Sunday, March 7, 2010
No one can say Robert Pattinson — best known as Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” movies — doesn’t suffer for his craft. While shooting “Remember Me,” his new film out Friday, “RPatz” had a near-brush with death. The actor was so besieged by fans on the film’s Union Square set that, to the chagrin of his five bodyguards, they once shoved him off a curb and into the side of a moving cab.
But his latest turn as a depressed New Yorker in “Remember Me” is providing an even greater trial. His first non-vampire role since the “Twilight” series began is a pivotal moment in his career. Will his total immersion in one of the biggest-grossing film franchises ever be the one thing he’s always associated with, or will it be a stepping stone to a bigger career?
The low-key Brit is loath to talk up his own skills; he’s raised self-deprecation to an art form in his bedheaded, aw-shucks interviews. “I wasn’t an actor-y kid or anything,” Pattinson, 23, has said of his London childhood, where his decision to join the local theater club was a bit of a fluke.
Lily Saltzberg, publicist for the Pattinson documentary “Robsessed,” explains: “He was at a cafe with his dad, and there were all these cute girls [from the theater], and he’s really shy, and his dad was like, ‘You need to start acting, to meet people.’ ”
“He’s a really, really nice guy, very shy,” confirms a fellow former member of the Barnes Theatre Club, where a teenage Pattinson started out working backstage but ended up auditioning for roles in plays including “Guys and Dolls” after, he’s said, “all the good people left.”
It’s become a sort of trend among actors to protest ever having been deliberately “actor-y.” But in Pattinson’s case, there are dubious origins. Beauty, not acting chops, snagged Pattinson his first real gig. Director Uli Edel, casting for his TV movie “Ring of the Nibelungs” in 2003, found a photo of the 17-year-old Pattinson. “I was very impressed with his looks,” he says. “And then I had a screen test with him. Let’s just say . . . it was a combination of talent and looks.”
On set, Edel says, “He did a great job. It wasn’t a huge part, but he was very disciplined, very serious about his acting.”
Still, when his fellow cast members talked, they weren’t lauding his talent. “Even the older women were saying, ‘He’s so damn good-looking!’ ” says Edel.
After a smallish part in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” Pattinson took to the boards at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s West End, in a play called “The Woman Before.” But something went wrong during rehearsals, and he was replaced with another actor shortly before opening night.
What happened? To hear Pattinson tell it, he was sacked for being too experimental. “I liked the freedom . . . you could do with acting,” he told You magazine. “For that same reason — trying to take risks — I got fired from that play.”
Paul Morrison, who directed Pattinson in “Little Ashes,” offered a more concrete clue. The actor played Salvador Dali in Morrison’s 2008 film, and like the surrealist painter, his behavior was unpredictable.
“He didn’t really nail [the part] until the last day of rehearsal,” Morrison says. “I was a little worried. But he kept saying to me, ‘I’m fine when the camera’s rolling.’ ”
That movie was savaged by critics (its Rotten Tomatoes rating stands at 24 percent fresh), but Morrison has nothing but praise for Pattinson. “He was very committed,” says the director. “He did a lot of research on his own — if he wasn’t on set, he spent all day hunched over his laptop looking for Dali.”
And then “Twilight” happened. Overnight, Pattinson became a household name. Hysterical crowds at his public appearances began to be described as “Beatles-esque” in their numbers and lung power.
But the jury’s still out on his staying power. “Remember Me” director Allen Coulter says RPatz is the real deal. “People have made comparisons to James Dean, and I don’t think that’s inaccurate,” he says. “Or maybe a young Warren Beatty.”
Coulter says Pattinson had jumped at the chance to play someone “close to himself” and that, as with previous movies, he gave it his all. “He seemed very concerned about the inner life of the character, and was very demanding of himself,” Coulter says.
Early buzz on the film has been mixed, but his former directors are optimistic. “I know he can do more,” says Morrison. “His public persona is that he doesn’t take fame too seriously, but actually, he does take acting very seriously. I can see him doing what Leonardo DiCaprio did, getting beyond being a heartthrob and broadening his range.”
“Twilight” fans, whose sheer numbers ought to command some industry attention, also believe in the power of RPatz. In a recent Fandango/MTV poll, 43 percent said he’d be the first star from the series to bring home an Oscar.
But some in Hollywood harbor doubts. “I fear brooding becomes tiresome after a while,” says a casting agent, who offered a bit of advice. “Get thee to an acting class, Rob, if you want to be doing this after the age of 30!”
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