There’s a shift in energy when a star of a certain status enters a building. You feel it when Kate Moss walks into a room – the atmosphere becomes oddly charged. And you sense it when Robert Pattinson is ten feet away, on the other side of a door in a Beverly Hills Hotel suite. Even though the hotel is a daily stop-off point for celebrities – Rachel Zoe is in the Polo Lounge today having lunch, in a large floppy hat; January Jones was in the lobby the previous night – Robert’s presence has created a palpable current in the air. Trim, immaculate Parisian women from the house of Dior (he recently signed a deal to be the new face of Dior Homme Fragrance) wander up and down corridors, wielding clipboards looking prettily nervous. “Robert – ‘e is ready, yes?” whispers one through the door as an inscrutable security guard nods me into the room that contains one of the most endlessly discussed movie stars of the decade.
The figure who gets up from the sofa doesn’t carry himself with the self-entitlement of someone who commands $25 million a picture. Or like Edward Cullen, the mysterious, ethereal teenage vampire that handed Robert Pattinson fame on an almost unimaginable level. He’s boyish and self-consciously polite as he shakes my hand, like a nervous, well brought-up adolescent meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. The hair that launched a thousand fansites is concealed today with a baseball cap worn back to front. He’s wearing a soft, navy jumper, dark jeans and spotty socks with his black trainers – the uniform of the middle-class west London boy, strangely incongruous amidst all this LA affluence. It seems ridiculous to describe him as handsome. Of course he is – he’s Robert Pattinson. But he’s not beautiful in the pristine, toweringly confident way you expect of screen icons. More like a teenage boy who doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with his aesthetic lottery win.
Pattinson famously doesn’t like this part of the job – interviews and scrutiny – but there’s no hostility in the room today, more the sense of a friendly young man at a wedding forced to sit next to an elderly relative, chuckling diplomatically at my jokes, connecting his thoughts with a lot of LA-inflected “kind of”s, “sorta”s and “like”s. He’s sweet, surprisingly open and giggles a lot. Swigging Diet Coke and endlessly puffing away on electronic cigarettes, he chats about Dr Who (“I’ve never seen a episode. That’s really bad isn’t it?”) and Game Of Thrones (“Everyone’s obsessed by it. Crazy”).
He knows a great deal about “crazy”, having been catapulted to a level of fame that defied all expectation. A role in Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire saw him heralded as “the next Jude Law”. Then, in 2008, he beat 3000 others to land the lead role in the Twilight saga. His life was transformed.
These days fragrance campaigns have become a deliberate career move for A-list stars, who sign endorsements with big fashion houses for beautifully shot campaigns with reputable directors. And who better to represent your brand than the man at the centre of a movie franchise worth over three billion dollars? Clever Dior. The ads are impressively atmospheric, like a grainy, Warhol movie, shot against New York skylines by Nan Goldin with Robert running along rooftops and engaging in passionate clinches with a young French actress. He looks like a brooding James Dean. His hair had been cropped almost army regulation short.
“Initially I was going to shave it off. I wanted to have really short hair for it.” He pauses thoughtfully. “I guess it was out of fear, really. You’re doing an ad and you don’t want it to look like you’re posing.” He’s been offered big-money deals before of course, probably on a daily basis. It seems an unlikely move for someone so overtly private though, doing an ad campaign. So why now?
“Before, I was so obsessed with thinking, ‘People are going to think you’re a sell out,’ and now of course, every single actor in the world has done one. In the past I always said no to everything, I thought I’d be so judged for it.” What made him change his mind? “Dior came up and it felt right. It was a big decision – I’ve turned down plenty of others at the last minute before.”
Of course he has. Twilight was not without its price. Pattinson lives under constant siege from paparazzi and frenzied fans, and his private life is debated on a daily basis. There is to be strictly no mention today of his high-profile split from Kristen Stewart, but I wonder if he feels the pay-off has been worth it? The franchise has, after all, given him the money and studio muscle in Hollywood to pick and choose what he does next.
“Kind of. It can be a really difficult transition from something like Twilight: once people identify you with something like that it’s hard to find your way out of it. And also, I mean, I’m not that easy to cast because of my… physicality. I’m quite lanky. You can’t exactly see me in a sports film or something, can you? I’m never going to play ‘one of the guys’”.
Surely he knows he’s leading man material? “I don’t know,” he puffs on his electronic cigarette and laughs. “Maybe I have body dysmorphia.” Does he see himself as good looking? He frowns. “It depends, sometimes. But I’m weird about my looks. Once you get photographed a lot it changes you. I remember when I first did Twilight I didn’t care about how I looked – there was less pressure, I guess. I was like, ‘I’m cool as shit!’” he laughs.
And now there’s pressure in abundance. The night before I’d seen him at a Dior event in LA to launch the campaign. He’d arrived looking dashing in a navy suit and answered questions dutifully, but he seemed curiously shy for someone so used to being photographed and stared at.
“Every time I appear somewhere, I think, ‘I don’t know how many more times I can do this’. Dressing up to go somewhere and be looked at – I get so nervous. Up until the second I have to leave, I’ll get changed a million times. It’s crazy. Literally just before I go I look in the mirror and think, ‘You look like shit’. I start worrying about wrinkles.” He’s 27. Really? “Honestly. Everyone who works with me knows they’ll have to sit there and wait for me to go through my process of having my panic attack about how I look.”
It’s hard to decide whether he would have chosen this path had he known what he knows now. He was a middle class boy from an affluent west London suburb, the son of a model booker and businessman who fell into joining a local drama group as a teenger. And, as he point out, no one knew that Twilight was going to take off (“it was all so unexpected – the studios hadn’t even bought the rights to the other books, so they ended up getting screwed over”). Actors like Daniel Craig and Matt Smith at least knew what they were signing up to, playing characters that inspire fan conventions and entire industries. Despite the success of the novels, no one could have predicted the feverish response to the Twilight movies.
No one had any idea. But it was good for me in a way, because I see people who sign up for huge movies and they don’t have the opportunity to say, ‘I didn’t know this was going to happen’. This is my get out of jail free card,” he smiles ruefully.
“It means I can say I can behave how I want because I just got here by accident. It makes it easier to say things like paparazzi piss me off. I can say that I didn’t want that and I didn’t know it was going to happen.” It’s the most emphatic he’s sounded all morning, the one time he doesn’t seem like a teenager.
Twilight was his launch pad but his other movie choices have been slightly more under-the-radar, often consciously chosen independent projects. He played Salvador Dali i low-budget Little Ashes, and starred alongside Reese Witherspoon in the commercially low-key Water For Elephants. He recetly finished filming Australian thriller The Rover with Guy Pearce, and reunited with director David Cronenberg this year for Maps To The Stars with Julianne Moore, a satire on Hollywood excess and celebrity culture – something he presumably has a great deal of insight into. It’s his seconf time with Cronenberg who cast him in Cosmopolis, a critically acclaimed sci-fi drama that won a nomination for the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. There’s definite sense that Robert Pattinson wants to move on and grow up. He’s doing a Johnny Depp.
“I got really lucky with Cosmopolis. I got it towatds the end of the Twilight movies and I felt it kind of legitimised me a bit.” Did he feel he needed legitimising as an actor then? “Not that I’m putting any of the Twilight stuff down, but it’s kind of…” he pauses carefully, fast-fowarding to how this might read in print and sensibly change tack. “It was more that it was so out of the blue getting a David Cronenberg movie and then getting to go to Cannes afterwards. It was like… massive, I guess.” He adds: “I ever really felt like an actor before.” Why not? “Because I just sort of fell into it. I mean, I knew I had quite good taste in films and I knew what I wanted to be in, but I don’t think I really knew how to act. It felt like I was just figuring it out as I went along. With Cosmopolis I was like, ‘OK, so I can actually do this other thing’. It’s a struggle once you do teen moies: the bigger they are, the harder it’s for people to allow themselves to see you in anything else, and it feels like a massive thing to overcome.”
He’s at pains to lead a relatively low-key life here in LA. The paparazzi photographs are still in plentiful supply, featuring him loading a ping-pong table on to his pick-up truck; buying groceries (“Robert Pattinson stocks up on toilet paper!” screamed one headline recently), but he shuns red-carpet events and publicity, andd hates Twitter: “That thing is a nightmate – why would I want to attract any more attention to myself?”, and he seems to have the same group of friends he always had, notably Sienna Miller’s partner, the actor Tom Sturridge, who he’s known since childhood. Famous people always retrospectively say they had a sense of their own destiny – did he? Was he the school poster boy who everyone wanted to date, captain of the pretty team?
“No, I never hung out with the ‘cool crowd,’” he says, aghast. “Actually, in my school, if you wanted to be in the cool crowd you had to go round and jack people’s phones, so I wasn’t part of that set. My little group of friends – who actually are still my little group of friends – and this sounds lame, be were artists really. We never got invited to the cool parties and if we did, we just stood in the corner on our own.
There’s something slightly vulnerable about Robert Pattinson. He’s an unusual candidate for the job of Hollywood movie star, where soundbites, media training and thick skins come with the territory. He strikes you as an introvert whos found he has a great talent doing an extrovert’s job, and learning how to adapt. But what if he adapts too much? How does he stop becoming spoilt?
Because you see other people doing it all the time. It’s so easy to go down that road and be a total dickhead. I remember working with this guy once. It was his first movie and we were three weeks in. He was having a conversation with someone and he’d just finished his waster bottle and was holding it out, waiting for someone to take it. I thought, ‘You’ve been here three weeks!’”
“I guess maybe I’m too sensitive. I don’t want people not to like me,” he shrugs. “I actually find it difficult to ask people to do things for me. If you start bossing people around, they’ll just take it, because they have to. Then they thing, ‘OK, you’ve bossed me around, now I’m going to talk shit about you behind your back.’” We get on the subject of his nickname, R-Patz. He pulls a face – he’s not keen. “I just don’t understand that nickname. It’s just so random. I don’t think it’s a term of endearment, either. It’s just like…” He shrugs and holds out his hands in a gesture of bemused frustration. “You can’t force people to respect you.” He laughs. I guess… it’s an odd little thing, is what it is.”
He’s fronting a fragance campaign so we inevitably discuss scent. I wonder what smells he likes on a woman? “You know, it’s funny, but you can tell quite a lot about someone from the way they smell, don’t you think?” I tell him I once dumped a guy because I didn’t like his smell. “Exactly, it’s weird. You can tell how good a person is, in a funny sort of way. People who are weird – I think they smell weird. It’s like a totally animel thing. If someone’s body scent reacts to you in a certain way, it can be amazing. It’s massively powerful.” I ask him how I smell. “I couldn’t say,” he laughs politely. I’m the elderly guest at the wedding again. “I don’t know you very well.” My embarrassing moment is relieved by one of the Parisian ladies telling me we’ve almost run out of time. “One more question,” she says.
What would he like people to say about him? What would he like his legacy to be? “I don’t know. I guess I’d wat them to say I’m a really good friend.” He smiles. “Does that sound like I’m saying I’m the greatest person in the world?”
There’s plenty of women out there who think he is. But perhaps he’s juat a guy in a baseball cap, trying to give up smoking, who’s doing his growing up in public. And I think he’s making a pretty good job of it.
Scans thanks to @Gossipgyal