"As soon as I signed on to do multiple sequels to [the 2008 film Twilight], I was like, 'It's gonna take 10 years to get over this,'" the actor Robert Pattinson says as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. "I said that to my agent. And it took 10 years." Indeed, nearly a full decade after playing the brooding vampire Edward Cullen in a movie for the first of five times in five years, and in so doing rocketing to international stardom, if not acclaim, the dashing 31-year-old Brit is attracting the best reviews of his career. Ironically, they are coming for his work in Good Time, an indie crime-thriller in which he buries his good looks behind a goatee, greasy hair and a thick Queens accent in order to bring to life a small-time crook who winds up in big trouble in present-day New York. "I just really, really went after it," he says with a smile.
Pattinson, who was born in London, fell in love with music long before acting. A foray into modeling, starting around the age of 12, exposed him for the first time to auditions, and he began to dabble in drama, as well, but was discouraged from pursuing the creative arts by his own drama teacher. Nevertheless, at the urging of his father, he joined a local amateur theater company and, after landing his first role, was spotted by an agent who soon signed him as a client. He quickly began auditioning for professional jobs — the first film he went out for was 2004's Troy (he didn't get it), the first one he got was 2004's Vanity Fair (his scenes were eventually cut) and the first that put him on the map was 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (from which he got American representation). Hollywood expressed only mild interest in him, at the time, so he went back to England, still debating whether or not he wished to pursue acting. "Every single time I was just about to say, 'I'm done with this,'" he recalls, "I would get another one," including a TV movie in which he played a WWII pilot suffering from PTSD and an indie film in which he played a young Salvador Dali.
Throughout that period, Pattinson would occasionally send audition tapes to Los Angeles for roles that appealed to him in America. One, for a rom-com, led to the opportunity for an in-person audition, so he flew to America and stayed on the couch of his American agent as he prepared to go in for it. That audition did not pan out, but while in town he went in for another, with Thirteen director Catherine Hardwicke, for a part in what he understood to be an indie movie based on a low-profile book about a vampire. Hardwicke already had seen some 5,000 young actors before Pattinson came by her house to audition opposite the young actress Kristen Stewart. "I was the last person they saw," he recalls, noting that he had a panic attack — and took a Valium — on his way out the door to go to the audition. Shortly thereafter, despite some reservations on the part of the film's producers ("They all thought I looked really old, and I was pretty chubby at the time, too"), he won the part ("I kinda knew I was gonna get it") and went to work. Following a shoot in which his interpretation of the character didn't always mesh with the producers' and his agents had to fly in to save his job ("I was very argumentative"), the film was released — and changed his life forever.
"Twi-hards," as the Twilight franchise's most obsessive fans came to be known, soon descended upon Pattinson, and became particularly passionate — with delight or dismay — when it became apparent that he and Stewart were involved with each other in real life. "The real kind of vocal ones — I think it's a very, very, very small group — are quite educated women between the ages of 28 and 60," he says. "I mean, that's quite a lot of women. But older. They're not 'old,' obviously, but they're not teenagers at all. And that's what people never really realized. The initial wave of them was young, but the [mainstays] are significantly older." He says, when asked if dating Stewart gave them red meat: "People would just imagine anyway — like, even when we weren't together, people were saying we were anyway. It doesn't make a difference. Still now! It definitely does change the paparazzi involvement in your life — like, 100 percent. It's just an economic thing: There's just two people in a photo, rather than [one]. And the most relatable thing for anyone who reads a gossip magazine is, 'What's the state of a relationship?'"
Pattinson's Twilight-era was surreal. He had been catapulted onto Hollywood’s A-list, which came with fame and fortune, but also a loss of privacy and certain preconceptions about what he wanted — or was capable of doing — as an actor. In-between the Twilight films, he acted in others, including 2010’s Remember Me, 2011’s Water for Elephants and 2012’s Bel Ami, hoping to show his broader range, but also keeping him constantly at work. "I was so busy up until 25 or something that I never had time to really process anything — you're just in the eye of the storm," he says. "When the series was sort of ending and I'd slowed down a little bit, I was like, 'Oh, the life you had previously has died and you're in this other world' ... I was sort of freaking out a little bit." Even so, he never doubted the wisdom of agreeing to be a part of the franchise. "I've never really felt trapped by it," he says. "I've always known it was the right move." He adds, "I wouldn't have done any of this other stuff if not for that."
That "other stuff" began with an unexpected straight offer from auteur David Cronenberg to star in 2012's Cosmopolis, which he has described as a life-changing experience. It reminded him why he wanted to be an actor and also solidified his foremost desire for the coming years: to work with great filmmakers. "I was aware of a credibility deficit," he acknowledges. "And so you think, 'Well, if [Werner] Herzog and Anton Corbijn and all these people are hiring me, well, you're gonna have to shit on your heroes if you want to shit on me.'"
Over the years since, Pattinson has fulfilled his objective. In 2014, he reteamed with Cronenberg, on Map to the Stars, and also starred in David Michod’s The Rover, both of which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2015, he appeared in Herzog’s Queen of the Desert and Corbijn's Life. He turned up in James Gray’s The Lost City of Z in 2016. And then he was back to Cannes this past May as the "romantic psychopath" in indie filmmakers' Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie's "first movie-movie" (their words), Good Time, which Pattinson says feels like a movie "on crack, just the pace of it," and which was greeted with a six-minute standing ovation and magnificent reviews (it has a 94 percent positive rating on RottenTomatoes.com). Pattinson reportedly came very close to being awarded the jury’s best actor prize. With the film's Aug. 11 release date rapidly approaching, Pattinson says he is enjoying being part of a movie this good and this well-received, and isn't too worried about what happens next weekend. "I don't even care if they make money at all," he says of his post-Twilight films, with a twinkle in his eye. "Like, literally. As long as I can get another one."