Once best known as the undead teen Edward in the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson is slowly but surely reinventing himself – from broody cutie-pie to go-to leading man.
Stormont may be in crisis and regional unemployment rates do not make for happy reading, but at least Northern Ireland can boast – albeit temporarily – one Robert Pattinson.
Last month, the former Twilight and Harry Potter star delighted two Co Down newlyweds when he agreed to join their wedding hooley. He also hit Cypress Avenue to mark Van Morrison’s 70th birthday, and has been deemed a most excellent sport when it comes to Belfast-based autograph and selfie hunters.
Even by Pattinson’s own account, the sun shines just a little more intently when he graces the northeast: “It’s been sunny every time I’ve been here,” marvels the heavily bearded young actor. “They tell me it rains. But I haven’t seen it.”
Pattinson has decamped to Ulster with a purpose. Following in the footsteps of Game of Thrones and the incoming Dad’s Army reboot, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is the latest major production to shoot across various Northern Irish locations, including Methodist College, Strangford Lough and Craigavon House. Not that Pattinson has spent too much time in these stately locations. “I have mainly been on the boat that’s falling apart,” he laughs.
The Lost City of Z charts the exploits of the British explorer Percy Fawcett who, in 1925, disappeared in the Amazon while looking for an ancient lost city. In the subsequent years, as many as 100 explorers and scientists have gone missing while attempting to find evidence of Fawcett’s party.
Pattinson of Arabia
Bizarrely, the film is the second Pattinson vehicle this year to feature a 1920s British explorer: he recently played Thomas Lawrence (yep, Lawrence of Arabia) alongside Nicole Kidman in Werner Herzog’s Gertrude Bell biopic, Queen of the Desert.
Is he single-handedly attempting to revive a sub-genre?
“Do you know that I didn’t even think about that until yesterday,” says Pattinson. “I have no idea how it happened. Admittedly, one is in the desert and with Z we’re heading out to the jungle. But they are similar things. I signed on for both movies years ago, and it is weird that they came together at the same time.”
Both Pattinson and principle photography will soon depart for Columbia. I hope he’s had all the relevant shots?
“Ha. Are you reading my emails? I was talking to another actor yesterday and he was telling me about all these different shots. I don’t have anything yet. Should I be worried about this stuff? Because I had been thinking that maybe I should just butch it out.”
Is he, fresh from the Werner Herzog shoot, planning to go full Klaus Kinski in the jungle?
“They did have all these crazy ideas involving smaller crocodiles in the river. But I think my character is going to be a pussy. I’m a little worried about the monkeys. There are hundreds of thousands of monkeys everywhere in Columbia. There are more of them than birds. Have you seen the video of the monkey saving the other monkey’s life? They may take over.”
We’re not too surprised that Pattinson’s career has brought him to far-flung, monkey-infested, mythological spots. Having started big – as in Forbes’ Celebrity 100 big – as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Edward Cullen in the Twilight sequence, Pattinson (29) has moved stealthily into auteur circles. As well as Herzog, he has worked with David Michôd (The Rover) and twice with David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars).
Is the actor who was listed among Peoplemagazine’s 100 most influential people in the world at the age of 24 purposely avoiding mainstream projects?
“Only in the sense that with all the massive mainstream things I come across, the characters all become a little homogenised,” says Pattinson, who jokingly – but not really – describes himself as an “oddball”. “And so it is kind of like you either play a cliche or do an impersonation of another actor. If a big movie came along that [has] a weirdo character, then I wouldn’t be scared off.”
Is he staking arthouse luminaries, or are they the ones banging on his door?
“A bit of both. James Gray has been one of my favourite directors for ever and ever. When I saw Two Lovers, I thought it was one of the best films I’d ever seen. On a really profound level. I tried to do three projects with him. None of which happened. So Z is a dream come true. Herzog was more random. But if you get the opportunity you are going to work with him.
“I have been trying to work with Claire Denis for a while and that’s supposed to be happening, which is insane. Then there’s the Safdie brothers. They’re the future of cinema, I think.”
Spoken like a proper buff.
“Hmm. When I was younger, I was a real film buff. When I lived in London, I would watch an enormous amount of films. I seemed to have more patience with German New Wave films and so on. Now I don’t know what’s happened. I feel I have had a minor stroke and all I can watch is reality TV. I am grabbing on to the few remaining brain cells.”
Adding to Pattinson’s already impressive auteur tally, director Anton Corbjin’s Lifecasts the actor as photographer Dennis Stock, who snapped the iconic “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” shot of James Dean in 1955.
The film chronicles the brief friendship between Dean (Dane DeHaan) and the Life magazine photographer. Stock, despite being essayed by the awfully personable Pattinson, is far from an easy sell as a hero. A failing father and artist, he never appears to be comfortable in his own skin. The London-born star has seldom looked, well, greasier.
“He has that thing,” nods Pattinson. “I don’t know if it’s a typical thing for actors. Maybe other actors push it away. But it’s always at the forefront of my mind: thinking you are a fake and trying to get back that confidence to start performing.
“There are parallels between myself as an actor and him as a photographer. Something within you is telling you to do it when every other aspect of your mind is saying ‘you’re a fake, you’re a fraud’.
“Dennis Stock has a sort of desperate self-loathing. He is one of those people who is so incapable of loving himself that he can’t love anybody else.”
The RPatz tag
Charming and ever so self-deprecating, it’s hard to reconcile Robert Pattinson with the super-global-megastar known about red-topped newspapers as RPatz. I tell him that the first time I happened upon that particular abbreviation, I snorted and thought: it’ll never catch on.
“They call everybody something, I suppose,” he says, cheerfully. “I would love to know what the reason was for that. I always like to think its contempt masquerading as admiration.”
Thus, RPatz is an Orwellian creation who is engaged to musician FKA Twigs and who may or may not be planning to have a pub wedding with crisps, a shotgun Vegas affair or a grand castle blow out. His mother Clare may or may not approve. And so on.
“My mother has Google Alerts,” he says. “It’s the most abominable compulsion. The most embarrassing thing is looking yourself up. Nothing can affect you at all if you don’t look it up. People who do pay attention to that stuff think they are trying to connect with the real world. But comments on the internet are not the real world. Thankfully.”
Far away from the madness of being RPatz, Robert Pattinson can’t bear to watch himself onscreen.
“I don’t really like watching the film when it’s done. Sometimes I like watching it with an audience. But if you don’t like it, it is a really shitty feeling. I like watching playback on some movies. Because you might still be able to fix something. But it’s tricky. Because it’s not your call.”
Does he otherwise enjoy the process?
“Well, it’s weird. Because I didn’t really set out to be an actor. At school my drama teacher told me, whatever else I did, to not act. So when I started acting I always felt like the underdog. I felt I have to prove something. Fifteen years later I still have that deep- seated memory. I will probably always have it.”
He laughs again: “Oh, well. What am I saying? I think that brain damage is kicking in again.”