Robert Pattinson has swept away his teen idol persona in one fell swoop, thanks to Cosmopolis. ShortList’s Jonathan Crocker talks off-piste career choices with a reluctant superstar
Five minutes after meeting her, Robert Pattinson found himself having sex with French actress Juliette Binoche in the back of a limo. “She literally turned up and was like, ‘Let’s do it,’” he grins.
“It was just hilarious. There wasn’t enough room in the limo so she was banging her head on the ceiling.” So this is what’s it’s like to be Robert Pattinson. “It’s just boring,” he counters, almost apologetically.
What happens when you’re mega-rich, mega-handsome and mega-bored? You flip out. You get in a limousine and go on a ride that could change your life forever. Bouncy, backseat sex with an Oscar-winning actress. Boozy, late-night clubbing. Rabid crowds trying to get their hands on you. You beat up a guy in the street. You kill a man...
Hold on a minute. This isn’t Robert Pattinson’s real life. Well, it isn’t and it is. His startling role in David Cronenberg’s new arthouse psychothriller Cosmopolis – dark, sexy, violent, cerebral and possibly the weirdest film of the year – is exactly the one he’s been waiting for. A film impossible to understand, yet makes perfect sense.
In the most daring performance of his career, Pattinson plays a 28-year-old multibillionaire travelling across Manhattan in a stretch limo to get a haircut. By the end of the film, he’ll have destroyed everything he possesses to create an exciting, dangerous future.
“I want more,” Pattinson tells a bare-breasted hooker who is aiming a high-voltage Taser at his naked chest. “Show me something I haven’t seen before.” Well, here it is: Pattinson escaping from the Twilight zone.
Since transforming from an out-of-work London actor to hair-gelled bloodsucker Edward Cullen, Pattinson has been engulfed by a tsunami of fan frenzy not seen since Leonardo DiCaprio failed to shove Kate Winslet off that floating door in Titanic. He sees his own face everywhere: on posters, on merchandise and magazine covers. Fans send him vials of their own blood and scream terrifying things such as, “Rob! I just want to touch your hair!”
He stays in hotels and needs 25 bodyguards to protect him at premieres.
“People used to go absolutely insane,” he says. “They couldn’t hold themselves together at all.” Doesn’t he wish it would all just go away? No, actually. “I’m clinging on to that for dear life,” he laughs. “That’s my career!” That’s the problem and Pattinson knows it.
In Twilight, he plays a 107-year-old vampire trapped in the body of a 17-year-old boy. In real life, Pattinson’s curse is worse: he’s a 26-year-old actor trapped in the body of a 107-year-old vampire. “I mean, playing the same part for a while... You just run out of ideas. You feel kind of useless, you don’t know what to do any more. I’m not trying to get away from it. You’re screwing yourself, you’re saying you think your work is sh*t if you try to get away from it. And I never thought it was. I kind of got to the end of my inspiration. You get to the point where you’re like, ‘I don’t want to do a film for a teen audience any more.’”
Exactly what Cosmopolis is, though, Pattinson’s still not sure. “Normally, you’d think that if you read a script and you don’t understand it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” he says. “But if it’s a Cronenberg movie, you have to do it. It was a strange situation.
I asked David what it was about and he said, ‘I don’t know what it’s about either.’”
In the most superficial light, Cosmopolis is a film about sex, death, money and power. It’s a film about a man ripping his world apart to start afresh – and that’s Pattinson’s game plan, right there. “I think the script was so bizarre, we thought it was quite funny it was even getting made. Literally. It’s totally ridiculous. Ninety per cent of it is in a limo and it’s about getting a haircut and being worried about your asymmetrical prostate. It feels like an absolute ‘F*ck you’ to any kind of hope of commercialism.” Twi-hards, then, are in for a massive shock. “I’m curious who, if anyone, sees it,” says Pattinson. “It’s such a weird movie.” He laughs. “I guess, because I’m in it.”
As far back as he can remember, Pattinson has been at the mercy of girls. When he was little, his two older sisters would dress him up as a doll and call him Claudia. His mother, a model-agency booker, helped him get modelling work at the age of 12 and – via some amateur theatre and some forgettable TV – he got his first big break playing Reese Witherspoon’s son in period drama Vanity Fair.
He was promptly left on the cutting-room floor by director Mira Nair. But it looked like he’d hit the motherload when he grabbed the biggest role of his career as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. Then everything went wrong. He got fired from a play in London three days before opening night. He flew to LA – where he played music, got drunk and went to see films he wasn’t starring in. His agent let him sleep on her couch even though he hadn’t worked in a year and a half. “I thought the whole thing was over,” he admits. “I just didn’t know what I was doing.”
While he was dossing, director Catherine Hardwicke had been busy interviewing 5,000 young men – including Orlando Bloom, Hayden Christensen and Henry Cavill – for the lead role in her adaptation of a teen romance novel written by a Mormon housewife. Pattinson had never heard of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, but he slung a quarter of a Valium and spent four hours in Hardwicke’s bedroom with Kristen Stewart. Four years, four movies and a lot of screaming later, he’s Britain’s second-richest actor (behind Daniel Radcliffe), worth more than £30m and one of the ‘100 Most Influential People In The World’ according to Time magazine.
But he can’t remember the last time he went for a beer like a normal guy. “It’s extremely rare,” he sighs. “I don’t know why. Something about my face. People just recognise it really quickly. Kristen can go out and people don’t notice. She can hide in crowds. For some reason, I can’t really do it.” He thinks for a second and laughs. “I probably give myself away by walking around with a hoody and a hat and sunglasses, bent over and hiding my face. I probably look like a lunatic.”
Can he remember the last time someone didn’t recognise him? He thinks. For a long time. Then remembers sitting next to a French footballer on a talk show [Grand Journal] in 2009. “There were teenage girls screaming outside and I’ve got Eric Cantona just staring at me going, ‘Who are you?’” I was star struck. Then his nieces asked for some pictures...”
For some time now, Pattinson has been quietly attempting to dodge the Twilight spotlight and disappear in darker roles. Depression-era romance Water For Elephants saw him take a beating from Inglourious Basterds villain Christoph Waltz. Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas were all seduced-and-destroyed by his 19th-century sexual predator in Bel Ami. “But every single time, a Twilight comes out and inevitably eclipses whatever I’ve done in the meantime,” sighs Pattinson.
But with the vampire saga due to end this year and Cronenberg hailing Pattinson a “profound” talent, Cosmopolis could mark the end of Pattinson’s frustrations and the start of a (sorry) breaking dawn. Next up, he’ll star in psychological drama Mission: Black List, based on the novel by military interrogator Eric Maddox about the capture of Saddam Hussein, before joining Guy Pearce in The Rover, a new crime thriller by the writer/director of brutal Oz gangster epic Animal Kingdom. Most of his fans won’t be old enough to buy a ticket.
The next 12 months will push Pattinson into the talented Hollywood Brit-pack that includes Andrew ‘Spider-Man’ Garfield, Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill and Tom ‘Loki’ Hiddleston. Sure, he hasn’t been offered a superhero yet. But fast-forward 10 years and could we be looking at Bond? “Yeah, definitely,” he says. “But more like 20 years. There’d be nothing worse than, like, ‘Let’s get a fresh-faced Bond!’ That would be the worst idea in the world. After Daniel Craig, you have to have some baggage. It would be ridiculous to reinvent it as some young posh kid. Or, if it was, I’d have to be tortured in the first few scenes. I’d have to do the first film with one arm or something.”
The turning point
Anything could happen in 10 years. A decade ago, Pattinson was a teenage waiter, scoring tips for fun (“I’d see a group of five drunk divorcees and I’d always end up going home with a load of money”). It was Pattinson’s 26th birthday a few weeks ago (“I got £25. My friends all gave me £5. It was a very thoughtful present”) and he knows it’s just Twilight and fame that’s been holding him back.
“I think 26 is the turning point,” he says. “I’ve got to make up for 10 years of living like a degenerate. I’ve suddenly become conscious of being unhealthy. You’ve spent every bit of free time since [the age of ] 15 in a pub. And suddenly you’re like, ‘Oh God, I don’t want to be this grey ghost sitting there with a pot belly. I’ve got to get it together.’”
Getting it together means a new life mantra. “Don’t be a pussy,” he states. “Basically, that’s the best thing you can ever think. I’ve had so many occasions in my life where I’ve acted like a pussy and regretted it. Have you seen that Tyson documentary? That bit where he says he’d defeated the guy before he’s walked into the ring, it’s the same thing. With acting, I was always so scared. But you get to the point where you realise it doesn’t matter.”
Take it from a vampire. Scary is OK. Scary is great. “Oh man, I was terrified on Cosmopolis,” he laughs, as we near the end of our conversation. “There was a sex scene and I was cringing. The girl was really comfortable with her clothes off – and I’m not. She took all her clothes off and I was just sitting there going, ‘Um, I haven’t got my ‘ball-sack’ on...’ F*cking amazing.”
Cosmopolis is at selected cinemas from 15 June