Robert Pattinson’s trying to hug me. But I’m not playing; I’m not a hugger, so I offer my hand instead, which sets him off into fits of laughter. “OK, this is how we’re doing this?” he smiles, amused and a little taken aback. In an effort to recover from my apparent faux pas, and perhaps propelled by the Champagne consumed in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel while waiting to be summoned by the Dior representatives, I finally reciprocate his gesture, albeit awkwardly.
Pleasantries exchanged, we move to the lounge area of his hotel suite where a bottle of Dior Homme, of which Pattinson is the new face, rests strategically on the coffee table. I promptly remind him of the many conversations we’ve had during which he insisted that fragrances would not be a part of his future agenda. He frowns. “Yes, you’re right, but I just got so smelly that I had to start wearing it.”
Suggesting his questionable sales pitch is at best a novel approach, he laughs and nods. Pattinson’s manner makes it easy to forget his fame is of Olympian-sized proportions. He comes across as the same unknown Brit actor I first met in 2008, straight off the proverbial boat to LA to promote Twilight. Back then he lamented that girls in Hollywood didn’t notice him. He was also doubtful about the commercial viability of the vampire-themed indie he was promoting.
In many ways he exemplifies the adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ reflecting on those sorely inaccurate concerns sprung from another lifetime. “I just didn’t expect any of this and I didn’t ask for it,” he says, almost apologetically. “It was literally all luck. I just stumbled from job to job.”
The Twilight franchise, which has grossed $3.7 billion worldwide, has afforded him the luxury of venturing into edgier fare, such as Water for Elephants, Remember Me and Cosmopolis. Presumably, he must be pleased with the way his career is progressing?
He ponders the question. “Well, yeah,” he says, with a whiff of hesitation. “It’s kind of heading there, but it’s difficult to remain sane. It’s really difficult.” He draws on his electronic cigarette. “In the beginning I didn’t even notice my life had changed so massively, because I was always working. I suppose eventually I got used to it.”
At our first few meetings, almost always punctuated by a movie he was promoting, he was usually clad in an elegant ensemble but with an appearance of careful dishevelment. Today, however, he’s adopted a more casual look. It seems one of the benefits of success is the freedom to dress as he pleases. He fulfils the impossibly handsome movie star cliché, but he’s wearing an unremarkable grey shirt, old American Eagle jeans and Vans sneakers. His face is sporting two-day growth and he has a backward baseball cap perched on his head, with not a hair in sight. Despite his status as one of Hollywood’s most bankable and highest-paid actors, this afternoon, Pattinson looks more like someone you might find in a dive bar.
The powers that be at Dior were apparently attracted to this rockstar vibe. The fashion and beauty house pursued Pattinson for the lead role in its new ad campaign, a short film by Romain Gavras (who directed M.I.A’s Born Free video). It’s set to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love and features Pattinson in various scenarios illustrating this free-spirited nonchalance. He drives a vintage convertible along a beach accompanied by a trio of equally photogenic windblown passengers. We also see him sitting on a rooftop and, later, cavorting with a beautiful woman in a hotel. He’s a worthy successor to Dior’s previous male fragrance ambassador, Jude Law.
Unsurprisingly, the star has been offered virtually every endorsement deal on the planet. With a devoted fan base in the millions, ranging from tweens to mums, this face is a marketing manager’s dream.
Answering the question of why he chose Dior, he explains: “I was looking at Dior as the brand rather than the individual product, although I probably shouldn’t be saying that.” He lowers his voice and glances at the two Dior reps who have flown in from Paris. “I looked at other companies – and I’m not just saying this – but, for a man, I don’t think there’s anything classier than Dior.”
Noting that he’s now referring to himself as a man, he smiles and looks slightly embarrassed.
“Well, yes, I’m in a vaguely transitional phase in my life. I’m trying to get out of being perceived as really young and I think doing this helps along those lines. I’m 27 now and I can feel people looking at me differently. It’s a weird year. With Twilight ending and other films I’ve done, like Cosmopolis, I suddenly feel like I’m being treated like an actual actor rather than…” He trails off, not finishing his sentence – something he tends to do frequently.
He leans forward conspiratorially. “I’ve been wearing more cologne in the past three days than I’ve ever worn in my life. And by the way, it’s not a cologne, which I learned today; it’s eau de toilette.”
So, now he’s a grown-up who wears eau de toilette, what’s the next move in his career trajectory? Given he frequently tops bestdressed lists, could a fashion line be in his future? “Actually, I designed a couple of suits,” he says, enthusiastically. “One of them was an emerald-green houndstooth I wore to the last Twilight premiere.” He created this much-photographed outfit in collaboration with Gucci, the label Pattinson most often wears at such events. “I’m going to do more of it in the future.”
Clearly, he’s a man who appreciates a good suit. “Yes, absolutely. I have the weirdest relationship with suits,” he confesses. “I only ever wear them once and so I have a storage unit with about 1000 suits. Occasionally I’ll give them to friends but, to tell you the truth, I’m a bit of a hoarder. I find it really, really difficult to give things away; I don’t know why.”
It comes as a surprise that this high-profile icon, who appears deceptively at ease when treading the red carpet, is, in reality, a jumble of nerves. He walks me through his typical experience in the lead-up to a glamorous event. “I do a lot of panicking. I get a ton of anxiety,” he says, “right up until the second I get out of the car to the event, when suddenly it completely dissipates. But up until that moment I’m a nut case.”
It’s not unusual for British actors to speak in self-deprecating terms, but Pattinson seems genuinely troubled by these moments. “What do I panic about?” he repeats the question, looking seriously perturbed. “Well, anything, really. Body dysmorphia, overall tremendous anxiety.” It’s shocking to hear Pattinson suffers from a dysmorphic disorder. “I suppose it’s because of these tremendous insecurities that I never found a way to become egotistical. I don’t have a sixpack and I hate going to the gym. I’ve been like that my whole life. I never want to take my shirt off. I’d prefer to get drunk,” he says with a smile.
Evidently, in Hollywood, a leading man is confronted with the same pressures as a leading lady; preserving one’s appearance, at any cost, is imperative for the sake of future employment. “Yes, you’re investing in yourself, it’s your brand,” he agrees. “Every job is hopefully a step towards getting another job. And now that I’m getting older, I suppose I’ll have to go to the gym. But in reality, I’ll go every day and that will last a week.”
There are, of course, more pleasurable ways to get fit than the tedium of pumping iron in a sweaty gym. “I’ll tell you,” he says, erupting into laughter. “I was trying to learn how to surf. I was in Malibu and I didn’t realise I was getting photographed; I looked like a complete idiot. And when that happens enough times, you are an idiot, so in terms of pure vanity I realised that I wasn’t going to surf any more.”
Born and raised in London, Pattinson has two older sisters. His mother worked in a modeling agency and his father imported vintage cars from the United States.
He recalls one of his favourite childhood memories. “I remember Christmas, sneaking downstairs and seeing my parents putting a present under the tree. It was a Lego Death Star,” he grins. “I was so excited about it. I still have it. It’s still intact from that Christmas morning when I was, like, 10.”
Is this memorable gift tucked away in his storage unit under the rack of designer suits? He laughs. “No, actually it’s in my bedroom at my parents’ house.”
Pattinson’s short road to stardom began when he appeared in a couple of theatre productions at his father’s suggestion that he might meet girls if he became an actor. He quickly landed the role of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This small but pivotal role caught the attention of Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. And the rest, as they say, is history.
There’s been one constant, if not turbulent, presence in Pattinson’s life these past few years – his Twilight co-star and ex-girlfriend Kristen Stewart. Ironically, the Pattinson-Stewart relationship was never confirmed until their break-up.
In July last year, a scandal broke out when Stewart’s illicit tryst with then-married director Rupert Sanders was discovered. Although infidelity is certainly no anomaly in Hollywood circles, it was Stewart, the unmarried half of the romantic equation, who was vilified in the media for cheating.
After making a public apology to Pattinson (and later to her fans), the couple eventually reunited. But it was to be short-lived. Pattinson was seen moving his belongings out of her Los Angeles home in May this year.
“There’s not very much that really bothers me – I don’t ever feel the need to forgive or expect people to be…” he trails off again. “I judge people on their actions. I don’t really care if it’s wrong or right, I give them the benefit of the doubt. If they do something I can’t be bothered to deal with, I just cut them out.”
On the subject of romance, he says, “I’m quite sensitive, and I do like a bit of grand gesturing, but that’s just my ego. I like to give people presents and I think of myself as the best gift giver, but only because I get stuff for myself and then make it work for the other person.”
Since the break-up, he’s been linked to various celebrities, from Katy Perry to French model Camille Row, his co-star in the Dior campaign. As of now, he remains apparently single.
Having experienced so much so young, is there any advice he’d give himself if he could go back in time? “Not much,” he says.
Does this imply he’s made all the right decisions so far? He pauses to consider. “I don’t know. Perhaps.” He smiles. “Or maybe I’m just not seeing it yet.”