A movie star with swashbuckling good looks might suggest Twilight’s Robert Pattinson is just one of many Hollywood commodities, but beneath the surface, you’ll find far more substance in this talented Brit.
Adored by his committed fans and praised by critics, Robert Pattinson is a “pretty boy” with a talent that matches his appealing good looks. A childhood model from the age of 12, Pattinson quickly became a film star after his appearance as Cedric Diggory, alongside Daniel Radcliffe, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Unfairly ignored by those thinking of him only as “that guy from those vampire movies”, Pattinson proved that Twilight, while winning him favour with audiences across the world enamoured by the gothic, Romeo and Juliet-style romance of the Twilight series, only highlighted a small proportion of his acting talent.
Indeed, Robert Pattinson is so much more than the pale-faced vampire who courted Kristen Stewart both on and off screen. His diverse film roles alone offer proof that this London-born actor has a keen eye for character and an even better understanding of the difference between a good script and an average one.
Perhaps what’s most appealing about Pattinson within his movie work is his courage to experiment. After Twilight you’d forgive him for pursuing similarly commercial roles – the sort guaranteed to gain favour from his core group of younger fans – but he hasn’t done that. In fact, he appears to have sacrificed “safe” projects for far more demanding films.
While you may argue the adoration aimed at his celebrity lifestyle and private romances is keeping his profile primed within mainstream media, his choice of work, particularly his recent projects with the distinctly un-mainstream David Cronenberg in Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars, have hardly deterred his devoted followers.
Take for example Rey in David Michôd’s The Rover. A far cry from the milky-white skin of his former vampire persona, Pattinson is grizzled and bloodied here in a performance widely praised. Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times called the actor a “revelation”, describing Rey as a “damaged, unfocused individual who is the older man’s half-unwilling accomplice.”
Todd McCarthy, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, clearly saw an actor determined to shed pretty boy baggage in favour of edgier, riskier, far less superficial roles. “Pattinson delivers a performance that, despite the character’s own limitations, becomes more interesting as the film moves along, suggesting that the young actor might indeed be capable of offbeat character work.”
This sentiment was echoed by Ryan Pollard in his review for Top 10 Films. “Robert Pattinson is really coming into his own as an actor, after having landed fascinating roles since the Twilight years, and recently excelling in David Cronenberg’s striking Maps to the Stars. Here, Pattinson [is] perfectly able to play someone who’s slightly crazy and dangerous, yet somewhat sympathetic and tragic underneath.”
Partly because of the Twilight saga coming to an end, but also due to the actor’s boldness, it took until 2010 until I really saw anything of note from Robert Pattinson. That film was 2010’s Remember Me, a maudlin drama with a much criticised ending that unsurprisingly split audiences. In terms of the film as a whole, I found myself siding with those critics that saw merit in the taut, high-strung drama. I agreed with Roger Ebert when he said: “I cared about the characters. I felt for them. Liberate them from the plot’s destiny, which is an anvil around their necks, and you might have something.”
But most importantly for Pattinson, it was a film without the “anvil” of Twilight around his neck, a moment to shine outside the murky, gothic waters of vampire lore. He takes the opportunity with due confidence. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter stated that the “scenes between Pattinson and de Ravin exude genuine charm,” while Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor noted the “explosive sequences between Pattinson and Pierce Brosnan.”
Despite the film’s lacklustre appeal amongst audiences and critics, it identified Pattinson as an actor of real promise; someone who could apply himself to different types of characters without his much documented private life taking the gloss off the performance.
His work with auteur David Cronenberg has cemented his claim to be one of Hollywood’s most valuable assets – both in terms of the commercial product, and his skill in front of the camera.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said Pattinson was “pale and predatory even without his pasty-white vampire makeup”, delivering his performance with “rhythmic confidence.” The Telegraph newspaper’s Robbie Collin was equally impressed, saying that at the film’s heart is a “sensational central performance from Robert Pattinson”, who plays his character “like a human caldera; stony on the surface, with volcanic chambers of nervous energy and self-loathing churning deep below.” Similarly, Justin Chang spoke of Pattinson’s excellent performance being an indispensable asset of the movie.
Even in his supporting role in Cronenberg’s following film Maps to the Stars, the critics singled him out for praise with Mark Kermode particularly noting his “nicely underplayed” performance.
Most importantly, Cronenberg says it best when he highlights how he feels Pattinson is unfairly underrated “because of the stiffness and silliness of Twilight and those characters in it.” The writer-director has witnessed first-hand not only the actor’s determination to spread his wings but someone who isn’t getting caught up in the excesses of celebrity.
“Seeing other work that he had done and seeing that he was a serious actor and looking for challenges, and wasn’t trying to ‘manage his image’ as a star, was attractive to me,” said Cronenberg in his interview with The Daily Beast. “Of course, being such a big celebrity is helpful because it will help your film get financed, but the charisma that made him work so well as Edward Cullen is something you want in a movie like Cosmopolis where he’s in every scene in the movie. You need someone who’s infinitely watchable.”
Rebecca Murray, Hollywood movies expert for About.com addressed the question of Twilight’s baggage and Pattinson’s consequent career head on when she interviewed Cronenberg about Cosmopolis.
“You have to have a leading character who is very charismatic and who can carry the weight and has the star quality and so on, because you’re going to be looking at him. He’s literally in every scene in the movie, and that’s pretty unusual,” remarked Cronenberg. “Even in Tom Cruise movies, Tom is not in absolutely every scene of the movie – but Rob is. So he has to have that. But at the same time, you want to forget his movies and my movies because we’re creating this completely new thing and you don’t know what audience you’re going to get. You can anticipate it, you can think about it, but really you don’t know.
“So ultimately when you’re making the movie you’re saying, ‘Okay, I’m here with these actors. They’re wonderful actors, I cast them because they’re terrific and they will bring great stuff to the script,’ and then at that point you’re just making a movie and you’re not thinking about any other movie.”
It might be surprising that Robert Pattinson hasn’t gone “off the rails” having achieved fame at a young age and had to endure the invasive eye of the tabloid press for most of his young adult life. But here is a man whose intelligence perhaps belies his formative years played out in the limelight of celebrity. Cronenberg talks of Pattinson’s intelligence as an actor, his ability to recognise the nuances of character, and understand why the director wants to do things a certain way. “He’s very well-read, and very well-versed in cinema – which I’m not sure his fans know,” he said.He’s also far more selfless than many of his peers. His work for various charities dates back to the late 2000s when he supported the ECPAT UK’s campaign Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People to stop human trafficking. The following year he donated his own artwork to PACT which auctioned on eBay, to help the organisation working for missing children. He also donated a sketch, drawn by himself, called Unfinished City which raised $6,400 for an Arizona based homeless centre.
In subsequent years he has participated in a number of initiatives to raise cancer awareness including auctioning items of his own to raise money for various charities.
If that wasn’t enough, the multi-talented Brit has also composed music which has gone on to appear in his movies. Skilled at both piano and guitar, he co-wrote and sang Never Think for the Twilight soundtrack and also played guitar on the Death Grips song “Birds”. The actor has quipped: “Music is my back-up plan if acting fails.
It’s the teen fandom, beguiling boyish good looks, English charm, and multi-million dollar fantasy franchise versus a cinematic intelligence and diverse acting range, selfless attitude and philanthropic endeavour, that makes Robert Pattinson a “talent for the unexpected”. Here is a man who’s the polar opposite of someone like Justin Bieber – all packaged, manufactured and commodified. Pattinson’s a genuine talent – a Hollywood good-guy whose success so far is just the tip of the iceberg.