Transcript:Escape the Twilight Zone
Robert Pattinson is ready to cast off his blood-sucking alter ego and prove his acting chops with meatier roles, he tells James Mottram.
In an open-air rooftop restaurant overlooking the sparkling waters of the Cote d'Azur, out pops Robert Pattinson from behind a screen. As the beautiful people cluster around him, the only thing crumpled in this idyllic scene is his un-ironed shirt. Otherwise, it's a perfect Cannes moment. Sucking on a pink lollipop, the Twilight star signs a handful of autographs then saunters over. He's quiet, unassuming and - despite turning 26 a fortnight ago - still very youthful.
If anything, today's appearance - just one security guard on the door - is not a patch on the hysteria he caused when he dropped into Cannes three years ago to bang the drum for Twilight sequel New Moon.
Girls, pressed up against the railings, screamed every time he hovered into view. This time. R-Patz is here on official business. Two days earlier, he walked the red carpet for On The Road, showing support for Twilight co-star girlfriend Kristen Stewart, who appears in Walter Salles' Kerouac adaptation.
Last night, it was his turn to grace the competition selection, headlining David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis.
"I was so nervous watching it," he admits. "I couldn't concentrate. Afterwards, I was at the party freaking out. I'd been to On The Road so I was like 'My ovation wasn't as long!'"
He's joking, at least partly. Pattinson is more bashful than ego-driven, at least in public. And you can forgive this moment of vanity: after all, Cosmopolis is out there by any standards.
Based on the Don DeLillo novel, it puts Pattinson in the venerable hands of Cronenberg, the cerebral Canadian director of such twisted horrors as The Fly and Dead Ringers.
Set in modern day Manhattan, Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire trader who, on a whim, decides to travel across the city in his hi-tech limo to get a haircut. Primarily set in this cocoon-like vehicle, Packer glides across the city in a state of detachment from everyday realities - people, poverty, emotions, the economy - as others enter into this rarefied orbit.
"The potential for failure was quite high in my head," Pattinson says, admitting he didn't understand the script when he first read it.
He delayed calling the director for a week while he deliberated. "Then I realized when it got to the weekend that I'm going to have call Cronenberg up and say I don't think I'm good enough to do it and I'm too much of a pussy. And I didn't want to make that phone call.
"So I was like 'Yeah, I'll do it.' Then on the second phone call he was like 'I don't understand what it's about either, but it's juicy, right?'"
Juicy it is. Packer's need to feel something, anything, offers Pattinson the chance to indulge in some fine Cronenberg moments - from enticing one sexual conquest to Taser him to blasting a bullet hole through his own hand.
While the reviews have been mixed - the film's almost Brechtian feel proving too much for some critics, - the consensus seems to be that Pattinson is finally showing his acting chops.
"Sometimes you need to trick people," he shrugs. "That's all it is. It's just a trick."
He recalls the moment when the trailer (which makes the film look far wilder than it is) came out.
"Everyone was like 'It really looks like he's doing something!' It is 30 seconds long, and I don't say anything, so to say the acting is really good in it..." He lets out a sigh.
"I get it. People think that when you get big out of nowhere... you've got to earn it. It's the career the wrong way round. You're supposed to do small things to build up [to bigger movies]."
Certainly, Pattinson's Hollywood standing has arrived before he's paid his dues - and he knows it. But then it wasn't Twilight that convinced Cronenberg to cast him.
Rather, it was one of those "small things" - playing Salvador Dali in Little Ashes, a film that the actor felt sure would sound the death knell of his then short-lived career.
"After Little Ashes, I was done," he says. "I got Twilight afterwards, completely by fluke. I had no money, and I had to pay a tax bill."
Until this point, the boy from Barnes in Surrey had endured more humiliation than success.
Yes, he played Hogwarts pupil Cedric Diggory 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But in the same year, he was sacked from The Woman Before at The Royal Court Theatre shortly before opening night and replaced by the actor Tom Riley.
"I didn't know what I was doing," he says.
"I think I just spoke too quietly. No one could understand what I was saying."
You can sense his vulnerability: "I just remember saying so much bullshit to people afterwards," he says, recalling an audition for 9/11-themed film, A Few Weeks in September, co-starring Juliette Binoche, a few weeks later.
"I wanted it so bad," he says. "I was doing those meetings going 'I got fired from this play because I'm so crazy!'" It didn't help. What's more, he lost the role to Tom Riley - again. That he gets to enjoy a particularly arresting limo sex scene with Binoche in Cosmopolis must feel like some sort of validation.
Raised in an affluent middle-class family - his mother used to work at a model agency, his father ran a business importing vintage cars - Pattinson simply lucked out when it came to Twilight.
Ever since, he's had to prove himself, thought romantic dramas like Bel Ami and Water for Elephants left him untested.
Cosmopolis on the other hand, has done him a world of good.
"It really changed my confidence afterwards. I have signed up to a bunch of other stuff now which is quite ambitious and weird, which normally I wouldn't have the balls for."
On his slate is a road movie from David Michod, the hot Australian director behind crime drama, Animal Kingdom. Saddam Hussein story Mission: Blacklist and another Cronenberg encounter, Maps to the Stars.
Before that, of course, there is the little matter of concluding the Twilight franchise with Breaking Dawn Pt 2 in November.
He admits it's got increasingly difficult to play vampire Edward Cullen.
"I was running out of ideas. The last one was a really long shoot, and the character doesn't change - you can't die you can't get hurt. So what do you do?"
In some respect, Pattinson is pleased Twilight is at an end. Not because he's bored of it, but simply because, like Eric Packer's limo, it offered him a cocoon away from reality.
"I'd always think it was a good thing, having another Twilight [upcoming].
"It was like a safety net. But I don't necessarily know if that is a good thing now, just knowing you've got that security there.
"If you think it's all or nothing every single time, it's more fun.
"You can stand behind it more, because you're not going to make excuses."
Which Cosmopolis is very much an "all or nothing" movie, it probably helps that he's with Stewart now.
Even before Twilight, with films like Into the Wild, the 22-year-old actress was something of a risk-taker.
"It's nice to have someone who is really ambitious and has good taste", Pattinson nods. "I've always liked my friends and people around me to be quite good pace-makers.
"You don't want to have a bunch of arse-kissers around. You want it to be a competition."
And that is a healthy attitude.