On a balmy autumn day in Vancouver, Canada, a young man is longing for a walk outside in the sunshine, and deciding against it.
Far easier for him to stay in his hotel room, cocooned in five-star luxury, with a cellphone that has run out of charge, safe at least from the girls chanting his name outside.
Robert Pattinson, 23, from Barnes in southwest London, ought still to be one of Hollywood’s beautiful dreamers, moving up the ranks of movie acting, enjoying his American adventure, his guitar, his good looks. Instead he lives in danger of being trampled in a stampede of teen love. He plays the vampire Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga, the biggest books-to-screen phenomenon since Harry Potter – in which, by the way, Pattinson was Cedric Diggory, heroic golden boy and victim of Voldemort. Boy, his life has changed since Hogwarts.
In Canada, he is shooting Eclipse, the third of Stephenie Meyer’s quartet of novels. The second, New Moon, was released this month in a publicity extravaganza that involved shutting down New York’s Times Square. The last time the actor was there, the square was also closed to traffic, for an event only marginally more fascinating to the world: the election victory of Barack Obama. We talk on the phone. Even now, a year afterTwilight’s release, Pattinson sounds utterly stunned by the hysteria swirling around him.
“It’s been a little frightening,” he laughs, a sort of embarrassed chuckle, the sound of someone negotiating the best bit of luck they have ever had, not wanting to sound blasé or overexcited. “In England, no one had heard of the series when I went for the audition, so it has been a total, utter surprise. The change to my everyday life is so extreme. Before this, I was used to working 10 days a year. Originally, I did a three-picture deal, but I wasn’t even really thinking about that . I had no idea I’d still be working on it now.”
Does the poor boy, who still calls London home, feel he has to hide? “I tend to stay in the hotel because where I’m staying is publicised all the time. There’s always a bunch of people outside. I can’t really be in Los Angeles now at all. It’s not that the fans are threatening, but the paparazzi follow me all night.” This hounding can evoke an absurd sympathy, considering the kid’s fortune and prospects. But then he brightens, telling me he was buying a guitar the other day and had to spell his name 12 times, and the guy still didn’t twig. “I loved that.”
When he read the first script, he had no idea how to play it. “I thought Bella, the heroine, would be a damsel in distress and I’d have to be the alpha-male hero type, so I thought I was never going to get it. But then they cast Kristen Stewart and she’s not really like that, so I realised there was a different way to play Edward, to show his vulnerability.” Could he get trapped and find it hard to move on to different sorts of roles?
“It worries me, because the whole Twilight thing keeps getting bigger and bigger, and now it’s so big, even my own ego can’t cope with it. A certain amount of success you can mentally deal with, but there’s a point where you think: ‘Jesus Christ, what is this? I’m not that great!’ I just wanted to make an American film, and I wanted it to be relatively good and to be good in it. I have never pushed to do anything . As soon as you start going to the gym every day and try to look like a movie star, you’re going down a worrisome track.” He laughs. “Being an English guy, you get a lot more breaks. You’re allowed to look a little worse. It’s that thing about English teeth.”
To say New Moon is eagerly awaited is like saying the Pope could use a miracle. Moreover, it promises to be twice as hormonally charged as Twilight, since it offers two poster boys for the price of one.
Is Pattinson embarrassed to have millions of girls in love with him? “The only time it’s embarrassing is when you do a photo shoot and people try to force you to look clean-cut,” he says. “When they use pictures where you’re smiling sweetly and having your hair brushed, because that’s not what you want to be known for. I don’t really know why the girls love the movie so much. The series has become a bit of a cult. People like being part of the club. They’re obsessed.”