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11.10.09

Robsessive Compulsive

Twilight star Robert Pattinson’s ethereal good looks and off-screen love life have given the tabloids fresh blood. Barbara Spindel on the sexiest vampire alive.

Twilight star Robert Pattinson’s ethereal good looks and off-screen love life have given the tabloids fresh blood. Barbara Spindel on the sexiest vampire alive. Plus, Nicole LaPorte on watching New Moon as a Twilight virgin.

Robert Pattinson doesn’t just carry the blockbuster Twilight film franchise on his creamy, slender shoulders. The reluctant superstar has also become a cash cow for a gossip industry gorging itself on the epic are-they-or-aren’t-they or did-they-or-will-they romance rumors surrounding the 23-year-old Brit and his co-star Kristen Stewart.

Pattinson, whose most prominent part before landing the role of vampire Edward Cullen was as Cedric Diggory in two of the Harry Potter films, seems poignantly ill-suited for fame. Listening to his commentary on the Twilight DVD, you can practically hear him cringing as, forced to watch himself onscreen, he natters on about his appearance—rather than discussing, say, the movie—mocking everything from his “flat head” and “bouffant” to his “effeminate hands” and “sculpted eyebrows.” He is famously awkward with journalists: Shortly after being launched into the spotlight he told GQ, “During interviews I’m literally shitting my pants. I don’t want there to be a silence because I’ll start crying.” Even after a year of massive celebrity, he recently referred to himself as being “still like a deer in headlights,” and in the cover story of Vanity Fair’s December issue, timed to the release of New Moon on Nov. 20, he says, “I’m trying not to drown.” Furthermore, there are persistent reports that he does not shower. And yet, and yet, and yet...

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“Robert has been very good for business this year,” says Dan Wakeford, editor in chief of Life & Style Weekly, in an interview. “We’ve had a huge spike in sales by putting Robert on the cover. He’s been one of our two top-selling subjects consistently this year.” (The other? “It’s no secret we like the Kardashians.”)

Nicole LaPorte: I Was a Twilight Virgin

Video Gallery: Before They Were in Twilight
Wakeford thinks that Pattinson’s obvious discomfort with fame—and the fact that he avoids “the cheesy Hollywood limelight”—has only increased his appeal. “His little-boy-lost act attracts the soccer moms who want to save him and mother him, and it makes the teenage girls feel like they could actually date him,” he says. “The reader feedback we get—these people are obsessed with him!” (“Robsessed” is the term used to describe his rabid fans; it’s also the title of a documentary on Pattinson released this week.)

Mark Pasetsky, managing editor of OK!, says his magazine has also seen a Pattinson bump, particularly when the actor is paired with Stewart, although precise sales data on recent covers won’t be available for several months. “We definitely do better with them on the cover week after week,” says Pasetsky, who estimates that OK! has devoted “10 or more covers” to Robsten since the beginning of the summer. He describes reader fascination with them as “unlike anything I’ve seen in years” and calls RPattz’s fanbase “one of most loyal I’ve ever seen. One of the big reasons they love him is he doesn’t come across as a cocky actor. He’s really down-to-earth, a musician, very relatable.”

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton, who scrawls cute heart doodles on the photos he posts of Pattinson and who has cited OK! in particular as “schizophrenic” for its whiplash-inducing coverage (“Engaged!” and “Split!” screamed two recent covers), tells me that he isn’t surprised by the celebrity weeklies’ unremitting coverage: “He sells. It makes sense. They’re being smart.”

In addition to selling, Pattinson might also be changing the direction of the female-driven gossip mags, which have seen deep declines in circulation and which until now were more likely to feature a Brangelina or a Jon and Kate on the cover than a young male heartthrob. “Men traditionally aren’t great sellers on the cover of women’s magazines, and this has totally bucked that trend,” notes Wakeford, who says that the Pattinson phenomenon “does open my mind up to considering fresher faces on the cover.” Pasetsky says the success of the Twilight coverage has “opened us up to a younger audience.”

Gozde, a 32-year-old chemist who started the Robsessed blog at RobsessedPattinson.com (and wouldn’t give me her last name), says she had never fallen for a celebrity before but now finds herself devoting “a solid seven hours” a day to managing the site. When I asked her, via email, what about Pattinson appeals to her, she replied, “Oh, the million reasons” before proceeding to list almost that many.

In spite of all the madness surrounding RPattz, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Leonardo DiCaprio's breakout turn in Titanic, most of the fans I interviewed had a surprisingly sane perspective on the object of their adoration. Gozde, a 32-year-old chemist who started the Robsessed blog at RobsessedPattinson.com (and wouldn’t give me her last name), says she had never fallen for a celebrity before but now finds herself devoting “a solid seven hours” a day to managing the site. When I asked her, via email, what about Pattinson appeals to her, she replied, “Oh, the million reasons” before proceeding to list almost that many. Here are some: “For starters, he is beautiful. He is extremely self-deprecating. He is genuine, down-to-earth, and well-read. He looks like a Greek god yet acts like the geeky, shy guy that stutters when you talk to him.”

But Gozde, who was an ardent fan of Stephenie Meyer’s book series before seeing the film adaptation of Twilight, says the Rob/Kristen romance storyline in the gossip press is a non-issue for her, other than causing her “so much headache” on the blog. “If he’s not shagging me, I don’t care who he shags,” she reasons.

The 26-year-old married marketing manager who started LettersToRob.com and LettersToTwilight.com and blogs under the name UnintendedChoice is similarly cool when asked about Pattinson’s offscreen life. “I just really don’t care that much—I didn’t know people obsessed over celebrity relationships like this,” she says, adding, “I want him to come out of hiding, show his gorgeous face, and make me swoon onscreen. That’s it!” As for whether she buys many of the Rob-centric gossip weeklies, she says drily, “I don’t need a stash of celebrity mags taller than my house.”

With more fans like these, who, while certainly obsessive, limit their fixation to admiring his beauty and discussing his films and music, Pattinson just might be OK. He might also be relieved to hear Hilton’s pronouncement on the topic of his fame, based on the traffic on PerezHilton.com. “I’d say that he’s peaked,” Hilton declares, citing another vampire, this one from HBO’s True Blood, as the next big thing. “Someone like Alexander Skarsgard gets a bigger response these days.”

Time to batten down the hatches, Skarsgard.

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Barbara Spindel is a writer and editor who covers books and culture. She has contributed to Time Out New York, Details, Spin, the Barnes & Noble Review, Newsweek.com, and other publications. She has a Ph.D. in American studies and lives in Brooklyn.