Though he has a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes having been awake since 4am — it’s now 7pm — when I come face to face with Robert Pattinson he is quick to assure me that he is totally fine. The early rising is just because he is in the middle of shooting a new film: a film about which he is extremely enthusiastic.
‘It’s with Parasite director Bong Joon-ho and it’s like nothing I’ve ever done before,’ he says. ‘The movie is so crazy, it’s a completely different style of working.’ In the film — Mickey 17, based on a dystopian sci-fi novel by Edward Ashton — Pattinson plays two versions of himself (both clones) who team up to work together. ‘It’s so much talking,’ he says. He’s been staying in a little hotel in Bedford near a vast airport hangar where they’ve built the set. In the evenings he has been back in his room, getting increasingly worried that it might be haunted. ‘Anyway, today I just realised that I’m probably not seeing ghosts — it’s probably just because I’ve been drinking about 17 cups of coffee a day.’ So to confirm: Robert Pattinson is not going mad, he’s just very, very tired.
For a long time now, Pattinson has been one of the most consistently interesting character actors of his generation. Most recently he has moved back into blockbuster territory as a pleasingly off-beat Bruce Wayne in The Batman. In the decade before this he honed his craft on the art-house and indie circuits, often playing lowlifes, oddballs and creeps for some of the world’s most respected directors (David Cronenberg and Christopher Nolan among them). My personal favourite is Pattinson as deeply unsympathetic street hustler Connie in the frantic Safdie brothers film, Good Time. You forget that you’re watching a man once regarded as the world’s hunkiest teen heart-throb, which is basically the point. The narrative for many years now has been that Pattinson’s career choices are a reaction against the megastardom that was thrust on him during his time playing Edward Cullen in the Twilight franchise.
But anyway, he’s here in his capacity as a Dior fragrance ambassador as the fashion house relaunches Dior Homme Sport and adds a shaving cream to the best-selling line. He has worked with the brand for 10 happy years, such that now he tells me he’s become close friends with many of the people at the company. ‘I’m not even just saying it to be nice. It’s been one of the most enjoyable work, and personal, experiences that I’ve ever had in my life.’ In terms of fragrance, he says he is bad at identifying what his favourite smells are, ‘but — I mean, it’s kind of cheesy — if you’re in love with someone, their smell becomes very particular to you… so yeah, something like “girlfriend in a dressing gown”.’ His girlfriend is the model and musician Suki Waterhouse. The pair have been together for a number of years though they only recently went ‘red carpet official’ and, given the public interest in his previous relationships (first with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, then with the musician FKA twigs), it’s perhaps little wonder that they’ve stayed under the radar for so long.
I’m probably not seeing ghosts — it’s probably just because I’ve been drinking about 17 cups of coffee a day
What he particularly likes about working with Dior is the opportunities it has afforded him, he says. In the last Dior Homme fragrance ad, he got the chance to face one of his biggest fears and dance in public. ‘I thought I’d broken my curse when I did that scene [it involves Pattinson performing an exuberant, freewheeling shimmy]. But then I went to a party a few weeks later — thinking I’m like Billy Elliot and as soon as I took one step on to the dance floor had one of the biggest panic attacks of my life. You know when you think you’re that guy and then suddenly, you’re just brutally humbled. Yeah, it felt like my dad had just caught me joy riding a car. I went cold; I think I left the party after that.’ Pattinson has spoken in the past about the fact that he’s uncomfortable with being the centre of attention, and he doesn’t like crowds.
Acting seems an odd career choice for someone with these particular aversions, though, presumably, he didn’t expect to inspire such rabid lust in roughly half the world’s teenagers. Perhaps the most unfiltered snapshot we get into his views on fame is via Fear & Shame, the three-minute comedy short that he wrote and starred in, in 2017. In the film, a hungry celebrity finds himself on a neurotic downward spiral as he dashes across New York in search of a hot dog. As he tries to evade baying paparazzi and avoid being spotted (‘That’s Teen Wolf,’ says a passer by. ‘She’s definitely mocking you,’ responds Pattinson’s internal monologue), you get a sense of the claustrophobia and paranoia a person in that position might experience.
Problematically, he is really hot. Even on minimal sleep Pattinson is handsome enough to make you blush (and I wasn’t even Team Edward back in the day): sharp-jawed and leonine, he is also unassuming, self-deprecating. On the photo shoot for this issue, he entered with such little fanfare (clutching a dog-patterned bag-for-life with his lunch in it) that at first no one even realised he’d arrived. He moved around the room, shaking everyone’s hand, saying ‘hello’ to each crew member in turn. He’s not exactly charming, in that smooth LA way, he’s too English and fidgety (he vapes throughout the interview — it’s not a flavoured vape, he tells me — he’s trying to quit), but he is funny. It is not something I expected, you so rarely read it about him, but everything he says has a wickedly wry inflection. He has a keen eye for the absurd (see again: Fear & Shame) and is quick to laugh, often at himself. In the days leading up to our interview, I happen upon a number of people who know him or who have met him, all of whom offer up stellar reviews. Succession writer Lucy Prebble, for instance, raves about him; they aren’t close but they have met a few times and he is a lot of fun, she tells me, good on a night out.
I can’t tell you what the equation is that means that one hot actor ends up pegged as a ‘serious thesp’ while another is written off as mere ‘eye candy’, but Pattinson is certainly not the first to find his assigned lot frustrating. Earlier this year, Alexander Skarsgård said that after his first job, he ended up on a ‘stupid “sexy hunky hot list”’ and then no one took him seriously. In the past Pattinson has spoken about resisting the pressure to get ripped for his roles, including Batman. It was a joke, he says (‘although I got in so much trouble for saying that I don’t work out, even from my trainer, who was like, “Why would you say that?”’) but it certainly hints at his discomfort with being viewed as a sex symbol. It’s also, he points out, ‘quite embarrassing when you get into a pattern of answering questions about your workout because there’ll always be a guy who’s in better shape than you.’
Watching your calorie intake is extraordinarily addictive — you don’t quite realise how insidious it is
Joke or not, his quotes did shine a light on the pressure men face to look a certain way, a pressure that’s been filtering down steadily to younger and younger boys. ‘Yeah, it’s crazy,’ he says. ‘And it’s very, very easy to fall into that pattern as well, even if you’re just watching your calorie intake, it’s extraordinarily addictive — and you don’t quite realise how insidious it is until it’s too late.’ Pattinson says he has never struggled with body image, ‘but I have basically tried every fad you can think of, everything except consistency. I once ate nothing but potatoes for two weeks, as a detox. Just boiled potatoes and Himalayan pink salt. Apparently it’s a cleanse… you definitely lose weight. And I tried to do keto once. I was like, “Oh, there’s a diet where you just eat charcuterie boards and cheese all the time?” But I didn’t realise that you can’t have beer as it completely defeats the purpose.’ One of his 2023 resolutions is to try consistency — and to get a dog. ‘I’ve spent so many hours looking at pictures of different dogs, I mean literally for months and months, so if I don’t get one it’ll be a colossal waste of time. I mean, I really went in.’ He tells me he favours the scruffy, runt variety.
It’s funny that in this next film he plays clones of himself because there’s a healthy trade in Robert Pattinson deep fakes on social media. ‘I know, it’s terrifying,’ he says. ‘The amount of people who know me quite well and will still be like, “Why are you doing these weird dancing videos on TikTok?” It’s really bizarre. You just realise that we’re two years away from it being indistinguishable from reality — and what on Earth am I going to do as a job then?’
Despite a schedule so intense it borders on the psyche - delic, he tells me that he still worries about where the next job is coming from. ‘There’s just something in me which runs very, very deep and it makes the idea of taking a holiday seem like an impossibility… I find myself going, “No, I have to keep working, I have to keep working all the time, this might be my last opportunity, I’ve got to save for a rainy day.
‘It’s genetic. My dad was always bad at taking holidays,’ he continues. ‘He’d always love it but I remember even as a very young child, there’d always be tears the night before — he’d say, “Just go without me, just go without me.”’
Soon, though, he tells me as we finish up, his time to take some time off will come. ‘And in the meantime,’ he smiles, ‘I’ll just be here battling with the ghost demon.’
Dior Homme Sport eau de toilette, £136 for 200ml, and Dior Homme Shaving Cream, £49, available from 1 Feb (dior.com)
Photographer: Louie Banks
Stylist: Jessica Skeete-Cross
Beauty Director: Rose Beer
Grooming: Jillian Halouska at The Wall Group using Dior Backstage Face & Body Foundation and Dior Homme Dermo System
Manicure: Charly Avenell using Dior Manicure Collection
Photographer’s Assistants: Oliver Matich; Alessandro Schneider
Stylist’s Assistant: Lotte Lovell-White