The vampiric Brit says his iconic turn in Twilight has become a burden—though again and again he's stunned audiences with his smart, sensitive, and very un-Cullen-like performances.
Robert Pattinson isn’t Edward Cullen anymore.
For awhile, it seemed as if the eerily handsome British actor would have an impossible time getting past the iconic Twilight role that first brought him global fame and fortune. The series was too popular. His looks were too vampiric. And no one who plays the same part more than, say, three times ever really shakes it. (See: Connery, Sean.)
But in the years since the final Twilight installment came and went from theaters, Pattinson has begun to accomplish the impossible. Again and again he has chosen to work with brilliant auteurs—Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, James Gray, Olivier Assayas—and again and again he has stunned audiences with his smart, sensitive, and very un-Cullen-like performances.
Pattinson’s latest movie, a spare, dystopian Western called The Rover, is his finest work yet. Under the direction of David Michod (the excellent Animal Kingdom), Pattinson stars as Rey, a gut-shot simpleton from the American South who encounters Eric (Guy Pearce) in the sweltering, lawless Australian outback ten years after a global economic collapse. In the wake of a botched heist, Rey’s gang—which includes Rey’s brother—has left him behind to die. The gang has also stolen Eric’s car. And so Rey and Eric team up to track them down. Pattinson is absolutely magnetic in the role, transforming what could have a been an embarrassing caricature of a man-child into empathetic portrait of a wounded human being struggling to think for himself for the first time—and ultimately succeeding. Not many actors can make cogitation look so compelling. Pattinson, somehow, is one of them.
To discuss his work in The Rover—and his career more generally—Pattinson recently sat down with The Daily Beast in Los Angeles. He was as striking in person as he is on screen—thin, white v-neck t-shirt, two-day scruff, artful bedhead. His demeanor is more boyish, and less confident, than one might expect of a movie star; he rarely made eye contact as he spoke and he laughed, half-nervously, whenever he said something revealing.
“I forget how to act in between every single movie,” Pattinson confessed.
He went on to talk about why Twilight has become a burden; why he could never do what Jennifer Lawrence does; and why he loves to work with auteurs such as Harmony Korine, with whom he’s planning to collaborate next. Pattinson also shot down the rumors that he will be taking over for Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones or Han Solo in the near future—although he didn’t shut the door on all future franchises.
You've said that you “really, really fought” for the role of Rey. Why?
Weirdly, I got sent the script and misread the email. I thought it was an offer. I was like, “Wow. I know exactly how to do this—and I never get offered stuff like this, ever!” So I call up my agent and I’m like, “I want to do it! I want to do it right now!” I had wanted to work with David Michod for years before this. But then they were like, “No, it’s just an audition. What are you talking about?” [Laughs] I suddenly had this pang of terror. I’ve basically messed up every audition I’ve ever gone for.
So what did you do?
I just realized I have to get it, so I just put in an enormous amount of time—way more work than I’ve ever done for an audition before.
What do you mean by “way more work”? What kind of labor are we talking about here?
I mean, I would just run it literally 10 hours a day for, like, two weeks.
Completely obsessively, to the point where I was dreaming about it and stuff. I don’t know particularly what I was doing—just constantly thinking about it.
I guess it paid off.
[Laughs] Most auditions you don’t go in like you’re actually doing the movie. You do it like you’re doing an audition. But this I was just doing the movie in someone’s house. Full on.
You said you don’t usually get offered roles like Rey. How so?
Little weirdo roles. There are about five or six actors who have had a lock on them for years. [Laughs] I’m not sure what place I was really put in, but I wasn’t really part of that group of strange character actors—people who are a little bit “weak.” A little fragile and broken. I guess I wasn’t interpreted as being one of those people.
What was the biggest challenge for you in making The Rover?
Nothing really. Even before I got the part, I was so clear about how I wanted to do it. Really the only strange aspect was walking into the audition room and being like, “Am I doing this entirely wrong? I have no idea.” I had one little moment of panic. But as soon as I got I knew what I wanted the clothes to be, what I wanted the look to be—I knew everything. I wanted someone who couldn’t quite fulfill his emotions. He’s just constantly stuck between two things. And also someone who’s never really been required to think and is suddenly forced into thinking for the first time. Basically like playing a baby as an adult. It just felt so right, right from the beginning.
Did you base your portrayal of Rey on anyone in particular?
He’s a little bit like one of my cousins, actually. [Laughs] The clothes, the walk.
How was making The Rover different than making the Twilight movies?
It wasn’t freezing cold. [Laughs] I think that’s actually the biggest thing. When everyone’s so miserable because it’s so freezing cold…the boiling hot Australian outback I would take over the freezing cold any day.
The cold makes people stressed. There wasn’t as much light in the day to shoot with in Vancouver. And this was just, like, the same weather every day. There’s no one pressuring you to do anything. It’s David’s movie and there are basically only two people in it. You don’t have to rush anything. There’s only two egos you have to deal with. [Laughs]
The fewer egos, the better. Let’s rewind for a second: What made you want to be an actor in the first place—and what made you think you could do it?
I joined this drama club when I was 16 because I fancied this girl who went to it. [Laughs] I’d never done any acting before. But they were doing Guys & Dolls, and I’d never sung but for some reason I really wanted to be in it. [Laughs] I have no idea why, to this day. I did that, and another play afterwards, then randomly got an agent. But I think it was just the first time you do something—performance—it’s incredibly addictive. I remember doing Tess of the d’Urbervilles—the Thomas Hardy thing. I did this scene where I slapped Tess in the face. And just seeing people in the front row going [gasps in horror]—you suddenly have this massive burst of energy through you. Suddenly seeing people look at you like that—you’re like, “Wow! No one has ever looked at me like that before.”
It’s a strange feel. And then you start to feel it for yourself as you get older. You realize that you can get lost. It’s like doing music—you can do a scene and be like, “I don’t feel like myself at all.” And you don’t know where it came from. It’s kind of nice.
Getting away from yourself is an addictive feeling, isn’t it?
Yes. I used to play music all the time, and that was all I wanted to do in music—get to the point where you’re sort of floating. You don’t know how it happens, but it’s amazing. And it’s nothing to do with the audience or anyone else. You’re still probably shit. [Laughs] But it’s so addictive, and it’s so rare as well. You’re just constantly trying to go for that, every time.
Twilight was obviously a blessing to you. But how has it been a burden?
There’s been a lot of hate, actually. Honestly, though, I don’t understand the backlash against Twilight. The first movie, everyone liked it. But then it was suddenly… I don’t quite get why people turned on the other ones. There are plenty of successful franchises which everyone accepts. But for some reason there were all these political arguments against it. People saying, “Oh, it’s a bad example for women.” Blah, blah, blah. As if we were all a bunch of dumbasses. We’re not playing it that way! That’s purely your interpretation! We’re not trying to make a movie about subservient female characters at all.
In a lot of ways, people have decided what Twilight is about before they’ve even thought about it, and then they’ve labeled us, the actors, as part of whatever that may be. Even the sparkling thing. I get so many sparkly criticisms! But I don’t actually remember a moment of in any of the movies where I sparkle. [Laughs] Maybe one second in the first one. It’s like, really? All these fanboys are like, “You’re sparkling!” And I’m like, “Really? You must have freeze framed that one second.” [Laughs] It’s just the idea of sparkling—people lost their minds over it.
But at the same time you find that the people who think they hate you can be incredibly loyal. They go to see your movies to hate on you. [Laughs] That’s fine with me!
What about artistically? Has all the Twilight hubbub—the cultural obsession around it—given people an inaccurate sense of who you are as an actor?
I don’t know who I am as an actor. I’ve found that the Twilight movies were probably the hardest jobs I’ve done. You have so many parameters to play the character within, and also you’re doing five movies where you have to play the same point every time and figure out different variations on it. It was really hard. It was like trying to write a haiku.
Did Twilight make you a better actor?
Yeah. It’s funny, because the reviews got worse.
But now that you’re doing movies like The Rover—darker, deeper, more artistic movies—do you feel like you’re trying to escape from Edward Cullen?
No, not at all. I never even thought of all the Twilights as a single entity. They were all separate movies for me. I mean, I forget how to act in between every single movie. [Laughs] But I’ve always thought that nothing comes for free. You get paid a bunch of money. You get a bunch of opportunities. And you’ve got to pay for it somehow. And in my case, I paid for it by having to figure out how to walk down the street [without getting mobbed]. I paid for it by people thinking I was one thing. That’s my major desire as an actor—to have no one know who I am. To have no preconceptions. So obviously when a character becomes iconic, you have to deal with the baggage that comes with it.
Since Twilight, you’ve been making a point of working with auteurs: Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, David Michod. Why? Is this your way of making sure that people don’t peg you as “one thing"?
Those are the people I’ve loved since I was a teenager. It almost seems like a joke that I’m working with them now. They’re also people who have gotten performances out of actors that made me want to be an actor, before I even was an actor. Especially James Gray—Joaquin [Phoenix]’s stuff with James. That guy can get really singular performances out of people. And with Harmony Korine as well. Really it’s just limiting your margin for failure. I genuinely think you can’t fail doing a Werner Herzog movie or a Harmony Korine movie. You know they’re not going to just phone something in. They haven’t ever. Take Cronenberg. I still think Cronenberg is so cutting-edge—and he’s been working for 45 years. Whereas some people now are already flopping on their second movie. Already selling out.
Speaking of Cronenberg, you once said that making Cosmopolis “reinvigorated” your “ideas about acting.” How?
I just made me realize that I could be in those kinds of movies. All throughout doing Twilight, I got asked whether I was afraid of getting typecast. I started thinking, “Yeah, I guess I am.” Then I got cast in Cosmopolis, which was just so far from my wheelhouse, and I was like, “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t be afraid of being typecast anymore.” It freed me up. And I loved the experience so much—getting into Cannes was such a massive deal to me. I’m just trying to go after that again.
Which actors do you look at and say, “That’s the kind of career I want to have?”
I like what Joaquin has done. I’m always looking at his stuff—he’s been the most influential actor on me. And in a lot of ways I like Guy’s career as well. But he also does Australian stuff all the time, and I feel weird doing English things. I feel like I’m really naked.
What about someone like Jennifer Lawrence? She’s balanced two studio franchises with lots of meatier parts.
She’s amazing. She’s absolutely incredible. But also we’re different types of people. She seems like she’s super-confident—and I don’t have the kind of confidence. She glows. I think you can fit that into quite a few different areas. Whereas I’ve got a kind of sneak-through-the-cracks style.
The rumors are circulating, so I have to ask. Will you be the next Indiana Jones?
No. [Laughs] But I mean, I don’t know. That would be so funny if I suddenly got offered it. I’d be like, “Oh shit!” [Laughs]
So the rumor has no basis in reality?
What about another famous Harrison Ford role: Han Solo? The buzz is that you’re being considered for a standalone Solo movie.
Oh no. I think all of these things are made up so I get tons of bad press.
Bad press? Those are two of the greatest characters in the history of Hollywood.
But literally this random story comes out and I get 50 other stories saying, like, “THAT GUY? NOOOO! What an asshole!”
For the record, though: you’re a fan of Han and Indy?
100 percent. Everyone is.
Would you ever do another franchise?
Yeah. I’d have to put a lot of thought into it first. But in a lot of ways, those are the only big movies that are made anymore. [Laughs] So unless you just never want to do studio movies, you have to realize that you’ve got to do The Fault in Our Stars 2. [Laughs]