SINCE being bitten by the acting bug, Twilight hunk Robert Pattinson has been cutting his teeth on a role that melts millions of teenage hearts.
A betting man or woman probably wouldn’t have put money on Robert Pattinson being the next big thing. This is a guy who was expelled from school, only joined a drama club because “there were pretty girls there” and, well, isn’t exactly the most classically good-looking bloke around.
Granted, he did score a small role as prefect Cedric Diggory in two of the Harry Potter films, but after he was sacked from the 2005 play The Woman Before at London’s Royal Court Theatre, the odds of him toppling Daniel Radcliffe from his lofty place as hottest young Brit on the block looked slim.
But that was before a certain film called Twilight came along, which (for the benefit of non-tweens and uninitiated Twi-hards – as ardent fans are known) is based on author Stephenie Meyer’s phenomenally successful book of the same name.
The Mormon mother-of-three famously knocked out the tale of a tortured ‘vegetarian vampire’ and his mortal squeeze after tucking her sons up in bed, and became the biggest publishing phenomenon since Harry Potter’s J.K. Rowling. (Meyer has since published three further books in the saga – New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn – which have sold an astonishing 70 million copies worldwide, 2.8 million of them in Australia.)
Teenagers the world over fell in love with Edward Cullen (the vampire) and Bella Swan (the squeeze) and it was only a matter of time before a film was announced. Web chat rooms buzzed as fans waited breathlessly to hear who’d play the hauntingly handsome hero and were monumentally disappointed when the relatively unknown Pattinson landed the role.
In fact, 75,000 fans signed a petition against the actor’s appointment and called for a boycott of the film – not the most auspicious start for a next-big-thing in the making. “That was my welcome into Twilight,” he jokes now.
But teenagers can be a fickle bunch and when the movie was released late last year, audiences lapped up the romance between Edward and Bella (played by Kristen Stewart). Suddenly Pattinson, with his overstyled hair, pale skin and resemblance to James Dean (not that his younger fans would know who Dean was), became the vampire du jour.
Now his rogueish features (he’s rumoured to have started working out and had his rather British teeth fixed) are plastered on magazine covers, TV screens and websites worldwide and paparazzi document his every move.
The UK’s Glamour magazine crowned him sexiest man on the planet and GQ Australia named him one of the most iconic men of the past decade, alongside Barack Obama. Not bad for a self-confessed “chubby-looking guy” who was largely unknown 12 months ago.
It’s been a heady rise to the top for the 23-year-old Londoner, but it’s all still sinking in. Speaking from Vancouver, where he’s shooting the third film in the series, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (the second film, New Moon, is in cinemas next month), Pattinson says working on back-to-back films has left him little time to read – or believe – his own press.
Asked how he’s coping with the fame, he says, “I don’t really know, yet. I’ve pretty much been locked away as things have intensified. I only noticed the scale of it as I was shooting another movie (Remember Me, a romantic drama with Aussie actor Emilie de Ravin) in New York and tons of people turned up at the set every day. I guess I’ll find out next year what my life is like outside a filmset context.”
The star has just wrapped up a 12-hour day onset, where he’s been shooting a fight scene all week, and is apologetic when he stumbles over his words. “Sorry, I need to wait for my brain,” he explains.
“I need to get it back into thinking mode.” After working almost non-stop since January, he admits he needs a holiday.
“Before these movies, I worked about 10 days a year and that was more my pace,” he laughs.
If Pattinson is letting fame go to his head, he’s showing no sign of it today. He plays the self-effacing, hesitant Brit to a tee, admitting his parents are prouder of his achievements than he is. “They’re always saying I should be really proud of myself, but I say, ‘It’s luck, everything is just luck.’”
As for the excitement that constantly swirls around him, Pattinson feels the attention can be detrimental to his work. “The more hype that surrounds you, the more conscious you are of what you’re delivering, and I find that hard to deal with. The more people build up your persona, the more you shrink inside yourself. I have to keep fighting against that.”
The youngest child (he has two older sisters) of a model scout mother and vintage-car dealer father, Pattinson had a comfortable upbringing in an affluent suburb of southwest London. Reports have claimed he was bullied at school, but he says the worst he suffered was “someone stealing my shoelaces when I was about 11″.
What is true is that he was expelled from his private school, but he becomes uncomfortable when asked why. “I was only trying to be inventive,” he finally offers. “I thought it was unjust that I was expelled. I really liked that school.”
He had no plans to pursue acting as a career, only joining the Barnes Theatre Club because of those “pretty girls”. (He also did a bit of modelling, but says the work offers slowed once he matured and “stopped looking like a girl”.)
But the club led to him landing an agent, the role in the 2005 and 2007 Harry Potter films and, ultimately, a meeting with Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke.
Pattinson says he was the last actor to audition for the vampire role. “I guess the producers were getting a bit desperate by then,” he says modestly.
He did a scene with Stewart, who’d already been cast as Bella, and both women knew they’d found Edward.
Hardwicke says after the audition Stewart immediately told her: “It has to be Rob.”
However, the film’s production company, Summit Entertainment, still had to be convinced. “There was a call from the head of the studio,” Hardwicke told GQ magazine in the US. “(They asked,) ‘Are you sure you can make this guy handsome?’”
Now it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Pattinson playing Edward, his brooding eyes filled with barely disguised longing for Bella (nobly, he doesn’t drink the blood of humans and refuses to consummate his lust in case he takes a lovebite too far), but the star says he had no idea the film would be such a hit.
“I didn’t know anyone who’d read the book before the film came out. I was completely ignorant of the whole Twilight thing.”
Since it opened at No 1 in 23 countries (taking a healthy $21.7 million at the Australian box office), it’s been difficult to find anyone – well, under 20 at least – who hasn’t heard of Twilight. And fans have become increasingly obsessed with the idea that Edward and Bella’s onscreen passion may have spilled into real life.
This idea reached fever pitch in August, when Pattinson and Stewart were spotted looking amorous at a Kings of Leon gig in Vancouver, and there have since been alleged sightings of the ‘blissfully happy’ couple in secret assignations all over town.
A cynic might argue this are they/aren’t they speculation is a publicity ploy to get even more bums on seats when New Moon opens but, if you believe the tabloids, the pair are on the verge of coming clean about their relationship. All Pattinson will say is that he’s “pretty close” with all the Twilight cast.
“We’ve been locked in this kind of bubble,” he adds. “I know very few people in the US other than those I work with, so it’s been nice.”
What hasn’t been so nice is the restriction on his movements due to the ardent attention from fans and the ever-present paparazzi. Eclipse co-star Jack Huston recently said Pattinson has been isolated by his new-found fame because he’s “sort of jailed to his room. He can’t leave without being followed by 100 people. There’s a price to fame. Hopefully, he’s handling it OK.”
Pattinson admits he was a shy child (who’d even freak out if someone made eye-contact with him on the bus), so to have his every move documented must be tough. However, he’s learning to deal with the attention.
“The paparazzi pressure (is hard) because you have a bunch of people who want to see you do something stupid. Sometimes when you’ve done a 16-hour day, you just want to go and have dinner, but they’re waiting for you to make an idiot of yourself. It takes its toll eventually.
“You have to be a little sneaky about everything. That said, none of my strategies works particularly well. I’ve (tried) making my life look as boring as possible because I thought it would cause them to lose interest, but it didn’t,” he sighs.
He’s also growing used to his fans’ more bizarre requests. “A seven-year-old came up and asked me to bite her – and she was serious. I thought, you don’t know what you’re asking. That was very odd.”
For the record, Pattinson doesn’t get the ‘vampire thing’. “People always ask if I’m a vampire fan and I don’t really know what to say,” he explains. “I’ve since found out there’s a sub-culture of people who like any film or book to do with vampires, no matter how they’re portrayed. I find that strange.”
He claims not to worry about the possibility of his star waning when the Twilight saga has finished and the fans have moved on to the next big thing. “If people like you, they like you. I don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throat,” he says firmly.
Immediate plans include the New Moon press tour – although Australia isn’t on the agenda – and a trip back to the UK for Christmas (”I miss London quite chronically at the moment”).
However, the self-confessed “frustrated rockstar”, who plays guitar and piano and sang two songs on the Twilight soundtrack, says he’d eventually like to record an album.
“I’m not particularly interested in releasing it, but I’d like to do some gigs. I guess the only way to do that is to get an album out,” he muses before admitting he needs more guitar practice. “I never manage more than five chords,” he laughs sheepishly. “I have to work on that.”
He once described music as his back-up plan if acting failed, but we’re not likely to see Robert Pattinson singing for his supper any time soon.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon is in cinemas Nov 19. Remember Me is in cinemas Feb 11.