The Twilight franchise assured his fortune, made him a teen hearthrob and brought him worldwide fame, yet Robert Pattinson seems indifferent. With such superstardom, international appeal and good looks, he could be making Hollywood blockbusters and amassing more wealth and fame, but instead he has been chasing roles in small and often obscure art-house movies, such as Bel Ami, Little Ashes or Cosmopolis, whose box office gross could never get remotely near the Twilight’s $3.3 billion.
Money and fame, however, is the last thing on the 28-year-old actor’s mind, he tells me when I interview him for my BBC arabic Alternative Cinema show at the Cannes Film Festival, where two of his art films were premiered: David Cronenberg’s Maps To the Stars (in the main competition) and David Michod’s The Rover (in Un Certain Regard). Most likely, the screaming fans, who came from distant lands to catch a glimpse of him marching up the red carpet, won’t be making any such efforts to watch these films that he is so proud of.
“I hope they will do and enjoy them,” he grins. “I just try and do things which are challenging and hopefully people appreciate it. I make these films for myself, because if you’re trying to please anybody, you can’t predict what an audience wants or what the critics say or anything about what a movie is going to do. I think what made me happiest is working with directors who for one thing I love their movies, their previous movies and it feels like a special experience working with them.”
Those directors are auteurs, usually on the fringe of mainstream cinema, which Pattinson grew up watching from a very young age. The list includes Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg and Olivier Assayas. So when he received the offers from Cronenberg to star his movies, Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps to the Stars (2014), he leapt to these opportunities without even reading the scripts. And he spent two anxious months preparing for the audition for the part of a simpleton in Australian director David Michod’s dystopian crime drama, The Rover. He had liked the director’s previous movie “Animal Kingdom,” and was eager to work with him. The audition lasted 4 grueling hours. Amazingly, the entire film budget was less than $12 million, a far cry from Pattinson’s $20 million wage on the last installment of Twilight.
“I’ve just done a lot of parts where I was very, very still, and I am quite a sort of physically awkward person; I feel more comfortable being awkward, so it was easy. I don’t feel contained especially with this kind of character where you are kind of free to do pretty much anything. So it was very freeing just being a bit of mal-coordinate person,” he laughs.
Shooting the film in the Australian desert was also a welcome escape for the young star, who is invariably mobbed by paparazzis whenever he steps out of his house. “I just love it,” he exclaims. “Not only there’s no people trying to find you, there’s no-one at all and so it was much easier for concentration, and you are not worrying about someone trying to sneak up on you, so I found it incredibly peaceful and relaxing.”
Evidently, this freedom, peace and relaxation has paid off. In spite of the film’s lukewarm reception, Pattinson’s performance was unanimously praised by the critics, setting him on his coveted path of a grown-up artist.
Ironically though, in spite of his appreciation, love and passion for independent art-house movies, The English actor confesses that he watches mainly Hollywood movies for enjoyment, attributing this behavioural incongruity to his “weird” energy. “I don’t really gravitate towards working on them mainly because they just don’t come in to my orbit really. I don’t really see myself in a lot of parts that are kind of mainstream,” he explains, albeit adding that he wouldn’t mind playing a vampire again.
Pattinson is not the only one of Twilight’s alumni who is endeavouring to recreate his image as a serious artist. His colleagues, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, have also distance d themselves from mainstream roles and dived into the world of independent cinema, as if they were trying to distinguish themselves from others who attained an undeserving fame, and join the ranks of those who are famous for their contribution to art, society and humanity.
Speaking to Pattinson on several occasions over the last six years, I got the impression that his fame is akin to a prison that deprived him of the freedom that he used to have, but he acquiesced to it because he considered it part of the job. “You can’t really do a lot of the stuff you used to be able to do and that’s a little bit of a struggle but once you get through that thing, which I got out of 2 years ago, you just had to accept that your life is something else, and now I can’t really remember what my life was like before, and so it’s much easier to deal with,” he smiles.
Of course, fame has also endowed him with the freedom of picking up his desired roles and work with his idols, for which he is grateful. “I consider myself extremely lucky, which always makes me a little bit nervous,” he laughs.