NY Times: The Vampire of the Mall
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. — There are times when the limitations of the printed word come into focus, like when there is a need to convey how it sounded when Robert Pattinson, who stars as the vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen in the forthcoming movie “Twilight,” stepped onto a riser at the King of Prussia Mall outside Philadelphia on Thursday evening in front of more than 1,000 mostly teenage girls.
Robert Pattinson, the star vampire of the film “Twilight,” greeting a line of fans at the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania.
In collective pitch, frequency and volume the sound would make a shuttle launching seem demure, a Jack White guitar solo retiring, a jackhammer somehow soothing. To reach into history, it may have approached Beatles-at-Shea-Stadium loud, replete with the weeping, swooning and self-hugging, and only the ambient flutter of cellphone cameras and furious texting by way of modern update. All of it was arrayed over a mostly unknown British actor who plays a character in a movie that will not be released until Friday.
“What is with all the screaming?” Mr. Pattinson asked when he came out. He absently ran his hand through his hair. Pandemonium ensued. He tugged at his white T-shirt in response, ever so nervously. Oh, boy. Then he laughed good-naturedly at the absurdity of it all. The smile was just a bit too much. A girl in a “Team Edward” shirt fell into the arms of her friend. “I can’t stand it!” she said.
Along with other members of the “Twilight” cast, Mr. Pattinson is touring stores of Hot Topic, a retail chain that mines the sweet spot between teenagers and pop culture, in malls across the country this month. It’s not so much to gin up interest in the film but to feed the monster it has already become. For his Thursday appearance fans arrived outside the mall the night before to get a ticket. The first 500 would receive a quick autograph on a poster and the rest a chance to see Mr. Pattinson make a brief appearance.
And when he did, the crowd didn’t see an actor. They saw Edward Cullen, the perfect boyfriend who just happens to live on blood.
“Twilight” comes to movie theaters with a long and profitable back story in print: four novels and 17 million copies sold. Written by Stephenie Meyer, a first-time author who’s now 34, the series originated with a dream she had about a young woman and her love for a vampire, who returns her love while managing to avoid his urge to bite her.
The books that followed take place in cloudy Forks, Wash., where the Cullens, a group of sun-shirking vampires, live among humans but do not prey on them, drinking animal blood instead. Bella Swan, a shy, bookish young woman, is drawn to one of them, Edward, even after she comes to understand the danger. A proffered apple on hands of pale flesh, on the cover of the first book, suggests the chaste urgency of their love, and Edward becomes Bella’s protector after another, less well behaved vampire, James, takes aim at her tender neck.
So you have your against-the-odds teen love, your woman in peril, your vampires and your cult following, but “Twilight” frenzy still has the capacity to shock. Last Monday there was a huge crush outside a mall near San Francisco, and a girl ended up with a broken nose. When Mr. Pattinson appeared at the Apple store in SoHo the week before, one young fan asked him to bite her.
“The connection that I am an actor playing this character is sort of skipped,” he said, laughing during an interview before the throng was admitted to the Hot Topic store here. “They are in denial. They think I am Edward Cullen.” Mr. Pattinson, 22, said he had no idea what to make of his situation, about to meet thousands of teenage girls — and many of their mothers — who were flat-out in love with him.
“It is bizarre,” he said. “People come from three states away and walk up to you trembling. I feel that I am at a disadvantage here because I can’t provide this mystical thing that they came for in the two seconds we have.”
No one was complaining. Laci Turfitt, 14, had arrived the day before with her mother, Shirley Turfitt, 48, and sat outside all night, sustained in part by thoughts of meeting Mr. Pattinson, along with the pizza and hot chocolate provided by Hot Topic.
“It’s a love story with romance and mystery,” the elder Ms. Turfitt, of Telford, Pa., said. “The seduction of the series is hard to pass up.” Up and down the velvet-rope line were little girls, moms, goth teenagers, mall rats and even the occasional emo boy. Each had a brief moment with Mr. Pattinson, who sat at a table and quickly signed posters before they were trundled off. Ms. Turfitt at least had a bit of a moment when she finally made it to the front of the line: “You are adorable.” Her daughter, like many of the young women in line, could barely mumble hello she was so overwhelmed.
Alena Marsh, 19, from Lancaster, Pa., managed to show Mr. Pattinson a tattoo above her ear of a small apple and the word “lamb,” which is Edward’s nickname for Bella. Afterward she leaned on a kiosk outside the store, tears streaming down her face as other fans rushed to her. “He was this close,” she said as they squealed. “Close enough to bite my neck.” OMG.
“When he comes to our store and meets with these fans, he is becoming Edward,” said Betsy McLaughlin, chief executive of Hot Topic, adding that “a license like this comes along once every few decades,” mentioning Harry Potter, SpongeBob SquarePants and “South Park.”
That kind of blood lust means the movie could have a huge opening at the box office — the film’s soundtrack is already No. 1 on the Billboard album chart — and Summit Entertainment just signed a film deal for the rights to “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” the second and third books in Ms. Meyer’s series. If a young wizard starts to come to mind, a T-shirt worn by a fan at the mall winked at the prospect. “I never got my letter from Hogwarts,” the front said, and on the back it continued, “So I am moving to Forks to live with the Cullens.”
Nancy Kirkpatrick, president for worldwide marketing at Summit, said: “We think it can be huge, but there is no exact model for this kind of movie. We took superhero movies as our approach and anything that seems right for that. You want it to feel big, to feel like an event. You want your hero to be a hero, and you want to identify your villain. We took those tactics and used them for a female property.”
The last movie the “Twilight” director, Catherine Hardwicke, made, “The Nativity Story,” also depicted unconsummated love between a mortal and a nonmortal, but that’s where the similarity ends. Ms. Hardwicke also directed “Thirteen,” a very different take on teenage sexuality, and “The Lords of Dogtown.” She was at the Apple store for an appearance with Mr. Pattinson and was ready for a frantic response, partly because she had seen young fans showing up to observe the frigid “Twilight” shoots in the mountains of Oregon.
“You have the story of a young woman falling so deeply in love that she doesn’t care if she dies or becomes a vampire,” Ms. Hardwicke said. “There is something so dangerous and alluring about it, and it all goes off in this very lush mountain backdrop. It’s an obsessive love that’s not that far from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ or ‘Titanic’ for that matter.”
Many showings for the first weekend are already sold out, according to Rick Butler, chief executive of Fandango, an advance movie-ticket sales company. “You have a very large fan base of very Web-savvy fans and all sorts of blogs for the film and in-store events,” he said. “Summit has done a great job of putting all that together.”
Back on the stage at the King of Prussia Mall, Mr. Pattinson continued to stand awkwardly but, somehow, fantastically beautifully at the same time. A local radio D.J. fed him written questions from the audience, but his answers were buried by screaming.
“Do you guys care about the questions, or do you just want to talk about nothing?” Mr. Pattinson asked.
A young woman in a shirt emblazoned with the Cullen family crest spoke for many: “We just want to look at you.”