_A semi-charmed life
For someone who appears to be such a part of the mainstream, Robert Pattinson is distinctly leftfield. For every big-budget blockbuster, there’s a smaller, weirder counterpart. He is an actor who has skilfully evaded the typecast, deftly hopping genres from high fantasy to psychological drama and now, in a twist that could come to define his career, he’s the caped crusader himself – in the rather unimaginatively titled, though no less spectacular, The Batman
It's an iconic role for an icon himself. Thanks to the tween-and-teen-baiting emo-romance of the Twilight saga, Pattinson became that icon overnight, an almost unearned accolade as the source material already held the power. Yet he’s proved not just to be the next in a long line of heartthrobs, an actor who encapsulates a character so completely for legions of adoring teens that they fail to appreciate it as fiction; Pattinson is a versatile, intelligent, often enigmatic actor, who has forged quite the career.
His fans love his brooding, bad-boy appeal, but Pattinson is apparently not really like that at all. Apart from the not-so-proud moment of being expelled from school for dabbling in the fiscal redistribution of adult pictorial literature, and despite his arch-emo turn as Edward Cullen in the Twilight franchise, he’s a pretty straight player and someone who’s learned his craft, and life skills, on the job.
Looking back to his childhood, he saw himself as fairly normal. He wasn’t interested in acting; it wasn’t even on his radar. He was focused on being a musician. “I started acting almost by chance at school while I was writing music and playing in a band,” he says. “That developed in me a love for cinema – and the artier side of it – and I built a really strong friendship with the owner of a local video store. This guy would teach me about the classic icons of film, among them James Dean, Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. It was a true education.”
Pattinson’s first taste of acting came in amateur theatre. Then, at 17, he picked up his first big role in Sword of Xanten, a made-for-TV fantasy flick which, due to requiring him to spend over three months in Cape Town, South Africa, taught him much in the way of independence
A year later, he was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – joining an already hugely successful franchise and paving the way for that limelight-hogging Twilight rollercoaster. It was an intense time for the actor, with his on- and off-screen romance with co-star Kristen Stewart taking up far too much of anyone’s time. And yet, between wizards and vampires, Pattinson was pretty much set.
“I always thought after I signed on for all the other Twilights, ‘It’s going to be 10 years before it bounces out a little bit’,” he says. “I knew that would follow me around for a while, and I guess it has taken about that amount of time for me to be considered as an actor away from that series.”
That bounce, though, has come – and then some. He also gladly acknowledges his good fortune – “I have been pretty lucky, consistently lucky,” he says – and explains that he is most at peace when he’s working. This lucky streak has given him opportunities for philanthropy too, in particular the GO Campaign which helps orphans and vulnerable children around the world. And his musical ambitions remain – he pops up with performances here and there.
Still, downtime between films makes Pattinson anxious and restless: “It’s kind of like I need a break from my break, because I accelerate and accelerate when I have got nothing to think about. I just need structure – which comes from a job.”
Those early years weren’t all a walk in the park though. “Early on I was able to find a job, live off the money as long as I could, and then just as I would be running out of cash I would find another role, and it kept going like that,” he says. “I wasn’t really worrying about my survival, and I was able to get used to the business while I was trying to figure out who I was and where all this was going. Then by pure chance I auditioned for Twilight, which changed everything – although at the time no one thought it would turn out to be such a blockbuster.”
Still, the spectre of Twilight was, he admits, a little frustrating. “I knew it was going to take some time before people would be able to see me in a different way and that I would have to take on a lot of different roles to shake up people’s expectations of me,” he says. “It’s normal because of the massive success of those films, but in the long run I’ve tried to benefit from the attention I gained and find as many interesting roles as I can.”
He now professes to feeling happy in himself, with friends and family – “I have a really good set of friends; we know each other ridiculously well… we are all in kind of relatively similar positions and mindsets,” he says. And when he sold his $6.5 million house in Los Feliz, a quiet hillside residence in Los Angeles, Pattinson admitted it was because it was too big. “I usually spend my time in one room anyway and I’m not cut out for an excess of all that materialistic stuff”.
Indeed, Pattinson has learned pretty quickly not to let the glare of the spotlight blind him to the realities of living his own life. “I don’t think about the attention really,” he admits. “It’s easy for actors to lose themselves in that delusional world, and some people get too attached to their success. When things start to go badly in their careers, they find that they have no real identity or life of their own to fall back on.”
That said, he admits he does enjoy meeting fans. “I try to make whatever few moments I have with them seem real, but on the flipside, being followed by six or seven black SUVs sometimes when I leave my house can grate a bit.
“I have got used to the attention - it’s much easier for me now and I don’t even think about it much anymore. I just get on with my life.”
Turning 36 this year, Pattinson is indeed moving on with a career that offers so much and, with the right choices, could see him elevate to one of the all-time greats. Having become A-list material very quickly, he holds a particular position of mutual appreciation: his favourite directors want to work with him too. As Australian actor Guy Pearce, his co-star in gritty Australian drama The Rover said at the time, “I wasn’t aware of what he was capable of... on the second day of shooting, I said to the director, ‘He’s really f***ing good, isn’t he?’”.
Pattinson has become close to the legendary and celebrated director David Cronenberg, giving him opportunities to accentuate his penchant for off-the-wall roles that are “a little dangerous”. In Cosmopolis, a twentysomething billionaire’s life unravels in a limo; in Maps to the Stars, a dark Hollywood-set satire, he plays an aspiring actor who drives a limo. Such simple set-ups allow Pattinson to shine. Later, The Lighthouse (not Cronenberg this time, but Robert Eggers, and equally odd and unsettling) sees he and Willem Dafoe explore more dark psychological material. Pattinson credits Cronenberg, who offered him Cosmopolis soon after wrapping on the final Twilight film, as a turning point. “I want to keep making those kinds of films and doing that kind of work,” he says. “When he asked me to do Maps to the Stars, I said ‘yes’ before I read the script!
“It didn’t really matter what role I played because when you work with someone of David’s talent you know it’s going to be a very interesting experience. I would rather make more difficult kinds of films than be part of projects which you’re supposed to ‘carry’, or which are calculated to move your career forward. I like having the freedom to do what I want, and I’ll just see where that takes me.”
Pattinson also got the chance in Anton Corbijn’s Life to play Dennis Stock, an iconic photographer of other icons such as James Dean. Stock’s story was tragically compelling. A poor parent with narcissistic tendencies, his ambition and self-doubt collided so much that he resented being the man who took that iconic ‘Dean smoking’ shot. Highlights abound in a stellar career: a bank robber with a conscience in Good Time; an explorer in The Lost City of Z; an archaeologist in Queen of the Desert – Pattinson’s versatility is clear and his portfolio impressive, and let’s not discount his work with Dior. And while Covid has slowed his aspirations down a little, he was there in Christopher Nolan’s 2020 landmark Tenet, the movie that tried to bring cinemas back to life.
And then another dark turn, perhaps his darkest yet, opposite Tom Holland in The Devil All The Time, as Reverend Preston Teagardin, a truly dastardly preacher certainly not following the example he’s supposed to be setting.
He arrives then, as do we, at The Batman, a reboot so heavy with hype that all eyes were on Pattinson as he transformed himself into another character from rich, beloved source material and a rabid fan base with often unmeetable expectations. As with so many of his movies, fans and critics alike hailed it as ‘his best work yet’.
“People have asked whether I doubted I could fulfil the role, and I would say, ‘yes, of course, lots of it!’. I think any actor will go through periods where they will hesitate and question whether they can live up to a character in a script, or even the expectations that go with it.
“You look at the true warriors of the superhero genre – Hemsworth, The Rock, Downey Jr, Evans – and wonder if you’re putting yourself in the wrong place. And yet, having spoken to a few I know everyone is nervous when the opportunity comes about.
“It’s all about pushing boundaries and building up to a point where you know, in the flesh, you can do justice to the physicality required. That’s a very different thing for me because so many of my roles have been in script, not in physicality.”
Having left the weird and wonderful of Hollywood behind, he’s enjoying life with actress, model and singer Suki Waterhouse in London. Yet despite nailing perhaps the biggest role of his career, and acknowledging that for some people he’ll only ever be Edward Cullen, he’s by no means done – something tells us the best is yet to come.
By Richard Aldhous