For the past year, Robert Pattinson has been trying to disappear. He says he's been actively avoiding having his photo taken, trying to erase a tabloid persona.
"I'm just trying to not be in stupid gossip magazines, basically, and I think the best way to do it is never be photographed ever," says Pattinson. "As I get older, I just get more and more and more self-conscious about getting photographed. I don't know why. I've done it too many times and now I feel like everyone can see through me."
Not being photographed isn't an option for Pattinson at the Cannes Film Festival: The annual Cote d'Azur extravaganza is famous for its walls of photographers and its rabid hunger for celebrity.
But Pattinson has unveiled a new, more mature image of himself at this year's Cannes. He stars in two of the festival's top films: David Michod's lean, dystopian thriller "The Rover" and, in competition, David Cronenberg's dark Hollywood satire "Maps to the Stars." In the latter, he plays a Los Angeles limo driver trying to break into the movie business.
In "The Rover," which opens in the United States on June 13, he gives arguably his best performance yet, playing a bloodied half-wit who travels across a near-future Australian Outback with a terse man bent on revenge (Guy Pearce). With a halting Southern accent, he's a mangy, wounded puppy dog of a man, loyal to his companion.
More than any film before, "The Rover" announces the 28-year-old former "Twilight" star as a talented actor of range, capable of disappearing into a complicated role.
"It's literally exactly what I wanted," Pattinson said of his Cannes, smiling atop the Palais des Festivals.
His performances have been eye-opening for many, including Pattinson's co-stars. "I wasn't aware of what he was capable of," says Pearce. "On the second day, I said to David, 'He's really (expletive) good, isn't he?'"
The new chapter for Pattinson really began with his first collaboration with Cronenberg in the 2012 stylish Don DeLillo adaptation "Cosmopolis." Since then, he says, he's been choosing parts solely by director.
"I sort of had a bit of a list," says Pattinson. "The things I'm going to do next I've said yes to them before I've even seen a script."
Along with Michod ("Animal Kingdom") and Cronenberg, Pattinson has shot movies with Werner Herzog and Anton Corbijn. He's lined up films with Harmony Korine ("Spring Breakers") and Olivier Assayas ("Carlos"). All are widely acclaimed filmmakers who mostly operate far from the mainstream.
"It takes so much of the responsibility off you," says Pattinson. "I don't like the idea of trying to make movies as, like, a vehicle. Also, I don't really know who my audience is. I don't know if I have an audience. Outside of 'Twilight,' I don't know."
"Playing the lead in 'Cosmopolis' was not at the time what he wanted to do," says Cronenberg. "I had to talk him into it. He was really looking forward to playing a smaller role in an ensemble piece. In a way, ('Maps') is kind of a perfect continuation of our relationship, which I really value."
Pattinson auditioned for Michod for "The Rover," though the screenplay's scant backstory made it difficult. Exposition is largely resisted on the characters and the nature of the "collapse" that destroyed Australian currency. Pattinson went in in character.
"But then I had to sort of ask a couple questions half in character at the beginning, like: 'Is he mentally handicapped? Before I completely make a fool out of myself?'" he recalled laughing.
"The second he started doing the character, I was getting excited," says Michod. "I was getting excited about the performance he would give, excited about the character as invented by him and excited by the prospect of taking a possibly very underestimated franchise star and letting him demonstrated what he's actually capable of."
Pattinson says relished playing a more physical part.
"I had done so many parts where I was super still — like the whole of 'Twilight,'" he says. "It's so restrictive. You do something where you have blood all over your face, you can't be expected to fit into any kind of mold."
Drafted into a global franchise at a young age, Pattinson has previously said he wasn't even sure if acting was meant for him. For one of the more famous people on the planet, he doesn't exude confidence or self-seriousness, but rather has a squinty, bemused manner and is quick to laugh at himself. Now, he acknowledges his confidence is growing.
"I'm very, very good at lower expectations," says Pattinson. "Lower expectations and over-deliver."