."I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming,” Robert Pattinson says with a small smile. “I thought I’d be doing this tiny little film in New York, just hang out in New York.”
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Pattinson made the “tiny little film,” all right — a perfectly right-sized indie called “Remember Me” that opened Friday, with Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin as college lovers and Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper as the fathers who inevitably complicate things.
It was the filming itself that was over the top.
“It was nightmarish,” says director Allen Coulter, who handled the on-location shoot. “How he managed it, I don’t know. The paparazzi and the hordes of females?”
At one point in the movie, Pattinson’s character — a Holden Caulfield-ish rich kid named Tyler — has a chat with his tween sister in a city park. Coulter says hundreds of screaming fans showed up, hoping for a glimpse of the “Twilight” phenomenon.
“Just bedlam,” the filmmaker says. “But I thought he handled it very well. He thought about nothing but the film. He’s quite an actor.”
Co-star Brosnan — who wryly allows that “I’ve had my own fair share of admirers, long may it last” — says he was impressed by how Pattinson has been handling the “vortex of fame.”
“As a man of certain years and time in this business, and having sons, I want the best for this young man in every possible way,” he says. “And I think he’s acquitting himself grandly. I think he’s got a head on his shoulders.”
“Pierce was very mentoring on the set,” Coulter says. “He felt very paternal, certainly.”
The younger star’s appearances in public require a certain amount of forethought, subterfuge, quick thinking and stolid security. (During this interview, a very large and unsmiling man stood outside the door to his suite). The details of his private life — which he works hard to keep private — are the subject of rumor, analysis and outright fiction.
Case in point: his “Twilight” co-star Kristen Stewart. Since that movie series began, fans — and celebrity muckrakers — have tried to link them. First, the young stars denied a romance. Then they simply said nothing. Finally, haltingly, the actor confirmed to a British paper, “We are together, yes.”
But the two young stars still play it carefully, avoiding being photographed together, entering parties separately. “If there’s a photo, they’ll write a story about it,” a wised-up Pattinson observes. “If there’s not a photo, no one seems to care.”
Pattinson — who is rather shy and stammering in real life — doesn’t want to say anything more about it now; at a round-table interview late in the day, just an allusion to “your girlfriend” makes him laugh a little uncomfortably and roll his eyes before carefully saying nothing.
You can’t blame him. Any quote he gives is analyzed like some utterance from the Oracle of Delphi — or the Federal Reserve. When Details magazine recently put him in a Helmut Newton-ish photo shoot full of naked women, he joked that he was “allergic to vaginas.” The net erupted in a flurry of snarky posts and head-shaking questions: Was Rob Pattinson really gay?
“People take everything so literally,” he says now, running a hand through his eternally tousled hair.
It is all a little silly. But it also explains why, over a long day of press conferences, round-table interviews and private chats, the actor — who describes himself as “sort of uncynical and innocent” about love — is reluctant to give away too much about his private life.
“When the spotlight seems to be quite centered on you, the best thing I think anyway is to stay as much of a mystery as you can,” he says. “Don’t try to label yourself, don’t put yourself out there, because that only creates stories. . . . I don’t think your public persona is in any way helpful to your career.”
So here, with and without his help, are a few answers to the mystery of Robert Pattinson.
He was born in London in 1986; his mother worked for a modeling agency and his father was an upscale car dealer. He had two older sisters, who liked to dress him up as a girl (here comes another round of gossip), and attended a school he didn’t care for. He loved music — particularly guitar and piano — and by 12 had begun to do some modeling.
Acting, though, still wasn’t quite on his radar.
“I’ve always really, really, really, really liked film,” he says (and proves it, later on, by casually referencing classic Jack Nicholson performances and obscure Godard works). “I always watched a ridiculous amount of movies, and was quite educated about them from a very young age, but I never put it together about wanting to become involved with it.”
Then he joined an amateur drama club “as kind of a lark.” That he was good at it — that he enjoyed it — surprised him. (“I don’t like showing off — I don’t even like performing that much.”) But he started getting some parts on British television. And then came the role as the tragic Cedric Diggory in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
The Potter films were, of course, their own phenomenon. Yet Pattinson felt a little apart from it.
“The Potter films are shot at this random studio out in the middle of nowhere, so no one is waiting outside the gates for a glimpse, ever,” he says. “There’s nothing around. And I was still this complete enigma. I could kind of do what I wanted, and I could for ages. . . . I went to see Daniel (Radcliffe) do ‘Equus’ in London and no one even noticed me.”
Then Pattinson got the “Twilight” job. He knew the books were popular; he didn’t know what to expect from the movie. He got an apartment in Los Angeles and, after the shoot was finished, went back to looking for the next gig.
“Every single day, I’d go to a convenience store and get a bagel and a Snapple and read scripts,” he says. “And then, all of a sudden, I’m there on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Okay. And then the next day I went out to get breakfast and everyone was staring. And then a month later, there was the first Comic-Con and everything exploded. People were just screaming. Screaming.”
The almost orgasmic reactions shocked Pattinson because “the books are really so much about chastity. But people sexualize it in their heads. It’s so odd, and so funny. The fan fiction that people write and post — all of it ends up with Edward and Bella in bed. Or Edward and Jacob. Or everybody! It sort of ignores the whole point.”
But then, he admits with a laugh, “I think I’ve got a problem with reading scripts. I always seem to take the opposite meaning. Almost every job I’ve ever done — I don’t know why this is — but I talk to people after I’ve read the script and they say, ‘You’re seeing this the wrong way entirely.’ I disagree with almost everyone about absolutely everything.”
But the people who know Pattinson — from studio employees to co-stars — agree on one thing: He’s a sweet, unaffected young man. The moody Edward of the “Twilight” saga, the impulsive, raging Tyler of “Remember Me” — they’re only proof of what a good actor he is.
Real acting chops
Brosnan talks admiringly about his “grace under pressure.” Coulter notes that although Pattinson had signed for his small drama before the fame of “Twilight” really “went haywire,” afterward he remained committed. He didn’t try to renegotiate the deal. He didn’t beg to back out so he could take on a bigger-budgeted, better-paying job.
“On the contrary, he really wanted to do it because he knew it was an opportunity to prove he wasn’t just this flash-in-the-pan guy from ‘Twilight,’” the director says. “And he does prove it ... He’s not extremely experienced, and he’d be the first to say that. But he’s very smart and very dedicated and very, very hard on himself. Not on others — he’s generous and complimentary about everyone else. But he’s not generous with himself. And that’s actually a pretty endearing trait.”
Pattinson says he just appreciates the chance to prove he can be more than a glittering vampire.
“I was reading tons and tons of scripts and thinking about what to do after ‘Twilight,’ and there were so few that didn’t follow the same pattern,” he says. “Young guys, completely innocent virgins who learn the way of the world — every single story followed the same pattern, and (‘Remember Me’) didn’t really at all. It didn’t feel like it started at the beginning and ended at the end. It felt like it sort of started with chapter nine and ended seven chapters before you expected it to.”
Pattinson knows that people will attach outsized expectations to the movie just because of his participation. (“If it doesn’t make any money, what is he? What is his worth to the world?”) But he’s trying to ignore them. He’s already working on his next project, a new version of de Maupassant’s “Bel Ami,” playing a heartless seducer. And there is the third “Twilight” picture, “Eclipse,” scheduled for June — and, eventually, the series’ finale, “Breaking Dawn.”
After that? He shrugs and laughs.
“I don’t really know,” he says. “I hardly like any (scripts) I see. I’m sure it will end up looking quite random when you see what my next jobs are.”
Besides, right now, his main job is just trying to have a normal life.
He is not complaining, not really. And even if he’s sick of the paparazzi, he is certainly not whining about his fans, the “Twihards” who stand screaming outside premieres or shakily hand him photos to sign.
“People coming up to you in the street is nice,” he insists. “It’s just when people know they can make money off your life, that’s when it becomes difficult — because they’re relentless.”
So he has strategies.
“It’s a bit of a hassle, but if you make sure you don’t go where the crowds will be, if no one finds out where you’re staying or having dinner, then it’s fine,” he says. “People say I should just accept it, don’t let it rule my life, but having photographers surrounding me when I’m trying to have dinner? That’s not life for me at all. If you can avoid that — which is possible, most of the time — then it’s not crazy every single day.
“And then when it isn’t,” he adds with a grin, “then you can actually enjoy the kind of hysterical parts.”