Inside the Heart of Robert Pattinson
In honor of Robert Pattinson’s 28th birthday, here’s a look back on our cover story with him from 2012, written by Joshua David Stein.
I am Robert Pattinson’s beating heart and I am speaking to you from my home within his thoracic cage. We are at rest now. I beat 70 bpm, which is fairly typical for a 26-year-old white male who, like Robert, is in good but not superhuman shape. Rob, I should mention, has been going through, what he calls, “a thing.” “I’m on an all-liquid diet,” he explains to an interlocutor in the non-plummy London accent that surprises so many people who haven’t realized that Robert Pattinson isn’t actually a vampire named Edward Cullen. “I had to be shirtless for a photo shoot,” Rob explaints, “so I asked a nutritionist what’s a diet in which you can still drink as much as you want. She said a liquid diet.” Further proof that Rob isn’t a vampire. Vampires, in general, shy away from photo shoots since their sparkle, exacerbated by the camera flash, confounds even the most skilled photographer. Also vampires rarely have body image issues and they never drink. (Their blood doesn’t circulate.)
Not uncommonly, Rob and I are alone and what few other people there are in this room–a very hot club hidden behind a Papaya King in West Hollywood which is, being a hot sunny afternoon, very quiet–are all paying attention to us. Rob is, after all, the world’s biggest heartthrob, and I am the heart that beats within. I can sense other hearts speed up when they approach us, like the heart of the hot dog jockey from out front who asks, as he delivers the mango juices and kraut dogs in their jaunty paper sleighs, for Rob to sign a strip of waxy receipt paper. “My girlfriend loves you,” he says, almost apologetically. I don’t speed up as Rob scrawls his name and hers (it’s Mallory) and hands it back like a bill of lading for a cargo ship full of unlikely sexual fantasies. Rob is dressed, as usual, according to that unwritten Hollywood code by which the higher one is paid the less attention one pays to his or her external aspect. And though we’re worth 62 million dollars, in Rob’s case, I can tell you, the nonchalance is genuine. This baseball cap, those black running sneakers, the denim shirt, the sort of young Ron Howard thing going on; these are our garments. This gangly lope, a tad idle with the same slack jaunt rhythm as James Dean in Giant; this is our gait.
We arrived here in a white SUV chauffeured by a guy named Jeff. He’s from Phoenix and he’s our driver. He showed up a few years ago wearing a boxy suit and a thick tie.“Classic temp look,” says Rob. Now he wears tight black t-shirts. From inside the tinted windows of the SUV on the way to the club, Rob scanned the stores that line Hollywood Boulevard. They read like a game of scummy Duck Duck Goose: Souvenir shop. Souvenir shop. Souvenir shop. Strip club. The latter boasts, “1000s of Attractive Girls. 3 Ugly ones.” I wonder what it must be like to be the heart of one of the ugly ones. I’ll never know. I’m one of the lucky ones. In the windows of more than one souvenir shop, Rob sees himself on calendars, on posters, on keychains manufactured in some Chinese industrial hinterland by a laborer who stares at Rob’s face and his large blue eyes and his lupine teeth peeking from behind his pouting lips and yet he has no sense of me, Rob’s beating heart. And I have no sense of the worker or his heart either. Passing the cheap junk with Rob’s face on it doesn’t make me beat faster, wither. The thought of what keys people attach to Rob’s trinketed face, what chambers they open and what secrets are kept therein, does accelerate me slightly, since we rarely meet anyone outside of the “industry” these days, and even if we did, it would never be me and only rarely be Rob they see. It would be Edward Cullen, that heartless vampire who has lorded over me since 2008 and won’t released his grasp until this November, at which point he can’t die because he’s already dead, but we can because we were made in his image, or he in ours. Either way, we’re so entwined that the separation could kill Rob and break me.
Rob and I spend a lot of time sitting in the back of cars these days, shuttling from press junket to interview to set to press junket. So much sitting makes me slightly nervous. A sedentary lifestyle is a leading cause in cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. So is smoking which, happily, Rob just quit. Now he carried these silly glowing electronic cigarettes and sits in the backs of cars sucking them, watching this face, still in the reflection and gliding by outside, as he is driven around. Rob does, of course, know how to drive. He took a ten-hour course in Oregon for, I think Breaking Dawn. I could be wrong; they all blur together. He’s a terrible driver. “I learned by people crashing into me,” he explains. Funny story, this is how he tells it: “The first time anyone said anything about my being famous was when I tried to buy a car a few years ago. It was an ’89 BMW convertible for $1,000 I found on Craigslist. I went out to the hills to take it on a test drive and, of course, almost crashed. A few days later I went back to pick it up. I had said I was an actor and the guy had looked me up. When I went back, he said,’Dude, do you realize you’re #2 on IMDB?’ I thought, ‘Shit, now I can’t ask for the 200 bucks off.’”
Our latest film, Cosmopolis, also takes place largely in the back of a car, albeit a very long one. David Cronenberg directed it. Rob plays Eric Packer, an exceedingly bored, borderline autistic billionaire who traverses Manhattan latitudinally from east to west in a specially designed limousine. During this commute he loses many of his billions in ill-advised currency speculation on the yen while the world descends into chaos around him. This chaos, of course, is largely due to his ill-advised currency speculation. He spends a lot of time watching his face, still in reflection, and the chaos is causes, gliding by in silence. (The car has been “Prousted,” with cork. Google to understand the reference.) In the end he is either shot to death or not shot to death by a disgruntled former employee played by Paul Giamatti. Whether he is or isn’t doesn’t matter a whole lot. Eric doesn’t really care since he has a hard time connecting to the world beyond numbers. He does, however, have lots of sex. Some of it is with Juliette Binoche. That scene got me going when we filmed it, but less from thrusting than from laughing. “Juliette kept on hitting her head on the top of the car,” recalls Rob. I can feel the rush of endorphins as he breaks into a wide smile that instantly turns him from a brooding heartthrob into another nice English lad you’d meet down at the pub. For that reason, he rarely breaks into it. Smiling isn’t on brand. The film is based on a book by Don DeLillo, so it’s confusing.
The first line is like all those that flow from it, both profound and absurd. “We want a haircut,” says Eric, stepping from an office building. Confusion, though, we like. “I’m easy to please,” Rob says. “When I don’t understand something, I’m immediately interested.” Confusion piques me. So does confrontation. When Cosmopolis premiered at Cannes in May, I beat the hardest I have in a long time. “I was kind of shitting myself,” says Rob. Having spoken to his colon, I’ve concluded this is a bit of hyperbole. Nonetheless, it was exciting. There’s a caesura between when the credits finish rolling and when the lights go up, a moment of silent grace, punctuated only by my deafening thrum. This is the instant before which the audience either claps or boos, when our post-Twilight career was, like a Shrodinger’s cat, simultaneously both alive and dead. And in that moment, I pittered, pattered, and battered in Pattinson’s chest a million times a minutes. “I lost my mind,” Rob says. “I was preparing myself to fight with 1,500 people. I was so amped up.” The stakes were high for him. He had fallen into Twilight by what he calls “luck.” And, since he had signed a contract, he was carried by the tide. You might say he was chauffeured, or at least driven.“I was just kind of running around with my pants down and my shoelaces untied and, amazingly, not falling. Until this. I thought, ‘Oh fuck!’ Most people get 15 years of doing movies nobody sees. Now I’m at Cannes.” In that moment, before the wave of equation of our career collapsed into actuality, it’s worthwhile to note that Rob’s very callowness is, in part, what landed him the role of Edward Cullen. As the authors of the essay “Twilight and the production of the 21st Century Teen Idol” notem that was kinda the point. “[The studio’s] marketing strategy is to develop Pattinson’s celebrity as a commodity, produced and marketed by media and publicity industries. The commodification took the form of fusing Edward’s appeal to Pattinson’s celebrity… The actor’s lack of public recognition was used by [the studio] to fuse the real people to the Twilight characters they were hired to portray, thus making them celebrities.” So, that moment after the final credit rolled at Cannes and before judgment had been passed was the moment of painful divorce between Edward Cullen’s bloodless heart and me, Rob’s beating one. I had no idea how long credits were. There was a pause and then a clap, a clap unleashing a torrent of claps until the entire auditorium was applauding. Were they applauding us? Were they applauding David? Were they applauding Paul? I didn’t care. One thing was certain: they were not applauding Edward.
Though I set other hearts athrob, there are very few things or people or activities that affect me. The chemical imperative of fight-or-flight, brought on by confusion and confrontation, do the trick. Then there are a few other things: I got going recently when Rob learned how to skateboard. But wasn’t really the landing of a kickflip that set me a-flutter; it was, as Rob says, the absurd fact that “I could have been sued for $800 million.” (Vampires don’t wear casts or sprain their ankles.) I was also recently excited about peeing. “I was so impressed with myself yesterday,” says Rob, “I took a pee that was four minutes long.” Cindy, his bladder, tells me it’s the liquid diet. We get thrilled with scandals, too but, as Rob laments, these days they’re hard to come by. “I once started a rumor on Entertainment Tonight that there was a deleted scat sex scene in Twilight and it didn’t even get picked up. I thought, ‘What the fuck? I’m giving you this stuff!” The scat thing, by the way, was especially close to me since when we first moved to Los Angeles we lived in the Oakwoods, an apartment complex between Burbank and Hollywood off the 101, populated almost exclusively by washed-up child actors who hang out all day by the pool. It was, also unsurprisingly, where Screech lived, and also where his own scat video was filmed. What else can one do to keep me going at press junkets, those brutal gauntlets of recycled air? As Rob laments, “You try to say things in the perfect way but you know unless you say something stupid, from which people will make you look like a dick, you’re not going to have sound bites. And if you don’t say anything stupid, someone’s going to make something up anyways.”
Take Rob’s girlfriend, Kristen Stewart. She is one of the few things that does get me racing. Our romance is, happily, sanctioned by the Twilight Industrial Complex. As “Twilight and Production” puts it, “Fans appear willing to accept a romantic involvement that takes Pattinson off the market if it literally translates into their beloved characters.” And so Kristen’s heart and I get together nearly everyday. But we’re not sworn to each other until death do us part. Rob read that in a tabloid recently and he thought its ridiculous. “There was a magazine, with these pictures, saying I was getting married. No one ever knows what is true or what isn’t,” he says exasperatedly. “Even my own mum called to ask me if it was true.”It’s not. At least, not yet. But it is true that Kristen has always done something to me that others haven’t.
Though Lord knows Rob hasn’t been a missed when it comes to carnal love, even when we laid with others, I have remained behind a closed door. When he first came to Los Angeles, he went out with a coterie of very attractive women he knew to divey places like the Bronson Bar, but Rob would shun the madly batting eyelashes to smoke outside with a hoodie pulled over his eyes. He was writing songs for Kristen Stewart. At the time, I was filled with yearning to the point of breakage, so they were sad songs that sounded as if they could have been lifted off a Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. “In fact,” admits Rob. “I was just trying to rip off Van Morrison.” Sometimes he took these songs to open mics at places like the Pig ‘n Whistle and the Rainbow Room to perform them in front of two or three performers, plus of course, the waitresses who, he says, became his only friends. I still get nostalgic thinking of those days, and it makes me light and tender to think if only those two-sad sack singer-songwriters yelping through “Hallelujah,” or those waitresses with the Oklahoma accents and nice tits know he was or what Rob would become. I wonder if he knew.
After Twilight hit, things changed. Rob, as they say, broke. “My circle of friends narrowed pretty quickly.” Says Rob, “I like to be the parasite, not the other way around.” We stopped going out. We stopped performing at open mics. Now I hardly ever race anymore. Now, when he’s not being Edward or Eric or someone else, Rob lives like the Hermit of Silver Lake. He wakes up and makes himself some juice. He reads synopses of books on Amazon for a few hours. He makes himself soup and peruses some scripts. Largely these are just words, congealed and bland like day-old porridge, microwaved rehashes of other supernatural epics. Ocasionally, I spike when something he reads intrigues me. Like his next drama by the French-Liberian director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, whose last film, Johnny Mad Dog, is about Congolese child soldiers. This one will be filmed entirely in Iraq. We leave next month. Perhaps there, the bullets whistling by, or at least the possibility that a bullet could whistle by, will cause me to throb. Until then, we’ll bide our time in the back of a car, idling at an intersection and waiting for the light to change. Jeff asks if we’d like to go anywhere in particular, but we’re not sure. “I never go anywhere.” Rob says matter-of-factly, “I don’t even know where anywhere is.”
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Photography by Autumn De Wilde