Twilight has been driving everybody bonkers for a while, and the advent of the current film adaptation is only adding to the frenzy. Its main characters, teenagers both of them, vampire Edward Cullen and human Bella Swan, have captured the hearts of millions and readers. I have never read these books, but the person who has come closest to persuading me to do so is actor Robert Pattinson, who portrays Edward in the soon-to-be-released film. I got to talk with him over the summer and we discussed Twilight and the character of Edward... as well as such other topics as his having also been involved with another film adaptation of a literary phenomenon, Harry Potter (in which he was Cedric Diggory), and his other upcoming movies, including an independent film called Little Ashes in which he portrays the artist Salvador Dali. This is only the first part of the interview, so stay tuned if you want to see the rest.
How’re you doing?
I’m good; how are you?
I’m all right, thank you.
How is L.A.?
[laughs] It’s all right. It’s hot.
Out of curiosity—I know you were born and raised in London—when did you move out to L.A.?
Well, I haven’t really moved here. I’m just kind of… I’m essentially here for Twilight-related stuff, like promotion. But I’m doing in a movie in a few weeks, so I just thought I might as well stay out here. I’ve been here for about three months.
Wow. Well, yeah, Twilight’s been getting a lot of publicity. How did you get involved with it?
The normal way, I guess. I was out in L.A., and it was just through an audition. And then I came out for two weeks for a whole bunch of meetings—and I’d never heard of it before or anything. It came completely unexpectedly.
And you’d never read the books before you became involved with the movie, so when did you realize that it was this huge phenomenon?
I guess only during shooting—about halfway through shooting the movie. I think everyone who was involved in it only realized it then. [laughs] I don’t really think even the production company knew how big it was going to become. It’s interesting, but as we were shooting it sort of got bigger and bigger and bigger, and more and more people started turning up to the set every day. By the end there were all these people coming out to the set who’d managed to find out where it was, which a was very strange experience.
The relationship between the characters is kind of like Edward goes, “Every day, I really want to kill you, you don’t understand,” and Bella goes, “I don’t care, I love you!” Which is really kind of sick, when you think about it.
Well, I don’t know if it’s sick, really; I guess it’s kind of—well, the whole thing is that you can only have that kind of love story when you’re young and you’re sort of overcome by your emotions and it seems so life-or-death. I think that’s kind of what it is. There’s a lot of the metaphorical aspect as well; I mean, the entire story is kind of a metaphor. [laughs] But, yeah, I guess that’s what makes the story different, just the fact that it is—when you feel like it’s a life-or-death situation in a relationship and a new relationship and you’re in love with someone for the first time, well, this is just the literal interpretation of that. Like— [laughs] “This is actually causing both of us to be in grave danger just by being together.”
Right. I mean, basically that the story is the same basic idea that’s in all adolescent love stories, just made more intense, is probably the main draw of the series.
Yeah. What I always thought was really interesting about just Bella is that Edward doesn’t really have a choice in how he chooses to love and to live, but Bella’s choosing to give up her life, to give up her mortality, which is also something I found very strange about it. I mean, it is essentially how much she wants to be with Edward, but at the same time she has so little regard for— [laughs] —for remaining human, and they’ve only known each other for about, what, eight weeks or something? Is that how long the entire story’s set? [laughs] I mean, I don’t know, and she’s already saying, “I don’t want to be a human any more after that!” I mean, that’s what love is. I always thought Bella’s character was really interesting.
Yeah, and you can tell through the books that she idolizes Edward, that she makes him out to be beyond perfect, and since the first three books are told entirely from her perspective that’s the impression the reader is given.
Yeah. And it’s funny, because she doesn’t really seem—normally, that kind of longing for someone comes out of someone else’s inadequacies, and they need someone to fill a void. But Bella doesn’t really seem like she has much of that. She seems like a pretty self-sufficient girl. I mean, she seems like a normal girl that is handling her life, and something in Edward just sparks something in her and she wants to throw everything away. It’s really odd, when you actually put it down.
You’ve mentioned that, while you were preparing for the role, the author Stephenie Meyer had you read… Breaking Dawn?
No, not Breaking Dawn, that one was just released. It was—
Midnight Sun? Okay—which is Twilight from Edward’s perspective. And you said that from his perspective he idolizes Bella and considers himself this great idiot.
Yeah. I mean, he kind of sees all these strengths which she hasn’t seen herself, which he just can’t even compete with. And a lot of it has to do with her—she is so willing to commit to the relationship, whereas he just isn’t, and he kind of envies that in a lot of ways. Well, he doesn’t envy it, but it also feels like he’s kind of frightened because he can’t follow through and he just worries too much about the future, whereas Bella can just throw caution to the wind and commit to the relationship wholly, and he can’t. I mean, there are a lot of other things, but that’s one of the crucial things. And it’s interesting because, essentially, he is the one with superpowers and immortality and she’s just a normal girl, and being with her, I think, in a lot of ways makes him feel human again, which is what he really wants. And at the same time, he has to sort of confront more of the weaknesses which being a vampire has left him with. And even though— [laughs] I’m just really rambling now.
It’s okay. Ramble away.
[laughs] Yeah. I mean, essentially, he’s the higher power, but in being with her and in getting to know her more and more and more he begins to realize how lacking he is. I mean, he has so much less freedom than Bella, simply because he is a vampire. And if you take away freedom from someone, you can give them as much strength and life as you want, but if you have immortality without the ability to choose what you want to do with it, really, and he has a very, very limited choice, then you’re really nothing.
Well, it sounds like you’re drawing mostly from Midnight Sun in terms of your interpretation of the role, but at the same time I imagine you’re also drawing from Twilight because clearly Bella doesn’t perceive him the same way that he perceives himself.
Yeah. I mean, to be honest, I only got Midnight Sun about two thirds of the way through the shoot. I had already—but when you read Twilight, Edward just seems like—I mean, unless you want to play it as a cardboard cutout, and just pose in every single scene, it seems like an almost impossible character to play. I mean, Bella just refuses to see any flaws in him at all, and as it’s from her perspective, there are no flaws. He has no flaws in the book. At all. Because she doesn’t see them. And that’s just impossible to play that, because it’s not a real character. And everybody who reads the book obviously kind of has their own interpretation of it, and because he is so enigmatic, I guess, people interpret him to be whoever they want him to be. But I don’t know, I guess I was also thinking, the whole time, if a girl really loves you that much and at the core of it you just won’t commit to her, then you’re really weakened by that. You can’t ever fully be satisfied… in multiple ways, obviously.
But I was talking to Stephenie Meyer about that, saying, “The guy must be chronically depressed,” and she was saying, “No, he’s not, he’s not, he’s not.” [pauses] But I still maintain that he was. [laughter]
That would be an interesting spin.
I mean, it’s not like depressed, but just this sort of loneliness. I mean, when you see him at school he doesn’t really talk to anyone. He must get bored after a while, only hanging out with the same four people in his life.
So not depressed, just perpetually angsty?
Yeah, kind of angsty! [laughs] I don’t know, that’s another thing, because I was trying to establish whether he would stay at the mentality of a seventeen-year-old, and I think that’s kind of what he did. You can have as many experiences as you want, but if you’re still in the mind of a seventeen-year-old, it must be very frustrating. Or having the world still see you as a kid when you’re not a kid any more. Things like that. I think that a lot of how people mature is just the rest of the world treating you like an older person, not just living a long time.
Well, I think if he matured too much beyond seventeen years, then the central love story would take on an entirely different dimension. [laughs]
Oh, yeah, definitely. That would be creepy! [laughs] I mean, that’s kind of as I saw it—that’s pretty gross! I mean, at the same time, the way I sort of saw it is that he is amused, in a way, by that. Because he knows he essentially is still seventeen, in most ways, and at the same time he’s not. So it’s kind of funny that he falls for the girl he sits next to in his high school biology lesson— [laughs] And it is kind of interesting that they end up having a conventional teenage relationship in a lot of ways. Like, dating and stuff.
Yeah. Does either of them bring that up in the movie or the books? Like, “Technically, I’m 103 years older than you”?
I can’t remember if they bring it up in the book… I don’t know. I mean, I tried to incorporate something of that air. It’s when she’s kind of getting angry with him, or giving him advice, and like— [laughter] It’s kind of like, “...Oh, shut up!” [laughter] But he doesn’t actually say it, yeah.
At the core of the series the two of them are essentially playing a duet, so to speak, so the way one character is portrayed would really be heavily influenced by the other, right? How did Kristen Stewart choose to portray Bella?
Well, that kind of changed my whole idea of it, because I really had no idea how to play the character. I mean, he’s so strong and kind of omniscient in the book that it’s very difficult to… it’s just kind of difficult to portray this aura of this guy who is anywhere at all times and can do anything. But when I met Kristen I did the screen test with her, and she is very strong. Just naturally, she’s not the kind of damsel in distress at all. So just reading it without comparing that at all, it kind of made me realize the kind of a balance that Edward has with her, not being able to have these relationship and all these frustrations he has beside him. It made it easier to portray. It makes much more sense, when the relationship is with someone you can rely on, and the girl is much stronger than the average—I mean, I guess that’s kind of what changed. I mean, I really didn’t expect the girl who’s playing Bella to be that strong when I went in.
Okay. I actually wanted to ask you about another role, in Little Ashes, where you play Salvador Dali. How did you become familiar with the subject matter?
Well, I was attached to that for about, I guess, about two years, and I was initially going to play [Federico] García Lorca. And somehow… I don’t know what happened. They asked me to read for Dali, and that was about a year after I—it took ages to get this film made. It was a really interesting script, and about a year after I was in mind for Lorca I read for Dali, and about a year after that they suddenly said, “Oh, we’ve got money, we’re doing it in Spain, and it starts in four days!” [laughter] So I came and I just thought it would be kind of fun—I mean, you know the stuff Dali makes, kind of crazy—and I thought it would be quite fun to do. And I went to Barcelona to shoot this, and I was rehearsing with the guy who was actually going to play Lorca, who’s a Spanish guy who didn’t know how to speak English, and pretty much the entire cast and the entire crew were Spanish. I think we had one English person in it. And I can’t speak Spanish.
Oh no! [laughs]
I couldn’t speak to anyone the whole time. And so I just sat over this Dali stuff. I just read and read and read, and it was one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever done because it was the one time that I really had zero distractions. It really changed my whole attitude toward acting. And it was a tiny, tiny, film, which— [laughs] I don’t think anyone will ever see it, probably! But it was very interesting. Especially since I don’t look anything like Dali. [laughs] But at the end of the job, I kind of did look like him…
Well, he’s got a very distinct look. He’s got the mustache, and—did you wear the mustache?
Well, I only played him when he was about 26, and he got the mustache in his 40s, I think.
Yeah. [laughs] So… I do have a mustache, but it’s a little bit shorter. Not quite the character one. The story of the movie is basically what led what was essentially this chronically shy kid who was massively talented—Dali had already mastered every style of painting by the time he was thirteen—he was an astonishingly talented guy. And he was virtually incapable when he was growing up, he was so chronically shy, and he grew into this caricature of this guy who had absolutely no fear of anything. And the story of the film signifies the time when he became that caricature.
Well, he’s a fascinating guy. I didn’t even know that there was going to be a film about him until I started preparing for this interview, and when I found out I was excited because I—while you were shooting and while you were in Spain, did you get to visit his home?
Yeah, I did. I did. And it’s incredible. I mean, I went to the place where he had his childhood house as well, in Cadaques. There are loads of little interesting things—there’s this beach in Cadaques that has these really weird volcanic rock formations.
Yeah, that town is beautiful. And further into the town, ninety percent of the postcards are of the Dali house.
Oh, everything. It’s like Dali town. [laughs] Everyone’s met him. Everyone has a story about him. It was really strange. And they were so upset that there was an Englishman playing him as well! [laughs]
[laughs] I know. Yeah, but it worked out quite well. I hope the movie does well; I actually haven’t seen the movie yet, just the trailer for it. It looks quite good. Wait, have you been to Cadaques?
Oh, yeah, I have; I’ve been a couple of times with my family.
Oh, that’s really strange! We were shooting in this old—somebody had tried to make a Club Med or something—
[laughs] Oh god!
Yeah, on that beach, that weird beach. And it obviously didn’t make any money, because things come on that beach and they just die! [laughs]
I think I might even know what you’re talking about, actually! [laughs]
Yeah, like a ghost town! It’s so strange. Yeah, we shot a lot of the stuff there. Yeah, I really, really liked the town a lot.
Yeah, it’s so beautiful there. And it’s so intimate, because everything is within walking distance and the town is so small and everybody’s so friendly.
I love the little coves along the beaches. They’re like your own little private beaches.
Yeah. I mean, there are so many of them that you can pick and choose. You can find one to your exact specifications if you like! [laughs]
So you mentioned doing a lot of research to find out about—I mean, how much did you know about Dali before getting involved with the film?
Nothing at all, really. I kind of… nothing. I wasn’t even really that big a fan of his art. And even now, I kind of really love the guy as a person. I mean, I find him fascinating, and in a really weird way I kind of related to him a lot. And I appreciate his art a lot more—as with a lot of artists who are painters and stuff, I enjoy their art more once I know the sort of backstory behind it! [laughs] I don’t know why, really.
No, no, I sympathize.
Yeah, I mean, I always kind of like—and the way he writes prose. He wrote three or four biographies, each of which totally contradicts the last one. They’re, like completely opposite. Which I thought was a really great idea. But, yeah. I didn’t know anything about him before. But now I know… a lot about him. [laughs]
Twilight opens November 21st, and in 2009 you can keep an eye out for his upcoming films Little Ashes and How to Be.