. Um, that’s mature. Now Astro Boy is zipping around the screen, chirping, “I’ve got machine guns … in my butt?” The girls are so not LOL. After all, they’ve been lined up since five this morning to catch a glimpse of Robert Pattinson, otherwise known as “The Pattz” or “Edward Cullen,” the really hot vampire he played in Twilight, and by now the super-cute outfits they picked out for him—short-shorts and Twilight T-shirts—have gotten sweaty, and their makeup needs to be re-applied.
At last, the moderator’s voice reverberates dramatically throughout the darkened hall, “And now … ” The shrieking begins—deafening, glass-breaking, amusing for about three seconds, until it becomes excruciating. The moderator continues with a joke: “What would you do if I said, ‘That’s it. Thanks for coming’?” Some of the guys, hostile to this new Comic-Con element, roar in approval, “Yeah!”
The moderator relents, however, and introduces the cast members of New Moon—the second installment in the Twilight saga, opening this month—as they take the stage to increasingly loud rounds of applause: Ashley Greene (Edward’s vampire sister, Alice), Kristen Stewart (Bella, Edward’s human girlfriend), and Taylor Lautner (Jacob, Bella’s hunky friend who’s sometimes a werewolf). “I think we have one more backstage … ” he says at last.
Pattinson, in jeans and a well-worn flannel shirt over a T-shirt, ambles onstage with a pleasant but befuddled smile and some friendly waving. The girls are no longer just shrieking. They are hyperventilating, tittering deliriously, grabbing one another by the arms so that they don’t pass out. “Omigod, omigod, Oh my God!!!!!”
Sitting on the panel, the rumpled, unshaven idol starts looking a little ill at ease. He seems to be in a fidget-off with Kristen Stewart, with whom everyone believes he is having a tortured offscreen romance. She’s hugging her knee, pulling at strands of her new, black, rock ‘n’ roll shag. He’s rubbing his neck, moving his malleable hair from left to right, and tugging at his eyebrows. But his every odd tic, his every self-effacing, British, fumbling answer to the questions thrown his way, is merely a new reason to be charmed.
Q: I love your music. Would you consider doing any more open-mike nights?
Pattinson: “Uh, um, yeah, I mean, I would. I’m just too, I’m kind of, uh, a pussy, I guess.”
Not since Leo, circa Titanic, has a young actor been so aggressively beloved by 13-year-old girls worldwide. But rather than working his way through supermodels, Pattinson, who’s been living out of three suitcases for the past year, has been feeling overwhelmed, self-conscious, and guilty. “I’m trying not to drown,” he says in his hotel room at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel, which is littered today with beer bottles, old scrambled eggs, a half-eaten Twix bar, and a dirty pair of jeans on the living-room floor. And he notices his unmade bed. “Oh, God. Sorry about that.”
It’s early August, and though he’s been in New York filming Remember Me, a romantic melodrama in which he plays a privileged N.Y.U. student coping with a family tragedy, he hasn’t really seen any of New York, he explains. His social life has been limited to the bland Waldorf Towers, in Midtown, and to the two people staying with him in his suite: his sister Lizzy, who’s been sleeping on the foldout sofa, and his best friend, actor Tom Sturridge, who’s got the cot. He has other friends, but they’re kind of broke, and Pattinson is too self-conscious to fly them in—“Then you feel like a dick.” He’s sure he’s driving people crazy by constantly talking about how he can’t leave his hotel room. And he sees his inability to relish his fans’ reverence as his own shortcoming. “I guess I’m not the type of guy cut out to do a franchise,” he says. “I’m not much of a crowd person.”
What makes the lavish attention more awkward is that he believes he hasn’t done anything to deserve it—or any praise at all, for that matter. He usually doesn’t feel like talking to anyone, but silence makes him so uncomfortable that he ends up filling the air with “a load of rubbish” or just laughing nervously. He is often apologizing—for being boring, for the “douchey” terrace that’s attached to his hotel room, for telling you a story you might have read somewhere else already. When talking about seminal moments in his life, the main emotion he recalls is embarrassment. He’ll dismiss his work in any way he can. When roles have been difficult, he’ll say, “I had no idea what I was doing.” When roles have been easy, he says he didn’t have to do anything. Despite the fact that he is an exquisite beauty—with perfectly formed red, red lips and a face that might have been dreamed by the Romantic poets—he thinks he resembles “a cartoon character.” One of his legs is longer than the other, which makes him look, he assures you, “like an idiot.”
“I’m unbearably self-conscious about stuff,” he admits. To the point where, while filming scenes before the army of New York paparazzi that has been following him around, he is terrified that his “ass crack is showing.”
And the new Leo, it turns out, is also a nerd. He is never without a book in his hand, say his colleagues, or a piece of music on his mind, or a movie he wants to share. He’s so obsessed about delivering a performance he feels happy with that he is constantly watching the dailies, says Remember Me director Allen Coulter. “He’s religious about it.”
“There’s every reason for a young actor to phone it in on a franchise where the first movie has done incredibly well,” says New Moon director Chris Weitz. “But he and Kristen take it really, really seriously and don’t want to phone it in. They want to find some way to make these characters believable, credible to themselves and to the audience.”
None of this would have happened to Pattinson had it not been for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the young-adult blockbuster, the four books of which have sold 70 million copies and been translated into 45 languages. In case you’ve been living in a remote forest, the series tells the story of Bella Swan, a shy newcomer to the town of Forks, Washington, who falls in love with Edward Cullen, a vampire since 1918, when he was bitten, who will be 17 years old for eternity. Though they are hopelessly in love, if they were to really fool around, Edward would lose control and bite her, turning Bella into a vampire as well—all of which puts the two in a permanent state of unquenchable lust, not to mention abstinence. This doubtless plays well with parents and bluenoses, like the author’s fellow Mormons. In fact, the whole setup could be seen as a metaphor for hanging on to your virginity.
Still, no other writer in recent memory has quite tapped into female adolescent yearning and girlhood fantasies about being desired. Edward is the perfect hero: charming, cultured, dangerous, and “the most beautiful creature who has ever been born.” Girls fall so hard for him that even at Meyer’s readings—well before any Twilight movie had been made—they shrieked upon hearing the author simply utter his name: “That was the first night I dreamed of Edward Cullen.”
Unlike Edward’s past, which is full of magic and mystery, Pattinson’s, the actor insists, was so unremarkable that he can barely remember a thing. He grew up in Barnes, in southwest London. His father had a car-importing business; his mother worked at a modeling agency. They weren’t stage parents, but they’ve since become way too into the minutiae of his fame, he says. His mother will frequently call to weigh in on pictures of him in the media: “‘I like that new shirt you’re wearing!’ ‘Uh, thanks.’” They couldn’t help but notice they had a good-looking kid on their hands, and briefly got him into modeling. “I was such a terrible model,” he says. “I was really tall but still looked like a six-year-old.”
If there was a creative streak in his family it was for music. Sister Lizzy, a singer, got a recording contract at age 17. Pattinson took up piano as a young boy and started playing guitar at age 15. He fell in love with the music of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Van Morrison. But he wasn’t one of those kids always performing for family members and visitors. “I think I liked being by myself quite a bit,” he says. He attended an all-boys school until age 12 and pretty much didn’t speak to any girls until he entered the exclusive (and expensive) Harrodian School, for high school. As his father pointed out, the really cute girls were going to this little local drama club called the Barnes Theatre Club.
It sparked in Pattinson some genuine excitement for acting, particularly when he got to play Alec—“who’s just a vile bastard,” he says—in a theatrical adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The role was the first in a line of out-there characters—or “weirdos,” as Pattinson would say—that the actor has made something of a specialty. When you play a weirdo, he explains, “you can always have an excuse.…He’s a weirdo!” The play also got Pattinson an agent and landed him the role of Reese Witherspoon’s son in Mira Nair’s adaptation of Vanity Fair.
“[Tom Sturridge] and I … we had scenes right next to each other and it was both our first jobs.… We went to the screening, and we thought the whole thing was such a joke anyway, because we had no idea what we were doing. We were, like, ‘acting’ or whatever—we had no idea—and we watched [Tom’s] scene and were like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good, that’s all right.’” When it came to Pattinson’s scene, it was no longer there. “I’m sitting there going, ‘Ummm … really?’ No one had told me that I had been cut out.”
As Pattinson tells it, the casting director felt so guilty that she hadn’t informed him that she brought him in for another movie she was casting, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He met with director Mike Newell for 30 minutes and for no good reason, Pattinson says now, he was completely confident and went around telling everyone that he had gotten the part of Cedric Diggory, the golden boy of Hogwarts—which it turns out he had. With a tidy sum of money from Harry Potter, Pattinson eventually moved out of his parents’ house and was cast as a weirdo in a serious play, The Woman Before, in London’s West End. Forsaking college, he was now officially pursuing a career as an actor.
Unfortunately, he was replaced before opening night. “I thought I was doing something interesting, and I ended up getting fired for it,” Pattinson recalls with a sigh. “I think I just got confused, doing random mannerisms, as if that made an interesting performance. [I thought], It’s cool if you go like this,” he says, suddenly contorting his body into a nonsensical pose. Pattinson went through a period of denial after his failure. “I was going to all these auditions and telling everyone how I got fired because I stood up for my principles, and making up all this bullshit.… I kind of went nuts for a while.” He couldn’t land another job, stopped talking to his agent, and threw in the towel, opting to take his music seriously, as all of his friends were now doing. He began performing with a guitar in bars, either solo or with a couple of friends. It was a scene, he recalls a little ruefully, in which “no one gave a shit when you got up onstage.”
Yet as soon as he decided to put acting behind him, another role came his way and changed his mind again: a BBC thriller called The Haunted Airman, in which Pattinson got to be in a wheelchair and act like, yes, “a weirdo. I just changed my whole opinion about everything.” He then played two more weirdos back-to-back—first, eccentric Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí in the rather arch Little Ashes, about the romance between Dalí and poet Federico García Lorca; next, in a winning little comedy called How to Be, about a direction-less, spastic musician so in need of assistance that he pays a self-help guru to move in with him. He was starting to take his eccentric characters a little more seriously in both cases, feeling his way, as he had no real dramatic training.
How to Be director Oliver Irving recalls that, in the casting of the film, Rob “had a uniqueness and unpretentiousness. A lot of people who had come from drama school … were trying to fit into a kind of dramatic mold. He was a lot more relaxed. Just kind of came and was willing to make a mistake and laugh at himself.” In one scene, in which his character is enraged at his parents and storms outside to kick trees and lampposts, Irving recalls, “he’d make his eyes water and get himself all worked up … slapping himself and doing everything he possibly could to make him feel ill,” while passersby wondered what the hell was the matter with this guy.
Neither film exactly catapulted Pattinson to stardom. In 2007 he learned that something called Twilight was being cast in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and London, and he made a tape with one of his apartment-mates to send to the casting directors. “It looked so ridiculous I didn’t even send it,” says Pattinson, who forgot all about it and returned to his music.
Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, the search for Edward wasn’t going so well. Bella was easy—Stewart was at the top of the list and immediately accepted the role. But after auditioning thousands of actors for Edward, director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) still couldn’t find the one who met the right criteria: some work experience, otherworldly beauty, and enough depth to make it believable that this kid had been alive since 1901. “Tapes came in from all over, and a lot of guys looked really cute and handsome, but they almost looked like the dudes in my high school,” says Hardwicke. An executive at the studio, Summit Entertainment president of worldwide production Erik Feig, recalls saying to a colleague before going to lunch one day, “‘I know we’ve looked. I just feel there are a couple of rocks that we haven’t checked under.’ I said, ‘There have to be British actors that we don’t know about that are this guy, who can do a great American accent.’ I said, ‘Do me a favor. Go to IMDb and look at every young actor, from age 15 to 25, who was in Harry Potter or anything, even a tiny role, print out their headshots.’ I came back from lunch. She had all these pictures, and she said, as we were going through the pictures, ‘What about this guy?’ And I saw a picture of Cedric Diggory [the character Pattinson played in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire]. I said, ‘He’s great!’ … And the look that jumped out to me at that point, and I know it’s a silly adjective to use, he was Byronic.”
Hardwicke watched Pattinson’s few scenes in Harry Potter over and over and wasn’t entirely convinced. “I’m like, Maybe he could pull it off—who knows?” She called Pattinson’s agent, Stephanie Ritz, to arrange to see him in person. Ritz agreed to fly him out on his own dime and to have him sleep on her couch.
As for Pattinson, he had no idea what he was getting into. He had never read Twilight, and having been “getting drunk for a year,” he felt like a blob and dreaded having to take his shirt off, which the audition required of him. Given his sense that he had nothing to lose, Pattinson went into the audition, he says, “a little more brazen than I would have been in a normal audition.” Recalling one of the scenes he did with Stewart, on Hardwicke’s bed, in which he and Stewart have a passionate but aborted kiss, he says, “I was still in the mode thinking, I’ve got to make this really, really serious. This is not just a sexy thing.… I was slamming my head against the wall and kind of going nuts.” He was sure he had made a complete ass of himself. “I remember calling my parents [afterward] and saying, ‘That’s it. I’m not doing this anymore.’ And then hearing, ‘O.K., fine,’ which was not the answer I wanted to hear at all.”
He might not have felt it, but in those short minutes with Stewart, something had clicked. “When Kris did the scenes with the other three guys, it wasn’t happening,” recalls Hardwicke, who was filming on her digital camera. “But when we did it with Rob and Kristen, it wasn’t perfect, it was still raw and unformed … but you could see that they had this nervous attraction and this pull towards each other. You could see the chemistry, and Kristen was adamant, [saying], ‘I think he is by far the best.’”
But this being Hollywood, there were those at the studio who still had their doubts about Pattinson. “They called me up and they literally said, ‘Catherine, do you think you can make this guy look good?’” Hardwicke recalls. “So I said, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to get his hair back to a different color, do a different style. He would work with a trainer from now on. My cinematographer is great with lighting. He will study the cheekbones, and I promise you, we’ll make the guy look good.’”
Fans of Twilight—Twilighters, they’re called—were beside themselves with disappointment when they saw pictures of the future Edward Cullen, with unkempt hair and bushy eyebrows, dodging out of bars with his strange friends. “Disgusting!,” “Repulsive!” they pronounced on the Web sites. According to Hardwicke, Pattinson was rattled by the criticism. “I said to Rob, ‘Really, you shouldn’t be reading that stuff. Don’t even read it!’ He goes, ‘Well, my mother forwarded this one to me.’ The ‘Repulsive’ one.”
But the insults made Pattinson determined to bring something exceptional and surprising to Edward. He moved to Portland three months before the shoot and didn’t talk to anyone. Sometimes he wore yellow-brown contact lenses he had been given. “I was like, Yeah, I’m really going to get into it. And I went into this place to get a coffee, and the first thing this girl at the counter says is ‘Nice contacts,’ and I was just like, O.K., I’m not really feeling what I need to feel.”
The shoot got under way and had an impulsive, almost frenetic energy. Pattinson brought in books, films, and pieces of music that might spark some understanding of this character, who is 108 years old, has never found love, doesn’t want to harm people, and is therefore at war with his natural instincts. He and Stewart had endless conversations about what Bella and Edward meant to each other, to the point where they internalized those dynamics.
Shooting could get downright giddy. In the vampire fight scenes, for example, Pattinson would gamely sink his teeth into the grilled chicken or melted cheese that co-star Cam Gigandet had hidden under his collar, and sometimes he had to be restrained from re-using the food once it had fallen onto the floor and was covered in dirt or glass shards.
In the meantime, evenings were spent in Pattinson’s hotel room, with Pattinson “always drunk,” says Hardwicke, and playing the guitar while Stewart and the other cast members watched and sang along. Something personally intense was developing between the young co-stars. “What Rob and Kristen had is a multitude of feelings for each other. Complex feelings for each other,” says Hardwicke. “It was what we needed. Complex, intense fascination.” It’s very likely that their offscreen relationship mirrored their on-screen one: an intense attraction that couldn’t be realized. During the shoot, Stewart was with her long-term boyfriend, actor Michael Angarano.
The movie, which opened in November 2008, hit all the blockbuster marks, earning $70 million in its first three days. (It has since grossed almost $400 million.) Pattinson signed on to do the rest of the franchise for a reported $10 million. The movie cleaned up at the MTV Movie Awards, where Pattinson was mobbed by fans. The once “repulsive” barfly was now the world’s biggest dreamboat.
By the time New Moon, the second in the series, began filming, the frenzy had multiplied. Director Chris Weitz recalls the shoot in Montepulciano, Italy. “Every teenager who could get there from any part of Europe was there, and it was like The Birds,” he says. “You turn the corner and there would be one, two, three, four hundred teenagers standing there. It got to the point where the stand-ins were signing autographs.”
Pattinson was protected from the fans by a throng of beefy Italian bodyguards who formed a perimeter around him—theoretically, at least. At one point, during the middle of shooting in the main square, someone pushed a young woman in a wheelchair through the barrier, right up to Pattinson. The bodyguards didn’t know what to do—tackling a handicapped woman just didn’t seem attractive. Everyone stood there gaping in silence. “It was almost a medieval moment,” says Weitz. “There were a thousand extras and about a thousand onlookers, and it was as though someone had [been] wheeled up to be healed by the King of France.” Thinking little of it, Pattinson spoke with the girl for a few moments and had his picture taken with her. Suddenly the crowd burst into applause.
“Everyone was like, ‘Ahhhh!’” recalls Pattinson, afraid that he might have appeared grandiose. “It was one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life.” Though Pattinson was and remains gracious to his fans, he has no choice but to spend most of his time in his hotel room. “He was forced into becoming a hermit,” says Weitz. “When he can’t go out to buy a soda, it’s kind of a drag.” Kristen Stewart says that the frenzy she’s witnessed over Pattinson “would terrify me. I would probably resent the hell out of it and would probably do something crazy.”
The outside world became even more intrusive when he moved to New York this spring to start shooting Remember Me, which happened to feature another beautiful co-star, Emilie de Ravin, with whom he became friendly.
he’s a cheat!, his messy love life!, rang out the headlines on the covers of the tabloids all summer, which his fans gleefully asked him to sign. The story line was that Pattinson had “gotten cozy” with de Ravin, and that Stewart, who’d been stringing The Pattz along for all this time, was suddenly crazed with jealousy (in addition to being pregnant with his baby). In the run-up to Comic-Con, where Pattinson and Stewart would be re-united after months apart, Stewart was said to be busily picking out “sexy sundresses” and other great outfits so that “he won’t be able to take his eyes off of her.” (As it happened, she wore jeans, red sneakers, and a Minor Threat T-shirt the whole time.)
“It doesn’t make any difference what you say,” Pattinson says about the tabloids. “I’ve literally been across the country [from Kristen], and it’s like ‘Oh, they were on secret dates!’ It’s like ‘Where? I can’t get out of my hotel room!’” Still, it’s hard to take it in stride when his parents tend to believe the tabloids more than they do him, and when random airport greeters ask him, with heartfelt sympathy, if he really feels up for being a father. (As for Stewart, she sounds significantly more fed up about the whole thing: “It’s so retarded. We’re characters in this comic book.”)
For the record, Pattinson insists that he and Stewart are really just “good friends” and that he deeply admires her. “I think she’s the best young actress around,” he says. (Given their ages, it’s very possible that their relationship status will have changed, and changed again, by the time you’re reading this.) Whatever the case, she’s clearly a kindred, low-key spirit. “She’s influenced how I’ve done all the Twilight stuff. It’s quite nice to have someone who is genuinely indifferent to the whole spectacle of everything.” Indeed, as they pose for picture after picture at Comic-Con, Stewart couldn’t look any cooler about the whole thing. She and Pattinson have mastered the not-touching thing. She even throws the crowd a few curveballs by over-flirting with muscle-bound Taylor Lautner.
With the third Twilight installment, Eclipse, now filming and the fourth to be filmed in the not so distant future—there’s only so long Pattinson, who is 23, can look 17—he is beginning to imagine life after the franchise. The idea of a huge-budget action movie—de rigueur for young actors today—holds zero appeal for him. “There’s no point. I mean, I don’t have any material desires at all. I wear the same clothes every single day. I don’t buy anything. And I don’t go out anymore, either!” All that he really wants is a home, so he can get a dog, since the West Highland white terrier he had since the age of five and “who was like my sister” died last Christmas. Instead, he’s choosing to do small-budget, slightly weirdo material: a Western directed by Madeleine Stowe, in which he will speak almost exclusively in Comanche, and an adaptation of a Guy de Maupassant novel, Bel-Ami, in which he plays a guy who “thinks like an animal” and “just rips off and screws over all of his friends.”
Even though Pattinson now has a Barbie action figure (one he thinks looks like Zac Efron), he’s starting to see the faintest hint that his teen-idol days may be on the wane—and that someone else might soon replace him. Since Twilight, when he played Gentle Indian Friend, 17-year-old Taylor Lautner has become markedly more carved and badass-looking. That’s because in New Moon he’s both a viable love option for Bella and a werewolf. By the end of Comic-Con, Taylor’s new physique is all that anyone can talk about, and girls are shouting from their seats, “Take off your shirt!” Lautner seems born for this role. With a dazzling-white smile, he delivers polished, borderline-canned lines to roaring applause. “I worked really hard to transform Jacob’s body so I could portray him correctly for you guys. I hope you guys are pleased when you see the results!”
And now Pattinson is hawking his co-star like a desperate agent. “I don’t know where he got it,” he gushes of Lautner’s charm and knack for connecting with the fans. “He’s much better at doing it [than I am].… He’s completely handling it. I’m just freaking out all the time. I’m going to end up hitting people and stuff and looking like an idiot.” Someone else can be Leo. Pattinson will be Hugh Grant.
Evgenia Peretz is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.