Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Robert Pattinson’s move from fright club to fight club

His role as a non-violent vampire in the Twilight saga has made Robert Pattinson a pin-up for his generation, so what’s with the sudden aggression?

Robert Pattinson is not a violent man. In person, the 23-year-old actor is a bit like his character Edward Cullen in the blockbusting vampire saga Twilight: good-looking, obviously; non-aggressive. He is also likeable, self-assured and more than a little dreamy – perhaps even wistful. Admittedly, he’s not an immortal vampire like Cullen, and has no desire to sink his teeth into anyone, which can be hugely disappointing for some of his more zealous fans. “You’d be surprised by how young some of the girls are when they come up to you,” he tells me. “I’ve had a seven-year-old come up to me and say, ‘Bite me, please!’ It’s a little bit weird.”

In his latest film, the emotionally fraught family drama Remember Me, there is no biting but there is a smattering of violence. Pattinson plays an angry young man who endures a turbulent relationship with his businessman father (Pierce Brosnan) while building a relationship with a new girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). His character, Tyler, is also prone to occasional brawling. In what seems a stark contrast to his aforementioned dreaminess, the young actor admits he felt a strong connection with this aspect of his character’s personality.

“There are certain things which are like fantasy scenes of mine,” says the Londoner. “Even the way the character fights was quite satisfying. In the script it said that he fights like a pit-bull, and I was just like, ‘Yeah, sweet. I want to fight like a pit-bull!’”

Over the last three years, I’ve sat down with Pattinson no fewer than six times and, even though he’s rocketed from complete unknown to international megastar during that period, he doesn’t seem to have changed very much. He’s still quite bashful, embarrassed at being the centre of attention and yet also refreshingly honest and disarming. The fighting talk, though, is new; maybe it’s symptomatic of his meteoric rise? Whereas once he simply disliked the paparazzi, now he despises them.

He recalls shooting Remember Me in New York. “The fans were lovely,” he says. “They would completely respond to people saying, ‘Can you please go and wait over there?’ even when there were tons and tons of them. But the paparazzi were unbelievable. While I was always quite nice to them before, now I think they are such a**holes.”

Not least because they interrupted the production on Remember Me, shouting obscenities in their bid to get a reaction from Pattinson. “You couldn’t even go to the toilet,” he says. “It’s just like, ‘Jesus Christ! You guys are like animals.’ They basically won’t let you get on with your job.”

Ever since Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight novels, gave her approval to Pattinson’s casting as Edward Cullen, the young vampire so beloved by teenage readers, the actor has lived much of his life in the public eye. Even back in the autumn of 2008, when his CV included just one film of note – a short spell in 2005’s Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (playing the doomed Cedric Diggory)– and few people outside the Twilight faithful (the self-styled Twihards) could even identify him, the paparazzi were in pursuit.

“Obviously the Twilight character has a big part to play in all that,” he concedes. “If you are a girl and you say ‘this guy is really weird and dangerous’ and then he suddenly reveals he’s a vampire, it’s intense, and girls seem to like that. But the paparazzi ... It’s just weird, coming out of bars and stuff looking shit and getting judged so harshly the next day. I remember the first few times it happened I had this insane big hair. I really needed a haircut and all these magazines and websites made such a big deal out of it.”

Today, Pattinson is sporting a rather rugged beard which he grew for the film he’s just finished shooting, Bel Ami, an adaptation of a novel by 19th century French author Guy de Maupassant in which he plays a journalist with a sharp sexual appetite. His on-screen conquests are set to include (in no particular order) Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas. “I get to sleep with the lot,” he says, beaming. “Despite my moaning about the paparazzi, this is quite a good job.”

At the time of his casting as Edward Cullen, the existing Twilight fan-base, devoted to Meyer’s novels were calling for Leonardo DiCaprio to win the role. When news broke that Pattinson had snaffled it, they were disgruntled, at first.“When you consider how gorgeous my character is in the books, I really didn’t want to play the part,” says Pattinson sheepishly. In truth, he did not seek the superstar lifestyle or clamour for the $10-million-plus contract that he signed to complete the four-part series, and is, therefore, shorn of that obnoxious, self-obsessed drive that burdens so many up-and-coming stars. If it all ended tomorrow, one suspects Pattinson would simply shrug his shoulders and move on.

He remembers a trip to the south of France with his family in his teens. Pattinson and one of his siblings – he has two older sisters – stumbled into an old bar where locals had gathered to hear a man play the piano. Pattinson liked what he saw and, as an accomplished musician, thought he might like to do the same. “I just wanted to do what that guy was doing, playing the piano in a bar in France. That seemed great.”

Catherine Hardwicke, director of the first Twilight movie, was so impressed with the actor’s piano playing and compositional abilities that she used a song he wrote in the film. “That’s one of the upsides of all this,” he says. “A bunch of guys I know, people I have grown up with, had their name on a Twilight soundtrack. They have been doing gigs in America that sell out every single time. That is the only ‘power aspect’ I have seen as being a really positive thing. A friend of mine is doing a gig at The Whiskey in LA. He just mentioned our connection on his MySpace page and the tickets sold out within an hour. It’s unreal.”

Pattinson hails from Barnes in southwest London. His father, Richard, is a vintage-car dealer; his mother, Clare, once worked for a modelling agency. He attended Tower House prep school and London’s Harrodian school (nothing to do with Harrow, although it qualifies as quite posh). He tried modelling in his teens, before turning his eye towards acting, prompted by a chance meeting involving his father and a bevy of beautiful young women.

“Me and my dad were in a restaurant,” he explains, “and we spotted this bunch of quite attractive girls. They said that they went to this drama club, so he said we’d better go down there as well. We went down there and I began to work backstage.”

One day, after several people abandoned a production, Pattinson was the only one left to play the leading role. “It was called Our Town, a Thornton Wilder play. That was literally the first acting thing I’d ever done, and yet I somehow got an agent.” After snaffling the part in Harry Potter, he returned to try his hand on the stage, securing the lead role in The Woman Before at London’s Royal Court Theatre. As it transpired, Pattinson got fired and ended up in LA, sleeping on his manager’s couch as he auditioned for jobs. He scored roles in a few independent projects such as Little Ashes, in which he played Salvador Dali, before landing the Twilight job.

He has now shot the first three films in the franchise, with the third, Eclipse, set for a July release. The final chapter, Breaking Dawn, is scheduled for completion before the year is out. The four-film franchise has allowed him the chance to cement a relationship with his co-star, Kristen Stewart. The pair’s director on the first film, ­Catherine Hardwicke, spilled the beans about their blossoming romance ahead of the release of New Moon, the second film in the franchise, late last year.

Pattinson remains tight-lipped, but says that his chemistry with his co-star helped him overcome the reservations he had about accepting the role in the first place. “I was worried about the ‘perfect man’ thing with the character, but straight away it was great with Kristen,” he remembers. “She is a really great actress.” Many critics agree – Stewart is indeed an accomplished young talent, showcasing her range in the likes of Into The Wild, Adventureland and the forthcoming Joan Jett picture, The Runaways. If Pattinson is to be held in the same regard his next few films will prove important.

First up, of course, comes Remember Me, which was released in cinemas on Friday. “So often in scripts, every single young guy who is a lead is often such a stock character,” he explains. “But my character, Tyler, wasn’t really coming from an obvious place and wasn’t ending up in an obvious place either, so it gave me much more to work with.” The film unfolds in New York, with Pattinson’s brooding character the central player in a familial tale that revolves around the failing relationship with his father, his incredibly sweet relationship with his younger sister (a charming Ruby Jerrins) and his own burgeoning relationship with a new belle.

“In a lot of ways, I am quite like the character,” Pattinson continues. “There’s a kind of moment, I think it’s the end of the adolescent period, when you think that you have to be an individual so much, and you want to stamp your identity on everything. But then you get to your early twenties and are much more accepting of being part of the world, and not wanting to drive everything away from you. I kind of had that when I was in my early twenties.”

Pattinson, of course, is still in his early twenties, and the world is at his feet. After the last Twilight movie is completed he hopes to start work on a western, Unbound Captives, directed by The Last Of The Mohicans star Madeleine Stowe, and is already looking forward to it. “I love westerns. Everyone always asks me how I feel about Twilight changing my life and it’s weird because it doesn’t always feel that way for me,” he says. “Although, of course, now I have the chance to do something like a western. But as regards everyday life, in London, for example, I always thought it would’ve changed by now but it hasn’t really. I was in the HMV on Oxford Street on Christmas Eve and there were Twilight posters everywhere, but no-one noticed me. It was great.

“Big franchises do open doors and they do close others,” he says. “You can say, ‘Oh if I was still unknown, then no-one would judge me’, but at the same time, nobody would give a shit either.” He laughs. “It’s a weird balance. And most of the time, you are just guessing what you should do, so I guess I’m just doing scripts that I think are good.”

Clearly, Hollywood is interested. He sets young hearts racing, and young hearts thump away inside bodies that can spend a lot of cash on franchises they love. Meyer’s novels have sold millions, while the two films in the on-screen saga have thus far generated more than $1 billion in worldwide box-office takings. With DVD sales, the studio will be looking to double that figure. “In America, things are a bit different,” says Pattinson. “I can’t do anything over there because I don’t want to have any stories written about me. I have absolutely zero interest in anyone I see in gossip magazines all the time.”

His mother might disagree, though. When Pattinson first began topping the Sexiest Guy polls and making newspaper headlines, she cut out the clippings and tucked them away. “She did send them to me but I don’t like looking at them,” says the actor with a smile. There will be many more cuttings to come. Pattinson’s star has risen, and it doesn’t look like diminishing any time soon.

Remember Me is in cinemas now.

The Herald Scotland

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