Transcription thanks to The Irish Twilight Sisters
Monday July 19, 2010. Empire is in LA, on the backlot of 20th Century Fox. Behind the studio's towering HQ - Better known as die hard's Nakatomi Plaza - in blazing sunshine. Today, we are lucky enough to witness one of the biggest street scenes filmed here since acres of the company's real estate were sold off in 1961 to foot the runaway costs of it's epic Cleopatra.
The cobbled streets are teeming with extras, all dressed in 1930s city mode - frills and brollies for the women, boots and braces for the boys - and there's a palpable air of excitement. Which is understandable, because, for once in Hollywood, the circus really is coming to town.
At the end of a salvo of jugglers, clowns and acrobats lumblers an elephant, balancing Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, one of the town's most bankable actresses, on it's head. Dressed in a striking ringmaster's outfit, Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterd's unforgettable villain, theatrically parades her. And just out of our sightline, in a full chino combo, Robert Pattinson, Twilight icon and global superstar, is bringing up the rear. This, Empire thinks, this is the magic of the movies!
Thursday February 17, 2011. Empire is in Fox's Little Theatre, a short walk from the street corner where this lavish, no-expense-spared scene was shot. Originally, we were only supposed to see a few scenes from the film in question - Water For Elephants, a glossy adaptation of Sara Gruen's bestseller - but now we're seeing the whole movie! The film unfolds and Empire breathlessly awaits the scene. OUR SCENE! And waits... and waits... and waits. Then suddenly, after a good 80 minutes at least, it whizzes by. In the middle of a montage. For all of, what, ten seconds.
Friday February 18, 2011. Empire sits in the Four Seasons hotel with Pattinson. He, too, only recently noticed this, while doing some additional voice recording for the movie.
"I was like 'Oh,'" he says, his shoulders falling for comic effect. He sighs, in a small voice, "I really liked that scene..."
By rights, Pattinson shouldn't even be here. He, more then anyone, knows the dangers of the editing process, having been snipped completely from his very first movie (more on that later). But instead, thanks to a guilty conscience, a tax bill and a book he'd never heard of, the Barnes-born actor is, at just 24, one of the biggest deals on the planet. The way he tells it, he just muddled his way through. He even says he came to star in Water For Elephants, his biggest gamble yet, by chance.
Although he plays a character named Jacob, this period epic couldn't be further removed from the Twilight films that made him a most unlikely pin-up. As the undead Edward Cullen, Pattinson set teen pulses racing, but here, as a young veterinarian tossed out of medical school after the death of his parents, he plays a much more orthodox Hollywood heartthrob. Joining the Benzini Brothers' circus, led by the mercurial August Rosenbluth (Waltz), Jacob begins to see the harsh realities of life on the road in Depression-era America - all the while getting closer to the ringmaster's beautiful wife, horse rider and acrobat Marlena (Witherspoon), who's dominated by August with a whip hand.
For any other actor, such a role would be part of a distinct gameplan, a decision to ratchet things up a notch, embrace the limelight, go Hollywood. Pattinson, though, claims this was not the case. "It's actually a cheaper film that ant of the Twilight movies," he says softly, "so it wasn't that massive a budget, it just looks like it was. But it seems so big, it does seem like a step, or something. It's weird, though. When I first read the script - because I didn't have that many lines - I just thought, 'Oh, okay, I get it: I'm in the eyes of the audience. It's going to be a big spectacle movie that isn't solely resting on my shoulders...'" He laughs. "So I was very relaxed about it, going in."
So he didn't realise he'd be carrying the whole movie?!
"I only realised about halfway through," he grins. "I was working every single day. Reese was hardly ever in, and Christoph only came in sporadically *. I was like, 'how did this happen?!'"
*Attention, Hollywood! Tongue-in-cheek British humour alert number one! In fairness to Waltz and witherspoon, Pattinson is talking subjectively about their respective shooting schedules within a main shoot that lasted from May 20 to August 4, 2010.
How indeed? At a time when most stars his age have become insufferable, Pattinson is friendly, likable and genuinely humble. The reddish hair is noticeably Edward's - he has flown straight from the set of Breaking Dawn in Baton Rouge - but the clothes are nondescript, perhaps for security reasons rather than fashion (Of the fan hysteria that follows him, he says this, somewhat cryptically: "I know what situations will provoke it now, so I just avoid doing those things.")
But this is an actor who isn't about to let his ego run riot just yet. The last time Pattinson worked with Witherspoon, on Mira Nair's 2004 adaptation of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, he told everyone who'd listen about his Hollywood break - and then ended up on the cutting-room floor. Even though he was playing the star's son.
"I had no idea," he laughs. "I went to a screening and it was very embarrassing, because my best friend played the son of the other main couple, and his scene was still in. His was almost adjacent to mine. So I was looking at his scene, thinking 'Hmm, pretty good,' waiting for mine." But it wasn't there. In it's place, there was "a big, happy wedding". In India. "Which wasn't in the book." he notes, deadpan (he has a lovely, dry sense of humour).
Did they ever say why?
"I think because it was the last scene, and they thought it was too depressing," he shrugs. "But it was quite funny, really. I ended up getting Harry Potter because the casting director felt so guilty that she forgot to tell me. I think I was the first person seen for it. Nowadays, I'm working all the time. But before that... I mean, in my career before Twilight, whatever job I got, that was the job I did. I never turned down a thing. They weren't even lead parts. Anything. Just random little things. And I liked doing it, on that level. I survived off the money for Harry Potter for, like, three years. I spent three years getting drunk **. And just when I was about to go broke, I got Twilight."
**Tongue-in-cheek British humour alert number two! This is A Joke.
Pattinson admits that, had it not been for the indie drama Little Ashes, in which he played surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, we might even have lost him to music. "All my friends were doing music and just starting to get contracts," he recalls. "We were all playing in the same little group of people. So I was going to start doing that, and then I got offered Little ashes, out of the blue. At first, I thought it was just gonna be two months' vacation in Spain, but it ended up being really, really hard. It was the first job I'd really researched, and I'd only just started to find some satisfaction in acting."
And after that? "Well, then I got Twilight," he grins. "I finished Little Ashes and went to LA because I really, really needed money! I had this big tax bill, and I was completely broke. But it had given me a different perspective. I talked to people in auditions differently, whereas before I just went in going, 'Yeah, I don't really know what I'm doing,' and I didn't really care."
Pattinson looks back on those days with amusement rather than embarrassment. "I really enjoyed everything," he says. "When you're starting out, you don't really know how to..." He changes tack, turning a negative into a positive. "I mean, you've gotta learn how to do things. Every job i did, especially before Twilight, I'd be all out in it - and having no idea which kind of direction to go in! I really wanted to see where my line was. I didn't know what I was doing at all."
He didn't train as an actor, so how did he learn? Was it a question of listening to the director? He smiles. "I've only just started accepting what directors tell me to do! I used to think that, say, where I had to do a big emotional scene, because of everything I'd read about actors when I was younger, I'd have to do it for real. So I'd be hyping myself up for three days beforehand. Like, I did this Viking movie (released theatrically in the UK as Sword Of Xanten) when I was 17, and there was all this fighting stuff. I had to kill this guy who killed my brother." he laughs. "I sat there going crazy for the entire day. It actually got to the point where I had the sword in my hand, about to whip it out and kill the guy, and the director came over and said 'Listen, you can't do it. You've got the red mist...' I was like, "WHAAAAT?'
"It's funny, that," he muses. "You don't understand when you first start doing it, how to get to certain places. Because you don't want to feel like you're faking it. But then you find out later that the best people, most of the time, are faking it. And that's when they do their best work."
After Twilight, the rest is history. And even that, he says, was sort of a fluke: when he landed the part, he genuinely had no idea how life-changing it would be. "No-one believes me about this. You couldn't buy the books in England. And I only knew one person who'd read then, who was my mum's friend's daughter, who lived in New York. It just seemed like it was one of those 'young adult' class reader things. I had no idea what it was about. So I went over there and I didn't know what to make of it at all. But I'd seen Into The Wild, and I thought Kristen (Stewart) was really good in it. They said, 'Oh, that's the girl playing Bella.' And I was like 'Shit, she's actually good!' So I did a reading with her, and she was really impressive."
"I didn't really know how to play it," he continues, "because I thought it was kind of a teen thing - which it did end up being - but I thought at the time, with Catherine Hardwicke and Kristen, it was going to be an indie movie. It seemed really interesting; a teen vampire movie that was going to be like Thirteen (Hardwicke's debut movie) and really serious. I had no idea it was going to be this big thing that you'd get on Burger King hats."
Empire takes it that this has actually happened? "Yes," he grins. "I think you can even get an Edward burger! But it doesn't really make an enormous amount of difference. Everyone always thinks, 'Oh, well, you can do anything you want now.' but there's nothing out there. There's hardly anything. Also, you've got to fit into the part. I mean, it's not like I'm going to play the Queen!"
After the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2, Pattinson says there'll definitely be no more Edward Cullen. his next film, sensual period thriller Bel Ami, recently wrapped, and then he starts work on Cronenberg's new thriller, Cosmopolis. You'd think he might be blasé about that, but no. "I'm just astonished that I've been cast," he marvels. "I'd read the script before and thought, 'Wow, this is insane. But insane and difficult.' And then, out of nowhere, my agent said, "Do you want to do it?'"
Is this something of a dream come true, then? "I never thought about working with Cronenberg," he reflects, "but I've always loved his movies. It just never came into my head that there would be an opportunity. Y'know, there are so few auteur's left. The one thing that pisses me off about working in films is when you start a project and then, suddenly, two days before you start, there's a massive rewrite to make an R-rated movie into something that's PG-13, and it's a totally different story. As soon as that line's been crossed, you know you're not making a movie anymore. You're making a...a... fridge magnet. It's nothing.
"But with people like Cronenberg you know that, no matter what, there will be a movie at the end, and it will be solid and self-contained, and it's not made for any other reason than it being a movie. and however ridiculous it is, that's so hard to find! There's a few people like this. Like Jaques Audiard, who made A Prophet. He's never made a film that isn't entirely his own."
This informed, intelligent and incisive side of Robert Pattinson might come as a surprise to those expecting an airhead, boy-model bimbo. So Empire puts him on the spot somewhat and asks what he would say to people who have a precognition about him from Twilight, and wanted to know why they should go to see Water For Elephants.
"I don't know," he says, suddenly a little shyer. "Hopefully they'll think it's a good movie. I don't know what it says about me... But I have a feeling that a lot of people will like it. I don't think a lot of movies coming out are anything like it, and when I was working on the film it didn't feel like anything else that was being made. So hopefully it will... it will... satiate something in people."
And it's better that having a rapping career, which Empire believes very almost happened...?
He nods. "It's definitely better than that."
Water For Elephants is out on May 5 and will be reviewed in the next issue.
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