Interview with a Vampire
If there was a moment when Robert Pattinson knew he'd arrived, it was during last year's Oscars. Along with Mamma Mia! star Amanda Seyfried, he was asked to present a montage about romance in the movies. Perfect casting, given his dishy role as Edward Cullen in vampire love tale Twilight, nevertheless he couldn't quite believe it.
"When I first got told, I thought it was a complete joke," he smiles. Then, when he arrived at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, it sunk in. "I was sitting behind Mickey Rourke and I was like 'What am I doing here?' That was pretty nuts."
The last time I encountered Pattinson, it was three months after this. He was in Cannes, promoting Twilight sequel New Moon in advance of its November release. Girls, hundreds of them, clamoured around the entrance to the beachside bar where he was holed up. Every time he bobbed into view, they screamed for all their worth. Beatlemania has nothing on this. "The Twilight fans are like ... I don't even think 'devoted' is the right word," he noted at the time. "They're fanatical." How on earth would he escape alive? "Whenever I'm going out of a building, I'm literally carried!"
Nine months on and nothing has changed. If anything it's worse, with the unconfirmed rumours that he's dating his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart. We meet in a snow-covered New York, in a stuffy, 17th-floor hotel suite, where Pattinson has arrived to promote Remember Me -- a romantic drama he managed to dash off between New Moon and Eclipse, the third Twilight instalment, due in July.
"I wanted to play something that was grounded in reality in a lot of ways and was a solid story of normal people," he says, shooting me a furtive glance. "I knew I'd be doing fantasy and period things for a long time afterwards, so this was nice."
Nice it may have been, but he didn't reckon on the Twilight factor. With the film shot on location around New York, Pattinson was confronted with screaming fans and paparazzi on every corner.
At one point, the film's second assistant director was punched in the face by a photographer, while on another Pattinson was almost knocked down by a taxi, as he emerged from a bookstore and tried to cross the road to avoid a particularly rabid bunch of fans.
"I don't know why I didn't see it coming," he shrugs. "I really thought it was going to be a tiny little film, shot in New York, and I'd be able to just hang out!"
His body language, however, suggests this is no longer possible. For much of the interview, he stares firmly at the table, avoiding eye contact, a trait employed by any celebrity not wanting to draw attention.
"I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to not be seen," he confirms.
"It's kind of annoying, but the pay-off is infinite. If no-one finds out where you're staying, if people aren't following you as soon as you leave your house, if people aren't waiting outside a restaurant if you have dinner there ... then it's great. People coming up to you in the street -- that's nice. But it's just when people know they can make money off your life ... that's when it becomes difficult. They're relentless."
Frankly, it's a miracle that the 23-year-old Pattinson hasn't yet cracked under the strain. In some ways, you can read Tyler Hawkins, his character in Remember Me, as a manifestation of the rage he must (on a bad day at least) feel.
Continuing Pattinson's fascination with James Dean -- which stretches from his brown flick of hair to his sullen screen charisma -- Tyler is the archetypal rebel without a cause. Angry at the world over the death of his brother, he lashes out wherever he can -- from street punks spoiling for a fight to his tycoon father (Pierce Brosnan) who has no time for him.
Back in Cannes, Pattinson was just about to shoot the film and was busy working with director Allen Coulter on the script. "I'm really just playing myself," he said at the time. "I think you can only play yourself once every 15 years and when you do, it has to be perfect, otherwise people will think you're an idiot." I wonder if he still stands by this.
"No," he says, honestly. "I think it's impossible to do that. I think there are parts that I wanted to be [like me] ... that's why you kind of get confused. Your fantasy of yourself -- like 'Yeah, I could play that, I get into fights all the time'. I don't at all. I just want to!"
His unruly sideburns and stubble aside, there isn't much of the rebel about Pattinson, today dressed in green bomber jacket and dark jeans.
He tells me he has "been beaten up quite a few times" in the past, but in truth he's a lover not a fighter, as one anecdote from the set ably demonstrates. "In the big fight at the beginning, I hit the stunt guy," he recalls.
"I was hitting something to the left of his head as hard as I could and I ended up hitting him in the face about four times. It was what I thought was the hardest I could possibly hit. And I was like 'I'm sorry! I'm sorry!' And he's like, 'It's fine. I didn't even feel it!'"
Quite how his legions of female fans will react to this new and aggressive R-Patz is anyone's guess. At least the film has the requisite amount of teen angst, as Tyler hooks up with fellow student Ally (Emilie De Ravin).
"I always thought it was more a film about living, trying to live, than specifically a love story. But it is a love story when you look at it. I was looking at it through Tyler's eyes as well, where I don't think he realises the full consequences of his relationship. Or his relationship with anyone. And he's just beginning to understand them when it comes to the end of the movie."
Unlike Tyler, Pattinson says he never really experienced pressure from his parents when he was growing up. "When I was not trying very hard at school, my Dad was always like, 'Just leave school and get a job'. No one ever said to me, 'You need to do your exams!' It was more like, 'If you're not going to take advantage of things, don't do it. Do so something else!"
After ditching the idea of university to try his luck at acting, Pattinson didn't have to wait too long before he got his break -- in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, playing the handsome quidditch star Cederic Diggory. Raised in Barnes, Surrey, with two older sisters, Pattinson's upbringing sounds like something from a JK Rowling novel. Both retired now, his mother used to work at a model agency while his father -- the man who first encouraged him to act as a way to get girls -- ran a business importing vintage cars.
In Pattinson's eyes, nothing has changed as far as his folks go, though he does admit that his mother seems to believe everything negative written about him. He recalls one incident over swearing. "I said, 'I wasn't even in the city' and she was, 'I bet you did say that!' She'll believe a gossip magazine over her own son."
It'd certainly be interesting to know what his mother thought of his comments in the recent issue of US magazine Details during an interview with Jenny Lumet (who worked uncredited on the script of Remember Me). In it, in reaction to the magazine's photo shoot that put him among a cluster of naked models, he claimed he was "allergic to vagina". Cue speculation on his sexuality. "People take everything you say so literally," he sighs.
Fortunately, his next film, Bel Ami, based on the 19th-century novel by Guy de Maupassant, pits him with a legion of female co-stars, including Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci, which should allay fan fears.
Which brings us to the Kristen Stewart rumours. She and Pattinson recently turned up separately to the Baftas, so as not to cause a fan riot, but the actor -- according to The Sun at least -- claimed on the red carpet they were together. In truth, the pair have yet to confirm any romance.
"When the spotlight seems to be centred on you, the best thing is to remain as much of a mystery as you can," he says. "Don't try and label yourself. Don't put yourself out. That's the only thing that creates stories. If you're seen all the time, and if your opinions are all over the place, no-one wants to see your movies."
With that attitude, he may yet survive Twilight.
Remember Me opens today