With the Twilight sequel just a few moons away, its tousled star dishes on over-the-top fandom, muddled morals, and how not to act like a vampire
CANNES, France–There are no crystal decanters of blood for Robert Pattinson to sip from, or milky white virgin necks to nibble upon.
Pattinson's treats, arrayed before him on a glass table shaped like a kneeling Greek goddess, aren't your typical vampire fare: a bowl of potato chips, packages of green apple mint gum and a box of See's chocolates imported from the U.S.
The world's sexiest undead man eschews all the caloric temptations, apologizing as he nips off to another room for a few drags on a Camel Lights cigarette before commencing this interview.
"I'm sorry!" he says, pausing only to shake hands. "I'll be right back!"
Pattinson returns a few minutes later, flashing a smile filled with extraordinarily white teeth. Despite the 28C heat on this sunny day at the Cannes Film Festival, he's wearing two shirts (a short-sleeved one over a T-shirt) and cotton jeans with holes in the knees.
The London-born actor's heavily moussed hair, as always, looks like it has been styled by the fingers of ravaging fans of the Twilight books and films that have made him into a teen scream sensation.
"It's completely nuts," Pattinson, 23, says of his sudden global acclaim. "I had lunch in some restaurant the other day down the street and if you're in a place for more than an hour, word gets out. There were like 500 or 600 people outside, watching and waiting for me."
He is animated and engaging while speaking, quite unlike the pale and brooding vampire Edward Cullen he plays in Twilight, a 2008 hit, and its sequel New Moon, which arrives in theatres Nov. 20.
Which means he had to act the role, of course, and in Pattinson's case he used the approach of a method actor, trying to move the way a vampire does. The feat was complicated by the desire of director Catherine Hardwicke, the film's producers and Twilight novelist Stephenie Meyer that Pattinson not act like the typical neck-biting bloodsucker.
"They kept saying they wanted to reinvent the genre of the vampire film, so I was really just trying to figure out how to play a vampire not as a vampire," Pattinson says, running a hand through his brown locks. "I looked at a lot of movement in samurai films, because of the stillness. None of which I particularly used. It just sort of felt Zen."
He finally determined that the key to understanding Edward was aloneness.
"I spent a lot of time by myself. I tried not to talk to too many people. My initial instinct was not to talk to anybody at all, so my first line would be like the first time I had spoken in a month, so you could get that kind of weird dialect. But it's quite tough to do that!" he laughs.
Tougher still is living up to expectations of what Twilight fans expect of Pattinson and his co-star Kristin Stewart, who plays Bella, the all-too-human love of the immortal and undead Edward.
So far, fans have given the actors an enthusiastic thumbs up, to the point of fantasizing them as a couple in real life, something that both Pattinson and Stewart have denied, albeit not terribly convincingly, with "we're just friends" shrugs.
(The flames of Pattinson's and Stewart's supposed hot love were fanned all this past summer by tabloid reports while the duo were in Vancouver filming Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight franchise, due out in 2010. The tabs had the couple married off and even expecting a baby, although Pattinson knocks the rumours in a cover story in the December issue of Vanity Fair, which has just been released.)
New Moon might throw people for a loop, especially the ones who haven't read the book. There's trouble in paradise in this one, with another claimant to Bella's cuddles and Edward suddenly seeming not so invincible. The film also has to work around the logistical problem of Edward being more in Bella's mind than in her eyes at this stage of the uncoventional love saga.
For his part, Pattinson is completely confident that New Moon will be another huge success.
"I don't know why anyone would be worried about people going to see it, because they will go and see it, I think. It sticks relatively closely to the book; it's just that in the book it's just Edward's voice in Bella's head and that's really Edward's only presence. I think it would just be cheesy if you had that (in the film), and it would be really difficult for Kristen to play, if it was just a voice.
"My presence in it is very faint. I'm a hallucination."
There is, however, a fight scene created for the movie in which Pattinson is not the least bit ghostly. We're not talking about a lover's spat here. It's a battle to the finish with an outside threat.
"The fight scene was actually really fun. It's the only fight scene I've ever done in which I actually look like I'm quite good at fighting in it! I'm quite happy with that."
The Twilight saga is freighted with the expectations of parents and other moral authorities who have praised the series for promoting chastity. Pattinson chuckles at this, because he thinks the Twilight story is actually quite sexy – although it's much more of the mind than the body, since Edward has to sheath his pointy teeth (and other extremities) to protect his beloved Bella.
People are choosing to read into the series whatever they want, and that's fine with Pattinson, although he personally finds the sexual tension very erotic – as do most fans.
"I think it's hilarious that everyone, especially parents, are saying it's about abstinence and they're really pleased their kids are reading it. And yet so many people who are reading the books are thinking, `I want them to have sex! I want them to make me want to have sex!'
"And if you read any fan fiction, all of it is about Edward and Bella having sex in the same scenarios instead of stopping. It's quite amusing."
Pattinson's sense of humour has stood him in good stead over his whirlwind of a year. Prior to 2008, he was best known as Cedric Diggory, a minor character in two Harry Potter films. Cedric is a hunky jock at Hogwarts School, who naturally gets all the girls and vexes nerdy Harry, but he's not all bad.
It was while playing Cedric that Pattinson got his first taste of insane fame. It was during a day of filming Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Oxford University, when the Potter gang ran smack-dab into a group of teenaged girls from France, who were on a school trip.
"We ended up coming out of our cars at exactly the same moment and being surrounded in this crowd. And nobody even knew whom I was playing at that point. When I said Cedric, it was, `Omigod! Cedric!' Whatever."
Pattinson was alarmed at first by all the attention – he considers himself shy and retiring – but he's smart enough to know that it won't last forever, and that it doesn't necessarily extend beyond his link with Twilight and Edward Cullen.
His other two films of the past year, Little Ashes and How to Be, failed to make an impact at the box office, despite demonstrating his impressive range as an actor. In the drama Little Ashes, he plays Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, right down to the twisty moustache and homoerotic encounters. In the comedy How to Be, he's a depressed British singer/songwriter (Pattinson is a musician, too) who hires a Canadian self-help guru to put his life back in order.
Pattinson has been making films only since 2004, when he had a bit part in Mira Nair's Vanity Fair, so everything about being a movie star is still fresh and not so terrible, all things considered.
"It's just this fame thing," he muses. "It's just something you have to learn how to deal with. It's strange. It's definitely so new, I don't really know how I'm going to react to it in the long run.
"I was fighting against it for quite a while, and just recently I realized there's nothing you can do; you can't just turn your back on it. Now I can pretty much go anywhere in the world and within minutes of being in a restaurant, tons of people come up to you. So you might as well just learn to have acceptance."
Spoken like a true Zen vampire
TheStar.com via Pattinson Online