Saturday, November 7, 2009

Robert Pattinson: trapped in the Twilight zone


On a balmy autumn day in Vancouver, a young man is longing for a walk outside in the sunshine, and deciding against it. Far easier for him to stay in his hotel room, cocooned in five-star luxury with a mobile phone that has run out of charge, safe at least from the girls chanting his name outside. Robert Pattinson, 23 and from Barnes in southwest London, ought still to be one of Hollywood’s beautiful dreamers, moving up the ranks of movie acting, enjoying his American adventure, his guitar, his good looks. Instead he lives in danger of being trampled in a stampede of teen love. He plays the vampire Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga, the biggest books-to-screen phenomenon since Harry Potter — in which, by the way, Pattinson was Cedric Diggory, heroic golden boy and victim of Voldermort. Boy, his life has changed since Hogwarts.

In Canada he is shooting Eclipse, the third of Stephenie Meyer’s quartet of novels. The second, New Moon, is released this month in a publicity extravaganza that will involve shutting down New York’s Times Square. The last time the actor was there, the square was also closed to traffic, for an event only marginally more fascinating to the world: the election victory of Barack Obama. We talk on the phone. Even now, a year after Twilight’s release, Pattinson sounds utterly stunned by the hysteria swirling around him.

“It’s been a little frightening,” he laughs, a sort of embarrassed chuckle that punctuates his conversation, the sound of someone negotiating the best bit of luck they have ever had, not wanting to sound arrogantly blasé or overexcited. “In England no-one had heard of the series when I went for the audition, so it has been a total, utter surprise. The change to my everyday life is so extreme. Before this I was used to working 10 days a year. Originally, I did a three-picture deal, but I wasn’t even really thinking about that… I had no idea that I’d still be working on it now.”

Does the poor boy, who still calls London home, feel he has to hide? “I tend to stay in the hotel because it’s highly publicised where I’m staying all the time. There’s always a bunch of people outside. I can’t really be in LA now at all. It’s not that the fans are threatening, but the paparazzi follow me all night.” This hounding can evoke an absurd sympathy, considering the kid’s fortune and prospects. But then he brightens, telling me he was buying a guitar the other day and had to spell his name 12 times, and the guy still didn’t twig. “I loved that. It was my fault — I wasn’t speaking loud enough.”

When he read the first script, he had no idea how to play it. “I thought Bella, the heroine, would be a damsel in distress and I’d have to be the alpha-male hero type, so I thought I was never going to get it. But when they cast Kristen Stewart, she’s not really like that, so I realised there was a different way to play Edward, to show his vulnerability.” Could he get trapped, find it hard to move on to different sorts of roles?

“It worries me, because the whole Twilight thing keeps getting bigger and bigger, and now it’s so big that even my own ego can’t cope with it. A certain amount of success you can mentally deal with, but there’s a point where you think, ‘Jesus Christ, what is this? I’m not that great!’ I just wanted to make an American film, and I wanted it to be relatively good and to be good in it. I have never pushed to do anything… As soon as you start going to the gym every day and try to look like a movie star, you’re going down a worrisome track.” He laughs. “Being an English guy you get a lot more breaks. You’re allowed to look a little worse. It’s that thing about English teeth. Actually, Canadian teeth are pretty bad.”

To say New Moon is eagerly awaited is like saying the Pope could use a miracle: moreover, it promises to be twice as hormonally charged as Twilight, since it offers two poster boys for the price of one. Taylor Lautner, who plays Jacob Black, Bella’s car-mad friend from the Native American reservation, moves centre stage as the leader of the giant werewolves, her defenders from the avenging vampires. More staggering than his lycanthropic powers, however, is the complete physical transformation of 17-year-old Lautner, who began his career in Disney’s The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. With his dodgy wig and gangly lope in the first picture, he was no competition for Pattinson, but in New Moon his hair is shorn, his six-pack ripples and his teeth light a path through the forest before him; his physique and prowess are redefining this chapter as more of an action movie than a spooky Romeo and Juliet.

Fearless and as often as possible shirtless, wolf-boy Jake is the third corner in a love triangle, as Bella is torn between blood-guzzler and beast. The martial-arts expert Lautner gained 30lb of solid muscle with gym work-outs. He’s graced the cover of Teen Vogue and had water artistically poured over him by its high-fashion Italian cousin, L’Uomo Vogue. Like Pattinson, he is a teenzine staple and heading for the giddy status of having prepubescent girls and their shameless mothers wanting to know if it’s a case of briefs or boxers.

Five thousand miles away from their ethereal and earthy pin-ups, the faithful are gathered at the Park Inn Hotel near the market square in Northampton. Welcome to Eternal Twilight 2, the unofficial fan convention staged by Massive Events, whose cheery operative Davey is dashing about with a mohican and a clipboard, keeping 800 young (but not that young) women happy. They don’t even complain about the absence of the godlike “Rob”, who at least until New Moon is out on November 20, is secure on his throne. Nobody here much mentions his brown-eyed “rival” Lautner, though the “Who’s hotter?” debate is already revving up, with “Camp Edward” and “Camp Jacob” sweatshirts.

While smitten with him, the Twi-hard posse are relieved Pattinson is not smouldering in their midst. “It’s such a concentration of fans,” says Rachel, 24, a bouncy Essex girl, “you might not be able to control the hysteria. It would spoil the atmosphere.” She thinks there might be tickets in tonight’s auction for the German premiere of New Moon, but is content to be brushing up against the “guests” here, actors who were “protected” from fans while making New Moon, travelling in cars with tinted windows, moving about the set beneath big umbrellas to foil the paps. Katie, 20, a vampire freak, tells me that she was “attacked by the books”, rather than the stars, and couldn’t put them down: she is clearly a lost cause. “They sparkle, they have no fangs, just really sharp teeth. They don’t sleep. It makes it more interesting.” Her friend, a bubbly American called Kendra who’s 35, says: “What I love is that Edward is the perfect man.”And Claire, at 38 a girlish Twilight senior, adds: “He’s an old-fashioned gentleman, chivalrous and protective. Edward has spoilt it for all the other guys. He’s set the bar too high.”

Around us drifts a sea of girls with straight black hair and lots of sequins; Pattinson’s face is tattooed on an upper arm; another fan has lovingly cross-stitched the wolf-pack emblem for Chaske Spencer, who plays one of the Quileute Native Americans in New Moon. Those who have purchased gold tickets (£195) enjoyed a cocktail party last night with the five (not very starring) actors attending the event; queues for autographs and photos snake around the hall. Tonight the auction will be staged: last year a girl blew £300 on a slow dance with the vampire patriarch Peter Facinelli, under a pagoda like the one Bella and Edward smooch beneath at the school prom. Even his empty can of Red Bull went for £20. “It was like, oh, let me catch flu off him, please!”

Last night’s party had a baseball theme, with candy floss and a bucking-bronco sheep from which one girl was toppled, ending up in casualty. But since the novels’ heroine, Bella, played by Kristen Stewart, is so accident-prone, this might have been a weird tribute to the elfin “K-Stew”, over whom fans swoon and coo almost as much as they do over Pattinson. They are also quite keen on the Canadian Rachelle Lefevre, who plays the vicious nomad vampire Victoria and is here as a (handsomely paid) guest, loving every moment. Her bodyguard is in attendance, and one of the organisers makes me promise not to interview the little-known Lefevre. In the real world, you would laugh: she should be so lucky.

But this isn’t reality; it is an arena of common purpose and warm acceptance, a million miles from the drudgery of homework and teenage acne, where boyfriends are never up to scratch and fashion rejects you if you’re over size 14. If the Twi-hards class all their actors as sparkling Hollywood A-listers, that’s all part of the make-believe at the friendliest party I’ve been to all year.

At the auction the star lot is a baseball bat signed by Peter Facinelli, and this evening’s entertainment is a masquerade for which many have crafted ornate masks and splashed out on new dresses. The merchandise rooms are laden with mementos, from kitsch Bella and Edward dolls (£20) to handmade charm bracelets heavy with silver replicas of the book covers. The merchandise for the new film, New Moon, is arriving this afternoon. “Fifteen new lines,” enthuses a stallholder. There are Team Edward hoodies and caps, and Twilight plasters — “for a broken heart”. Sandira Reddy, a jewellery maker who has customised Converse baseball boots (£100), was inundated with orders (in the first book, Bella wears them with her ballgown at the prom). “Twilight has become a full-time job,” she says.

A girl called Ellie is crossdressed as Peter Facinelli’s character, Dr Carlisle Cullen, in a cropped blonde wig and a white lab coat that a friend has embroidered with his name. “I have a different outfit for tomorrow,” she says. “It’s a suit he wears when Bella hurts her arm in New Moon.” Her confidence that other fans will easily identify a man’s suit as being from a particular scene in a 500-page doorstopper says much about their shared application to the saga.

The Twilight phenomenon isn’t just about publishing (more than 70m of the four books sold) or a series of movies, or even merchandising opportunities; it’s about a lifestyle. If once teenage girls’ reading was a private affair, a way of disappearing without your annoying parents calling the police, it can now be performed and celebrated as an event. My own favourite young-teen reads, Jennie James: Top Model, followed by Jennie James: Fashion Designer and Jennie James: Air Hostess (have court shoes, will travel), enjoyed no crossover potential at all, no clubs or actors to follow, only the power that sometimes terrible literature wields over young lives aching for safe adventure and a more polished future.

Times have changed. For the sociable Twilight enthusiast there are tribute bands, parties where little girls paint vampire bites on their necks assisted by their doting mothers, countless websites, fan fiction, internet forums. It is about sharing, rather than shutting your bedroom door to drown out the sound of Crossroads and losing yourself, blissfully alone at last. Stephenie Meyer may be a clean-living Mormon housewife, but she knows how to feed this hype. She is said to track internet discussions of her books for feedback, “worried” about the writers of fan fiction who rework and extend her narratives, because they can never claim the story as their own. How many ideas she gleans in this mutually advantageous to-and-fro we will never know.

When the first Twilight movie opened in the US last year, it took $70m in its first weekend, the largest sum ever for a female director. (Though Catherine Hardwicke was replaced by Chris Weitz on the second film.) At Eternal Twilight 2, the bespectacled Native American actor Tyson Houseman, who looks more like a young Woody Allen than a member of the wolf pack, seems to have grasped the nature of the beast. “I am so delighted to have a part in this franchise,” he declares humbly.

The subject of all the books is eternal: sexual awakening, forbidden love, the odd demon for an added frisson. Seventeen-year-old Bella Swan moves from sunny Phoenix to live with her father in a rainy dullsville town in Washington state called Forks, where every day holds the promise of a wet weekend. On the first day at her new school, she notices a group of staggeringly attractive students, the pale and fabulous Cullen family. With their talcum-powder faces and coal-black brows, they look like refugees from some New Romantic dive in the 1980s, when many of the fans and actors weren’t even born. Insular and superior, the Cullens are — surprise! — vampires. No black capes or little horns, however, not even vaguely prominent canines, their dentistry being as immaculate as the fabulous cars they drive like lightning. They don’t sleep in wooden boxes; they don’t sleep at all. They stay wide awake in a shiny glass-walled house, which they quit in New Moon, leaving Forks bereft of its only interesting residents.

Pretty ordinary (and ordinarily pretty), Bella is in love with Edward — a 104-year-old vampire so stunning you wouldn’t care if he regularly snoozed in a coffin — and he with her. For all its supernatural posturing, it is really a story about the giddy fevers of first love. “It was ridiculous to think I could affect anyone that deeply,” gasps the ever-gasping Bella. Blood-guzzlers have their teeth marks all over popular culture right now, with Channel 4’s True Blood, and the fearless Buffy Summers and her novelisations, whom love-sick Bella resembles not a bit. (Or should that be bite?) In New Moon Edward leaves Bella — who naturally spends the whole book in mortal danger — for her own safety, casting her into a zombie-like depression. She is comforted by Jacob, to whom she is drawn, especially when he rips off his shirt to tend her bleeding face after a motorbike crash. (She has become an adrenaline junkie because Edward returns to her in a vision when she is in danger, leading to all manner of heart-stopping rescues.)

Meyer’s everyday heroine is not a slayer but a vampire groupie; actually, she doesn’t need to hang tough, because these suckers are the “vegetarian” variety, who control their lust for mortal blood, feeding only on animals, and even then only on the non-endangered species (they wouldn’t touch crate veal with a bargepole), which tells us that the author is not just aiming at a teenage audience but stalking it with a big fat net. More importantly, she is appealing not so much to her young readers’ universally presumed race for alcohol, sex, freedom, but the need for something far harder to rustle up: a return to a safer world in this throwback of a town. Bella’s crowd barely have a cell phone between them, nobody spends the evening fibbing about themselves on Facebook, and Bella’s clunky old computer has the status in her life of a rusty can-opener. As for drugs, there is only the high of attraction, the addiction to romance and, in New Moon, danger, which Stewart conveys a little too often with a doped, faraway look. “Am I your brand of heroin?” asks dreamy Bella, as if you selected the stuff from a supermarket shelf.

This absence of brain-sapping habits and gadgets leaves acres of time for dreaming and chatting about boys, trips to the beach, shopping for prom-frocks, homework and friendship, in a small, maybe claustrophobic, but entirely known and manageable environment. For all its scary moments and gory potential, Twilight is a refuge, like all fantasy fiction. No need to get stressed about sex, either. The flirtation in the books is chaste: the girls in Bella’s crowd don’t carry condoms, they are not jaded or exhausted before their time.

It seems that the young women of the “broken society” are identifying in droves with Meyer’s back-to-basics message. With Twilight, the first movie of the series, exit polls in the US showed that 75% of the audience were girls. On a nationwide “mall tour”, the cast was mobbed by 10,000 fans; an appearance in San Francisco became so huge it had to be closed down. In June, Pattinson, who is reported to have raised his fee to £6.8m for New Moon, was nearly run over escaping female fans in New York.

And what of the young man who can’t leave his hotel room? Robsessed, a documentary detailing his unimaginable rise, is released this month; speculation fizzes as to whether he and Kristen Stewart are a real-life couple. A less scary individual it is hard to imagine, though some fans have apparently been alarmed by his wispy chest hair. He mumbles a bit, not in a Brandoesque way, but because he is a nicely brought-up, self-deprecating, privately educated Englishman and somewhat embarrassed by the fuss. As well as loving it. The mumbling is also strategic: “It’s an attempt to cover myself up,” he admits.

When he tells you the hardest part of filming Twilight was having to look convincing in the scene where he threatens four grown men, you believe him. He is the ideal, unthreatening, sensitive object of a first crush, the noughties answer to David Cassidy in a satin shirt. Rather than sleekly groomed, however, he is adorably dishevelled, confiding to Jay Leno that he’s given up washing his hair, which he is contractually forbidden to cut. When a loved novel is adapted for stage or screen, the casting is delicate; one of 5,000 hopefuls who auditioned for Edward, Pattinson claims that fans were “100% negative” about his casting. “That’s just Rob being modest,” smiles Katie in Northampton, who loves him to bits.

Is he embarrassed to have millions of girls in love with him? “The only time it’s embarrassing is when you do a photoshoot and people try to force you to look clean-cut,” he says, “when they use pictures where you’re smiling sweetly and having your hair brushed, because that’s not what you want to be known for. “I don’t really know why the girls love the movie so much. The whole series has become a bit of a cult. People like being part of the club. They’re obsessed. The fan fiction is amazing: I’ve been sent whole novels featuring me as myself, in the Twilight world, with Edward in it as well.”

Anointed as “the new JK Rowling” by grateful British and American booksellers, 35-year-old Stephenie Meyer is ranked fifth on Forbes’s list of Hollywood’s Top-Earning Women and is the only author on the list. She tells interviewers the idea came to her in a dream, but she can barely have imagined how it would transform the life of a stay-at-home mother-of-three who had never really had a proper job, just a devotion to home and hearth and traditional views on monogamy. Meyer put a clause in the contract that the first film had to be PG-13 and has talked of giving airtime to the good kids, the ones who aren’t drinking and sexually active. “When I was in high school the people I related to were Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet, because I wasn’t having that experience.”

Indeed, the Twilight books are a moralist’s charter, an advertisement for abstinence under duress. Bella might be seized by an obsession with Edward’s “liquid topaz eyes” and an “overpowering craving to touch him”, but essentially this is a narrative about good kids not having sex. In Northampton, Sarah, a Twi-mum chaperoning her 12-year-old daughter, says: “It was her birthday, so I thought why not? There is not a lot of sex, none until the last book… and they do get married. When they go away on honeymoon it’s all very discreet.” Uber-fan Katie, by contrast, did not welcome the consummation after the most drawn-out of all literary foreplay. “I really hated it, actually,” she says. “I felt I knew the characters so well, I didn’t want to intrude on such a personal thing.”

Subjected by her creator to what Time magazine dubbed “the erotics of abstinence”, Bella is longing — frankly gagging — for intimacy with the immortal, but also for the protection and stability of a lasting relationship. “I’m the world’s most dangerous predator,” her glittering boyfriend announces, and as a teenage boy with sex on his mind, he is probably up there with the mountain lions and grizzly bears whose blood quenches his family’s curious thirst. Yet Bella is safe.

At first it seems that she has fallen not so much for the cool guy in class as the ice-cold one (literally); the one who, like those romantic blueprints Darcy, de Winter and Rochester, seems in the beginning to disdain her, but will turn out to be merely manly and masterful. Meyer likes to say that the books are about choices, good ones overcoming baser instincts. Edward is their moral centre, the prince of self-control whose magnificent restraint (“I can be patient — if I make a great effort”) saves them both. In the fourth and final book, Breaking Dawn, they marry, Bella becomes pregnant, refuses an abortion (though Edward fears the baby might be monstrous) and is rewarded for her steadfastness.

Bella Swan is a goody two-shoes, quite removed from the alienated products of divorce and dysfunction you might find in, say, Melvin Burgess’s Junk or even dear old Jacqueline Wilson’s books. It is not that she lacks valour: in New Moon she rescues Edward from committing suicide (by exposing himself to daylight) when he believes she is dead. But she is essentially homely, chugging milk and nibbling on granola bars; she is bookish and swotty, a little housewife, eternally marinating steaks, sorting laundry and preparing enchiladas for her father. Caitlin Flanagan, the postfeminist American author, hails Bella an “old-fashioned heroine”, praising Meyer for her canny grasp of what makes young adult readers tick: the fantasy of perfect love, the pain of failure, the thrill of being fought over by two amazing boys, the glorious prize. Meyer’s oeuvre is a literary companion for these days of retrenchment and fear, when girls aspire to be Wags or young mothers, sometimes making you wonder if 50 years of sexual politics ever happened.

Awash with bubbling hormones, self-doubt, sexual frustration and fear of friendlessness, the stories house all the teenage torments. When Bella first sits next to Edward in biology class, he recoils from her, “averting his face like he smelt something bad”. For the average adolescent girl, lack of personal fragrance is the worst crime: but her scent is what drives the muzzled-beast Edward crazy with desire. In return, her devotion renders her helpless, a long way from being an assertive role model, or even a sassy modern chick. Elizabeth Bennet could have taught her a thing or two about maintaining pride in the face of sneering male prejudice.

She may be a washout as a feminist, and a non-starter as an icon of girl-power like the seven-series super-slayer Buffy, but Meyer’s girl-next-door reigns over a magical realm that is a place of greater safety. It is a party you can attend without a boyfriend or designer bag, a badge of belonging that some fans of true romance and vampires might struggle to find in a hyper-sexual, cynical old world. “It’s not so much about meeting the actors,” one happy communicant tells me in Northampton, “as finding other people who don’t glaze over when you talk about what you love. It’s about friendship.”


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Thanks to RobPattzNews

1 comment:

cendrine said...

Drat! Thought it was just going to be Rob. There go the dynamics!