Robert Pattinson knows a thing or two about the price of fame, so it’s worth listening when he says he worries about the child stars he meets in Hollywood. “When you see these kids, there is only one way: you either get in therapy now or become a serial killer, or kill yourself. I mean, you can see it really early on—it’s terrifying.”
There is just such a kid at the center of Maps to the Stars, one of two Pattinson films debuting at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Evan Bird, whom you may recognize from The Killing, plays Benjie, a vicious and entitled 13-year-old TV star, and Pattinson plays a chauffeur looking for a break in show business. Directed by David Cronenberg, who previously collaborated with Pattinson on 2012’s Cosmopolis, the film is a savage satire of Hollywood that also stars Julianne Moore as a hysterical over-the-hill actress, John Cusack as a diabolical life coach, and Mia Wasikowska as a warped avenging angel of sorts.
Pattinson has a meatier role in David Michôd’s post-apocalyptic road movie, The Rover, portraying a not-very-bright hoodlum who falls under the spell of Guy Pearce. As the two make their way across the Australian Outback, Pattinson’s character grows more confident—and more deadly—by the minute.
VF.com spoke to Pattinson at Cannes, where his ex-costar and -girlfriend Kristen Stewart also has a film debuting, and quizzed him about how he prepped for the roles, what he finds most ridiculous about Hollywood, and how he handled sudden superstardom at the tender age of 21.
VF Hollywood: David Michôd has talked a lot about the back story for The Rover, which is set “10 years after the collapse.” How much did he tell you about your character?
Robert Pattinson: Well, not a lot. I kept questioning that aspect of it. “What is this economic collapse? I want to know the details about it.” Then I realized it didn’t really make any difference to my character.
Guy Pearce’s character refers to your character as a “half-wit.” Were you playing him as someone with a real disability, or just someone who hasn’t been that well educated?
I was thinking he’s almost like someone who’s been told there is something wrong with him and there actually isn’t—but he has been told there is so many times that he has just sort of accepted it.
He reminds me a bit of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.
Yeah, I think there is a similar trajectory. But even if he does prove himself in a dark situation, he really really never wanted to do that in the first place—and it sort of breaks him.
What about those brown stains on your teeth? Was that a process every day?
Yeah, I mean, initially it was [supposed to be that] they didn’t have fluoride in the water so everyone’s teeth were messed up, but then I end up being the only one with really messed-up teeth. I put it down to, he was just one of those kids who didn’t brush his teeth. I think it’s quite a distinct person, and I knew a few of them in school—kids who had brown teeth at 11 and were always, like, really weird.
Are you an end-of-the-world guy? Do you think the end is near unless we change our ways?
Um, not really. Probably because I’m just quite ignorant and I have a nice life. I think everything is quite cyclical. There are definitely some incredibly worrying things—and for the sake of what? So you can play video games all day? It’s kind of ridiculous.
It does seem like there might be a comeuppance at some point. Especially if we behave like the people in Maps to the Stars.
I think they will just eat each other. I don’t think they will affect anyone else. They’re too self-absorbed.
So when David Cronenberg called and said, “Let’s do another movie together,” were you excited?
Yeah, I hadn’t even read the script and I was like, “Yep.” That was another character who didn’t have any kind of back story or anything. I said, “What kind of guy do you think he is?” And he said, “I don’t know, what do you think?” And we are shooting in two days and I’m like, Great. It’s exactly what happened on Cosmopolis. We don’t talk about it at all and then turn up and every single scene I did was one take. It’s ridiculous.
So he just lets you read the script and find the character yourself?
With Cosmopolis, he knew exactly what he wanted. With Maps, he just liked what I was doing on the first take.
Were you guys worried at all that there may be some backlash in the community if you’re making fun of Hollywood people?
I don’t think we were really making fun of it. Though I like how basically the only bad review we got was from The Hollywood Reporter.
You struck a nerve.
I don’t really think it’s taking the piss out of Hollywood. It’s very specific [to these characters]. I think Benjie is probably the truest character. I’ve met a lot of kids like him. The scene with him and the little girls bitching about everybody—you just see that a lot. When you see these kids, there is only one way: you either get in therapy now or become a serial killer, or kill yourself. I mean, you can see it really early on—it’s terrifying.
You got famous pretty early on. How did you cope with that weirdness of being so wealthy and famous at such a young age?
I did Harry Potter when I was like 17, and nothing really happened after that. I mean, I made loads of money compared to anyone my age—it was incredible. But I mean, then I just did little TV things afterwards. But I got to live from 18 to 21, you get your own apartment and basically I didn’t star in Twilight until 21. It’s different because you’re still young, but you’ve had a life beforehand. Where as if you are 10, it’s a totally different thing.
Did you meet Justin Bieber at the Vanity Fair party the other night?
I didn’t, actually. I’ve met him before, though, on his party bus. [Laughs.] I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s all right. [Laughs.]
If you were going to direct a satire of Hollywood, which part would you single out?
I don’t know. People do a lot about aging women, but have you ever read this book called Money by Martin Amis? I thought the old actor, Lorne Guyland, was such a great character, where you can’t let go of being an alpha-male movie man but you’re like 78 years old. It’s funny, because it’s such a feminine trait. It’s so funny how your entire life is being a macho man, but only in movies.
You do a little singing in The Rover, and I hear you’re working on an album. Can we expect to hear some music soon?
I don’t know where that came from. Every few years, something comes out about that. I’m always trying to work on stuff, but I don’t know. I’m kind of like, way too sensitive to criticism; I’ve got enough criticism on one front.