Seemingly overnight, Robert Pattinson went from playing Voldemort’s roadkill in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to being the immortal half of one of the hottest screen couples of all time. He spoke with TIME about how he landed the role of Twilight‘s Byronic vampire Edward Cullen, what it’s like to be a generational crush and how to walk unmolested along the streets of Vancouver.
TIME: You took on an edgy vampire movie and it’s become this. Did you know what you were signing up for?
Robert Pattinson: I had no idea it was going to be like this. I really had no idea until… I guess I still don’t. The time that it hit me really was when we were shooting in Italy and the emotional reaction — it wasn’t just screaming. It was like people were so intently listening and watching. After every take there was polite applause. And it wasn’t hysteria. It was literally devotion to the characters. It was amazing. I haven’t felt that in any other situation. (See TIME’s photo collection: The New Moon cast portraits)
Casting Edward was crucial to the franchise. What did Catherine Hardwicke see in you?
I don’t know. I was a little intimidated by Kristen in my audition. So I played it like a guy who is beating himself up a lot about everything. I don’t think anyone else did it like that. I think they concentrated on the confidence aspect. If you read the book, you know he’s the perfect man, ideal man. If you’re a guy you have certain ideals about what you think is attractive. And that’s why I didn’t go into it for ages, because I thought I’d end up being silly in the audition. I’d be posing. I guess I tried to ignore every aspect of the confident hero of the story. And I played the extreme opposite. It didn’t end up being that in the film. (See TIME’s gallery: 90 years of vampires on the silver screen)
If they’d cast the other guy for Edward, would the franchise have been as successful as it is today?
I honestly don’t know. No matter how famous I get as an individual, it’s always evened — or even surpassed — by the fame of Edward Cullen. That’s got to mean something. I don’t mind that. That’s just the way it is.
Why are America and the world so mental about it?
I was just in Japan, but when I first went there in February, the people who went to the fan events there were mainly people who went to American schools. This time it was entirely Japanese the audience. No one could really speak English, but they reacted in the same way as they have around the world. Even the distributor was saying, Japanese audiences don’t react like this. And they were stunned by the whole thing.
There must be this weird, primal thing in people that they react to. There are so many love stories that come out. So many vampire stories that come out. Even the load of vampire stories coming out now have the exact same story line. This doesn’t have the same reaction. I think it’s all about being part of a club. People used to say it was a guilty pleasure. But I don’t even think it is that anymore. I think people genuinely appreciate that they are part of something.
How can it continue at this level?
I have no idea. It kind of feeds on itself by the looks of things. It seems to have got from the beginning of this year to now. I was just talking to the head of the studio who said they are only 25 percent through the campaign for New Moon. And the tracking on the movie is ridiculous. Even random celebrities are asked, What do you think of Twilight? It’s insane. I remember saying at Comic-con last year that I didn’t know where it could go from there. I didn’t know how much bigger it could get. I guess this time they are getting guys to watch it. Guys were the only other place left to go
Yes, man is the Twilight growth market. They shoot the movies very quickly for a lot of reasons — momentum for one, but also because vampires don’t age. Does that throw pressure on you to, well, look exactly the same?
I don’t really think about that. I think I definitely look older in this one. But then I look younger in the third one, which is just weird.
A whole generation will remember you as Edward. You’re a generational crush. Is that hard to live up to or difficult to accept?
There’s no living up to it. I think the major fear is just fighting too hard against it. Most people who have a downfall from a like situation is when they do try to fight, and fight and fight: I’m not this teeny bopper person, blah, blah, blah. Even if a lot of people see me and the franchise as like that, I never have, at any point. But I don’t feel the need to fight against it. I’ve never tried to pander to any kind of audience. I’ve tried to make the films as intelligent and uncheesy as you could. And I’ve tried to make them the best they can be. I’ve never thought about it any other way. So I hope that pays off.
A lot of celebs use disguises to escape their bubble. What’s been your worst?
In Vancouver, shooting New Moon, I tried something. They have this thought that no one there wears hoods except for problem people. It’s the only city in the world where hoods are not fashionable. It’s like if you’re wearing a hood you’re going to mug people. So it’s a boring disguise, but it worked when I wore a hood. And then I’d sort of spit on the ground a little bit and do a little bit of shaking around as you’re walking. Everyone moved around to the other side of the street.
Can you go out of the bubble?
You can go out. The only difficulty is when there are people waiting outside the exits where you are going. You will get followed. It’s the following that’s the worst part. If it’s just getting a photo taken outside the exit, that would be OK. But it’s the following that takes away your freedom.