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Robert Pattinson Does Not Want To Play An English Prince, Thank You Very Much

Nov 18, 2019
Originally published on November 19, 2019 1:33 pm

British actor Robert Pattinson can't tell you how many times people have said to him: "Hey man ... you know what you'd be great at playing? An English prince."

But that's not really his thing.

"I think when you first start, if you're tall and English and have kind of floppy hair, in England that is the box that you're put in," he says. "But I like movies because of Pacino, basically. I didn't grow up watching period dramas and being like, 'That's what I want to do!' "

As a kid, Pattinson was drawn to movies featuring "antihero characters" — unafraid protagonists who "weren't too influenced by everybody around them."

Pattinson became a teen heartthrob playing vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight films. Once that franchise ended, he sought out complex roles in independent, art-house movies. "Playing characters in a moral gray area is much more exciting and satisfying to do," Pattinson says. "I've only really been able to find unusual parts in smaller movies."

Pattinson's latest film, The Lighthouse, directed by Robert Eggers, is a two-character story set in the 1890s, in a lighthouse on a desolate rock off the coast of New England. Willem Dafoe plays the old lighthouse keeper, and Pattinson is his young apprentice. As the island is hit by a fierce storm, the two men begin to lose track of time — and their grip on reality.

"The character doesn't know who he is, or where he is, or what's going on, and it's just infuriating him," Pattinson says. "For performance stuff, these are the parts that you always look for. ... You know that there's no kind of upper limit in what you can do with them."


Interview Highlights

On a turning point in his career after Twilight ended

I felt a little bit nervous when [Twilight] finished, because I'd basically just done a movie in between each of the Twilight movies, and I'd worked consistently for six or seven years or something. And then when it stopped, I kind of felt a little bit more nervous to do more experimental stuff, because I didn't have the safety net of doing another sequel, which would basically reset everything afterwards. But then right around that time, I got offered this movie with David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis, I still absolutely love that movie. I thought it felt so against the grain of everything that was coming out.

If you're chasing after people, getting them to like you, you're always going to be unsatisfied. - Robert Pattinson

On something filmmaker David Cronenberg told him at Cannes that stuck with him

I'd never been to Cannes before ... and I was very nervous, and I said, "How do you think it's going to go tomorrow?" And David [said], "I'm fully expecting a significant number of walkouts." It absolutely terrified me when I first heard it ... but as soon as I saw his pleasure in thinking that there were going to be walkouts, it really made a big effect on me. ...

If you're chasing after people, getting them to like you, you're always going to be unsatisfied. Whereas, if you team up with people who throw caution to the wind about their work and are entirely unconcerned ... they're going to make exactly the movie that they want to make.

Williem Dafoe, left, and Robert Pattinson are stranded during a bad storm in The Lighthouse.
Eric Chakeen / A24

On how he changes his voice for every role

Whenever I'm doing a movie or a character in an English accent, I mean, I literally feel like I'm naked and I'm incapable of doing my normal voice in a character. It just doesn't come out at all. It's every single time I read something, the first thing to change has something to do with my voice. It just does it naturally, and I find a deep pleasure in doing accents as well.

On getting ready to play Batman in the forthcoming film

It's been played in so many different ways. The comics cover so much ground, the movies cover so much ground. ... So I guess it's kind of what Matt Reeves, who is directing, wants to go for. ... When I was just doing the screen test and stuff, it's pretty astonishing how different you feel when you put [the Batman costume] on. You can have as many ideas as you want and as soon as you put that costume on, it feels like an entirely different situation, which you could never have predicted.

Lauren Krenzel and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Robert Pattinson, became a teen heartthrob after starring in the 2008 film "Twilight" as a very attractive 17-year-old vampire. He was in the sequels, too, but he steered his career in a surprising direction, pursuing out-of-the-mainstream films by directors he admired, like David Cronenberg, James Gray, the Safdie brothers, and Werner Herzog.

Now he's in two new films, "The King," which is on Netflix, and "The Lighthouse," which is in theaters. "The Lighthouse," directed by Robert Eggers, is a two-character story. It's set in the 1890s in a lighthouse on a desolate rock off the coast of New England. Willem Dafoe plays the old lighthouse keeper. Pattinson plays his young apprentice. They're alone together. The only other life around is the seagulls. As the two men are hit by a fierce storm, they begin to lose track of time and to lose their minds. They assault each other verbally and physically.

The film is shot in shadowy black and white, giving it the look of an early horror film. And like horror films, there are some supernatural occurrences - or maybe they're hallucinations. Let's hear a scene. Dafoe's character has been the verbose one, but after constantly insulting and mistreating Pattinson's character, Pattinson, the apprentice, finally explodes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LIGHTHOUSE")

ROBERT PATTINSON: (As Thomas Wake) You sound like a parody, giving and nagging orders like a spinster schoolmarm...

WILLEM DAFOE: (As Ephraim Winslow) Another conniption fit.

PATTINSON: (As Thomas Wake) ...When all the while giving station to this devil's old rum hole.

DAFOE: (As Ephraim Winslow) You're making a fool of yourself.

PATTINSON: (As Thomas Wake) Well, it's all horse [expletive] - your leg and your sea life. All of it. And if I hear one more word of horse [expletive] coming out of your foul, rotten tooth, smelly old mouth...

DAFOE: (As Ephraim Winslow) You d***...

PATTINSON: (As Thomas Wake) Shut your (unintelligible). I ain't finished yet. You think you're so high and mighty just because you're a lighthouse keeper? Well, you ain't a captain of no ship and you never was. You ain't no general. You ain't no copper. You ain't the president. And you ain't my father. And I'm sick of you acting like you is. Sick of your laughing, your snoring, and your God [expletive] farts - your God [expletive] farts.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK. Robert Pattinson, welcome to FRESH AIR. You spent so much time in this film getting abused by the weather and getting abused by Willem Dafoe and by seagulls. When you signed on for this movie, did you worry about how unpleasant it was going to be?

PATTINSON: No. I think there's definitely a part of me that's somewhat masochistic. I think it makes it easier for me when - in terms of performance stuff where there's a lot of elements pushing against you and so you're just reactive by default. It makes acting a lot easier when you don't have to act whatsoever. And, you know, if it's - you don't have to play cold if it's cold, if it's raining. And it takes away a little of the difficulty. Yeah.

GROSS: You and Willem Dafoe really go at each other verbally and physically. Do you approach acting differently? 'Cause my impression from reading about you both is that you do. So if that's true, how did that affect how you approached your scenes together? And you're the only two people in the movie, so your scenes are mostly together.

PATTINSON: I mean, I'm not sure how the...

GROSS: I'm not counting the mermaid (laughter).

PATTINSON: (Laughter) I think - I'm not really sure. I think we - in a lot of ways we approach it quite similarly. I mean, I think we do a lot of work by ourselves. I think I like being a little bit - I think we both like being a little bit isolated in our prep period for it. But, I mean, I noticed the one thing - Willem has an enormous amount of energy which I don't know where he gets it from. And I think my first day of rehearsals with him, by the end of the day I needed a week off afterwards. And he had - it just hadn't dented his energy whatsoever.

And so I think one of the fears I had is I'm not going to be able to maintain just the rehearsal schedule until - 'cause, you know, these scenes are just - they're long. I mean, each - a lot of these scenes are just sort of mini plays. And the way Robert Eggers, the director, wanted to shoot them was in kind of long, single takes in a - a lot of it's in a master. And it's - it is kind of exhausting.

And also, I think because my part at the beginning of the movie is pretty reactive and he has a sort of 180 switch by the end of it, I kind of had this strange feeling that I just didn't really want to show my cards. I think I always feel like if I'm - if I can see in the other actor's eyes that I've done something which he was expecting - or he or she was expecting - it's sort of - I feel incredibly disheartened and I feel like I'm doing something fake if I can just feel that they know where it came from. And so I think trying to hold as many surprises up your sleeves as you can is quite important to me.

GROSS: "The Lighthouse" is photographed in black and white, almost like a horror film because there's so much, like, shadow. What did that mean for you as an actor to be shot in black and white? I'm not sure if you were in black and white before. So what did it mean in terms of having to - since lighting is almost like a main character in the movie, I'm sure you really had to be very careful about where you were standing and how you were moving so that the light and shadow would remain right.

PATTINSON: Yeah. I mean, it's - it was scary at first, because we're shooting on black and white negative, and normally we shoot on color negative and then transfer it digitally afterwards. But when you're shooting on this negative and you - we had - and all the lenses were also these old lenses from the 20s and 30s, you need the most enormous amount of light to light anything, especially nighttime scenes, ironically.

Like, I think we had so many lights around the outside of the set to light for the interior night stuff that crew members were getting sunburnt. I mean, it was insanely bright. And you couldn't - we couldn't see each other, me and Willem. We were sitting two feet away and all you see is just a silhouetted halo around the other actor. You can't see any expression on their face. And I was kind of - I was - I mean, it's difficult to do a scene when you're basically totally blind.

But also, I was kind of worried that if you have that much light on your face it really washes out everything and so you can't really see any details. But they - Jarin Blaschke which - and Robert Eggers found - they found this filter which took out all the reds, and they would probably be able to talk about it a lot better than I would, but it kind of just really exaggerated every little crack in your skin, and every facial hair, and anything - and bits of grime on you. So it actually ended up looking really contrasty, which, you know, it gives it that real griminess which I wasn't expecting at all.

I mean, I kind of thought, you know, if you - normally, if you basically shine a spotlight in someone's face they just - it takes away every blemish on their face completely. But it sort of did the opposite in this and everyone just looks very, very, very weather-beaten.

GROSS: Did all that excessive light give you headaches?

PATTINSON: I don't think so. I mean, I - to be honest, I was so wound up this entire movie I feel like I was almost in a trance the entire time. I mean, it's so - after a while, just playing someone who's really losing contact with reality, it does - and especially because we're shooting in this little village in Nova Scotia which there's not an enormous amount of contact with... you know, your normal life. We were kind of - I mean, I was just staying in that world constantly. I mean, I could barely tell what was going on around me at all by the end of the shoot (laughter).

GROSS: Are there books you read to get, like, the period and the language in your head?

PATTINSON: I mean, not so much. I mean, I was kind of - there was an old kind of - just old footage of whalers in, I think, probably around 1910-ish, maybe 1920, getting whale oil, which I looked at. A lot of stuff is just silent for that, just to see the - and the way people moved. There was a lot of kind of lumberjack stuff. There were a lot of lumberjack songs I was listening to, which were very, very helpful. But for the dialect, a lot of it is kind of what we imagined - there are certain Maine accents which seem like they've just existed for, you know, forever, which don't sound like you're in America at all. And I really love those little microcosm accent kind of islands (laughter). Does that make sense?

And I was listening to a lot of these lobster fishermen and then kind of trying to imagine what those accents would sound like in 1890. And yeah, but Robert Eggers does - I mean, that's one of his great skills as a director. He doesn't - and a writer. He does an enormous amount of historical research. And yeah, he comes up with these just beautiful little colloquial language, which you don't normally see in modern movies at all.

GROSS: We have to take a short break here. So if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Pattinson, and he's now starring in the new film "The Lighthouse" with Willem Dafoe. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLOY ORCHESTRA'S "THE VAMPIRE'S WALTZ")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Pattinson. He's starring in the new film "The Lighthouse" and also in the new film "The King," which is now on Netflix.

So I want to contrast "The Lighthouse" with another film that you made in 2018 (laughter). That one's called "Damsel," and it's set, like, in the pioneer era. And I love this film. You're heading across the frontier to meet up with your fiance, and you're bringing her a wedding ring and a miniature horse because she loves miniature horses. And you're bringing a preacher to marry you in holy wedlock. You're not very bright. You're kind of goofy. You seem really naive. But as the movie goes on, it turns out you're really delusional. You're kind of, like, a crazy stalker.

PATTINSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: Things do not go well. But a scene I especially love - like, you're sitting around - you're still on your way to meet up with your fiance, and you're sitting around the campfire with the preacher. And you know, you - I think this is right after you've shown him, like, the locket with her picture in it, and you say you've written a song about her, and you start singing this song called "Honeybun."

PATTINSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: And honeybun is a word we're going to hear, like, over and over in this song.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: The only lyric is honeybun.

GROSS: So let's hear some of "Honeybun." And this is Robert Pattinson from the film "Damsel."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEYBUN")

PATTINSON: (Singing) The pit-a-pat (ph) of your beating heart in sync with mine when we're apart, my honeybun. My honeybun, my honeybun, my honeybun. I love you. Can't you see? My honeybun, you're my honeybun. My honeybun, I want you just for me. You're a horseshoe to my hoof, and I need no further proof. You're my honeybun. You're my only one for me. Honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, honeybun, mmm-mmm (ph), my honeybun.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's Robert Pattinson in the film "Damsel." My favorite line - in addition to honeybun, honeybun, honeybun - is, like, you're the horseshoe to my hoof. That's such a really great kind of parody of all the you're-the-top kind of songs.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: You're the Colosseum. Did you write the song?

PATTINSON: No, no, no, that was - I think it was the director who wrote that. But I think - maybe it could have been the composer. I actually can't remember where that came from (laughter). But I thought it was very funny, I mean, because I think all those '50s westerns, they always had that kind of incongruous moment when suddenly they'd just be singing (laughter), like a kind of...

GROSS: Because they're singing cowboys. I mean, I love singing cowboys.

PATTINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: But there were so many singing cowboy movies and TV shows in the '30s and '40s and '50s. But I bet it was you who came up with, like, smacking your lips in between, like, every line.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: I think, to be honest, I was incredibly nervous when I was doing it.

GROSS: Why? You've sung before.

PATTINSON: Yeah. There's something about singing in a movie. I don't know. It's really terrifying. I can even hear desperately trying to find the note when I - (singing) ohh, oh, oh, (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Well, that's part of the charm.

PATTINSON: Yeah, that's it.

GROSS: He's not supposed to be talented.

PATTINSON: It looks like I'm doing - making character choices, but really, it's just terror.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You've made such interesting and offbeat choices in your career, going from, you know, the incredibly successful franchise series "Twilight" to films like "Damsel" and working with, you know, David Cronenberg and Werner Hertzog. After "Twilight," did you have a long talk with yourself about, like, what direction do you want to head in? Because, you know, you'd become such a heartthrob, and that's not the direction you chose to stay in.

PATTINSON: I mean, not really. I felt a little bit nervous when it finished because I'd basically just done a movie in between each of the "Twilight" movies, and I'd just kind of worked consistently for six or seven years or something. And then when it stopped, I kind of felt a little bit more nervous to make - to do more experimental stuff because I didn't have the safety net of doing another sequel, which would basically recess everything afterwards. But then right around that time, I got offered this movie with David Cronenberg, "Cosmopolis," which - I still, like, absolutely love that movie, and I thought it just felt so against the grain of everything that was coming out.

And there's something really exciting - I mean, I remember being in Cannes with David Cronenberg. I'd never been to Cannes before, and I'd grown up loving - you know, my film taste is from Cannes. And every year when it came around, I would love seeing - I would read the newspaper to see what was nominated, and I would try and be getting all of the DVDs - everything that had been nominated for Cannes every year. And I remember being with him, and I was very nervous. And he said that - I was like, oh, how do you think it's going to go tomorrow? And David's saying, well, I'm, like, fully expecting a significant number of walkouts.

GROSS: (Laughter).

PATTINSON: And it kind of - I was - it absolutely terrified me when I first heard it. And then there were - I think there may have been a couple of walkouts for it, but as soon as I saw his pleasure in thinking that there were going to be walkouts, it really made a kind of big effect on me. And...

GROSS: What kind of effect?

PATTINSON: It made it seem more appealing (laughter).

GROSS: Why? That's not usually what people pray for about their movies.

PATTINSON: I mean, it's kind of like - I don't know. You're always - if you're chasing after people getting them to like you, you're always going to be unsatisfied, whereas if you're kind of - if you team up with people who throw caution to the wind about their work and are entirely unconcerned, I guess - because I'm just not really that kind of person, so I like being around the energy when people are just - if they get an opportunity to make a movie, they're going to make exactly the movie that they want to make. And it's regardless of the audience, regardless of anything. It's almost like they're like pirates. I mean, they're taking - they're like a sort of Robin Hood. And someone's given them financing for a movie, and they're going to make whatever they want to make. And if an audience likes it, that's great, but it's not a major concern at all.

And I think because I'd come from quite a commercial - I'd done quite a few commercial movies, and, you know, your first concern is, are the people going to like it? Are they going to like it? Are they going to like it? And it's very - it's so stressful. And if you - as soon as you take away, you know, whether - it sounds terrible - whether people are going to like or not - but I think people end up - the people who do like it when you haven't designed it for them to like, they like it on a much deeper level.

And yeah, it seems like you attract the right audience, and you attract other people who you want to work with. They just come at it from a completely different angle, which is much more positive for me, I think.

GROSS: When you were starting to do other movies in addition to the "Twilight" films, did people have preconceptions about who you were as a person and an actor and what you could be capable of doing and what kind of movies you belonged in?

PATTINSON: Only in that I was English. I mean, it's such - I mean, the only parts I've been consistently offered - well, not even offered. It'd be like, people would say, like - the amount of times that someone's like, hey, man. You know what you'd be great as playing? An English prince.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: And I'm like, oh, yeah. Great. Thanks a lot. Like, I try and avoid that one because I think when you first start, if you're tall and English and have kind of floppy hair in England, I mean, like, that is - yeah. That's definitely the box that you're put in. But I kind of - you know, I like movies because of Pacino, basically. I just didn't want to do - I didn't grow up watching period dramas and being like, oh, that's what I want to do.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: And so yeah, I kind of try to avoid that.

GROSS: My guest is Robert Pattinson. He's starring in the new movie "The Lighthouse." His other new film "The King" is on Netflix. After a short break, we'll talk about playing a sexy teenaged vampire in the "Twilight" saga, and I'll ask him for his psychosexual interpretation of the character. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARTER BURWELL'S "TWILIGHT OVERTURE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Robert Pattinson. He became famous as a sexy teenaged vampire in the "Twilight" saga. "Twilight" was a box-office hit, but he went on to star in many small films that played art houses, like his new film "The Lighthouse." He's worked with directors like David Cronenberg, James Gray, the Safdie brothers and Werner Herzog.

So since it's "Twilight" that made you famous, let's hear a scene from the first "Twilight" film. And you're a vampire who's been 17 years old for God knows how many centuries (laughter). And then you meet Bella, played by Kristen Stewart, who you fall in love with, and she falls in love with you. And after revealing to her that you're a vampire, you warn her about how dangerous you are. And this is the scene in which you're warning her, and all the swoosh sounds that we're hearing in the background - this is as you're demonstrating to her visually how strong and powerful you are and how you're capable of flying around, disappearing from one place and then, a moment later, reappearing in another.

So here is Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TWILIGHT")

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) I'm the world's most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in - my voice, my face, even my smell - as if I wouldn't need any of that...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) ...As if you could outrun me...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) ...As if you could fight me off.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRUMBLING)

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) I'm designed to kill.

KRISTEN STEWART: (As Bella Swan) I don't care.

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) I've killed people before.

STEWART: (As Bella Swan) It doesn't matter.

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) I wanted to kill you. I've never wanted a human's blood so much in my life.

STEWART: (As Bella Swan) I trust you.

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) Don't.

STEWART: (As Bella Swan) I'm here. I trust you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) My family, we're different from others of our kind. We only hunt animals. We learned to control our thirst. It's you. Your scent, it's like a drug to me. You're like my own personal brand of heroin.

GROSS: (Laughter).

PATTINSON: You smell real good.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I love how, like, your character's this, like, brew of, like, toxic masculinity and the seductive, dangerous young man mixed with a sensitive young man trying hard not to lose control of his impulses and be irresponsible. What's your psychosexual analysis of your character?

PATTINSON: I mean, I guess - yeah. In the context - in context - well, now the context has changed. I mean, I remember when I was doing it, I think what I was thinking was the danger of, when you fall in love with someone, the instinct to build a pedestal higher and higher and higher and higher. And sudden - and it was something to do with, like - you make - I clearly round up everything to being - every character I play has some self-doubt issue. But I thought when he falls in love with Bella, it makes him feel weaker and weaker and weaker. And he - and she becomes this kind of enormous kind of - that she becomes his fantasy figure, and that's what's terrifying him, is making him feel weaker and weaker.

The psychosexual stuff - I mean, I kind of - I don't know. There was something - I remember watching "Lust, Caution." I was very, very obsessed with that movie when I was doing the first "Twilight." And it's kind of - I always kind of imagined that thing, especially in movies, because the intent - you know, the tiniest individual touch or just presence, you know - if you're in each other's presence just very, very briefly in these tiny little moments, they become so magnified in cinema.

But I wanted to make it even less about them holding hands or anything. I mean, I wanted them to only touch, like, three times in the entire movie, and they'd just sort of - and then those three times are so sort of electrifying that it's painful to them. Like, it's not a kind of - it's not a particularly pleasurable thing, how much they're attracted to each other. It's just - it's almost traumatic, which is kind of probably how I felt about all my teenage relationships.

GROSS: (Laughter) Well, I guess the more taboo it is, the more, like, electric it becomes.

PATTINSON: Yeah, it's way better. It's really difficult to generate that when you get older.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I think it's hilarious, actually, that, you know, you worked with Werner Herzog, and he made this great vampire film, "Nosferatu" - not the silent version of "Nosferatu," but "Nosferatu" starring Klaus Kinski. That's one of, like, the darkest films. And his version of the vampire is somebody who is living forever and doesn't much like the idea. You know, he - there's no pleasure in his life, and he's kind of hideous, and, like, the rats follow - the plague follows him wherever he goes. And you're this, like, kind of romantic - you know, like, if Montgomery Clift was a vampire, you know? So it's just, like, two completely opposite visions of the vampire.

PATTINSON: I think Edward basically is Nosferatu, but at the same time, he still cares about, like, doing his hair and stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Klaus Kinski has no hair...

PATTINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...In "Nosferatu."

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: 'Cause he is kind of a sort of - yeah. And that's the one thing I - that was the kind of massive bone of contention I had when I was doing "Twilight." It's like, OK, so they've lived for a hundred years. Why are they still going to high school?

GROSS: (Laughter) Because he's always 17. He's 17 forever.

PATTINSON: But even - I mean, people drop out of high school.

GROSS: (Laughter).

PATTINSON: Like, normal people drop out of school. Like, what is he hoping to achieve? He's in the same year.

GROSS: The same school - right.

PATTINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: So if your vampire was 17 forever, how old were you when you played him?

PATTINSON: I was - I think I started when I was 21 to - and I finished when I was 26.

GROSS: What was it like for you when fame hit?

PATTINSON: I mean, it was - it's funny because it was so sudden. I mean, it was - I think I'd done the movie, and then I'd gone - I was in LA just doing auditions and stuff. And then we did Comic-Con in 2008. And it was literally from having absolutely no one recognize you whatsoever - we went into the big Hall H in San Diego - and it was like being in Backstreet Boys just, like, immediately.

GROSS: (Laughter).

PATTINSON: I mean, like, from - we walked through the door, and it was just down the rabbit hole.

And - but it was so sudden it didn't feel real to me at all. I mean, it was like - and I think - I'm really happy I had that first kind of brush with it all like that because it seemed so surreal that I felt like I was - I'd gone to pay to see a show of people all screaming and crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: And it was like, there's nothing to do with me whatsoever. And so - I mean, it kind of - and I kind of always felt like that the whole way through it. I mean, it just - it felt so sudden that I didn't feel the weight of responsibility with it at all.

GROSS: We have to take a short break here. So if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Pattinson, and he's now starring in the new film "The Lighthouse" with Willem Dafoe. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "SPY MEETING")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Pattinson. And he's now starring in "The Lighthouse" in movie theaters, and his movie "The King" is now on Netflix.

So getting back to "Twilight" for a moment, you and your co-star Kristen Stewart were a couple for several years. When she hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 2017, she referred to that in her opening monologue, which was hilarious. So here's an excerpt of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

STEWART: I'm a little nervous to be hosting because I know that the president's probably watching. And...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: ...I don't think he likes me that much.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Here is how I know. Four years ago, I was dating this guy named Rob - Robert.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: And we broke up, and then we got back together. And for some reason, it made Donald Trump go insane.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Here's what he actually tweeted - and this is real. (Reading) Robert Pattinson should not take back Kristen Stewart. She cheated on him like a dog and will do it again. Just watch. He can do so much better.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

STEWART: Now, I know you're thinking. Right? That's so crazy; the president tweeted about you once. No, no, no. The president tweeted about me 11 times.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: He also said - (reading) everyone knows I'm right that Robert Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart. In a couple of years, he'll thank me. Be smart, Robert.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I know. And then one day later he tweeted, (reading) everyone's asking me to speak more on Robert and Kristen...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: ...And I don't have time except to say - Robert, drop her. She cheated on you, and she'll do it again.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: OK. So to be fair, I don't think Donald Trump hated me. I think he's in love with my boyfriend...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: ...Because he also tweeted this - (reading) Miss Universe 2012 pageant will be airing live on NBC and Telemundo December 19. Open invite stands for Robert Pattinson.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: So yeah, that's crazy. Right? The president is not a huge fan of me. But that is so OK. And Donald, if you didn't like me then, you're really probably not going to like me now 'cause I'm hosting "SNL," and I'm, like, so gay, dude.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

PATTINSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: So that was Kristen Stewart's opening monologue on "Saturday Night Live."

So there's one other Miss Universe reference I want mention from a Donald Trump tweet from 2012. (Reading) Robert, I'm getting a lot of heat for saying you should dump Kristen, but I'm right. If you saw the Miss Universe girls, you would reconsider.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: It's so great. Like, he's plugging his beauty pageant...

PATTINSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...And making it sound like you should be shopping for a girl from my catalog, you know, of pageant contestants. Like, I'll show you them. You can choose - you could have one.

PATTINSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: So we heard a little bit of Kristen Stewart's reaction to all of that. What was your reaction to the tweets?

PATTINSON: (Laughter) Again, it's just - I literally feel like I have a kind of alter ego who's living that existence. I mean, it's just kind of - I don't feel like it's in any way in reference to me in reality at all. Yeah. I mean, I think it's just an impossible thing to compute. And I'm kind of - I mean, especially now - I mean, at the time I didn't really - I wasn't even really paying attention to it at all. But...

GROSS: Well, he wasn't president yet.

PATTINSON: (Laughter) I know (ph).

GROSS: But he's president now (laughter).

PATTINSON: I know. I mean, it is kind of fascinating. I think I actually, a while ago, checked. And I think he might have deleted all those tweets. Now I'm like - hey, what's all that about? You over it now?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You feel hurt?

PATTINSON: Yeah, like...

GROSS: A little bit wounded.

PATTINSON: ...That's my claim to fame.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What were some of the movies and TV shows that you grew up with in England?

PATTINSON: I didn't really grow up watching too much TV and movies. I only really started really getting into movies when I was about 15.

GROSS: Why did you start getting into movies then?

PATTINSON: I don't know really what clicked. I wasn't even acting at the time. I think someone had given me Derek Malcolm's book - the reviewer - of his hundred favorite movies. And I had never really even thought about cinema that much. I didn't really grow up in that kind of culture.

And it - something just clicked in my mind, and I started watching a lot of Godard. There was a picture on the front cover of Derek Malcolm's book. It was a still from "Breathless." And I just - that - something - I mean, I think a lot of people have had that same reaction. It was just there's something about Belmondo that I just - it just was a great still. I went out and got the movie. And I'd never really seen anything like that. And it kind of - it really started to affect me, and I got really into watching kind of a lot of new wave classic names and then a lot of classic movies.

I loved all sort of antihero characters where they looked like they didn't - they'd look like they weren't too influenced by everybody around. They weren't afraid. And I think I was just very shy when I was a teenager, and that kind of really appealed to me. A lot of Jack Nicholson performances - I remember watching "Five Easy Pieces," and that was sort of - it was just a massive thing to me. And then "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" - I thought, like, if I just dress like Randle McMurphy, that girl - like, your - you could sort of behave like him and stuff.

I mean, it was kind of around the - it was weird. There was looking at characters like that in movies and listening to rap music at that time. It kind of went hand-in-hand. I mean, somebody was asking me who my heroes were growing up, and I was just like, Biggie, basically (laughter). Like, I mean, like, that's really the only person. And it's always to do with that kind of...

GROSS: A person who's opposite of what you are?

PATTINSON: The opposite of what I was and someone who really just - I mean, I guess it's just - it's a pretty obvious kind of pretty sheltered, like, rebellion. Like, it kind of - there is that fantasy of wanting to, you know, just put your middle finger up at everybody and just do your own thing. And I guess I've been gradually trying to build on that ever since.

GROSS: Well, considering the movies that first influenced you, it makes perfect sense that after "Twilight," you've done so many, like, indie films and films, like, so far out of the mainstream.

PATTINSON: I mean, I think it's also just a kind of - those parts - the parts I like which aren't really pandering, I mean, I can - you can already - it's sort of - as soon as you get up to a high - as soon as you start doing movies with a higher budget, suddenly, everyone's very, very afraid with having a character in a moral gray area. And playing characters in a moral gray area is much more exciting and satisfying to do. And so you can only really - I have only really been able to find kind of unusual parts, really, in smaller movies.

GROSS: Well, this would be a good time to note that you are about to play Bruce Wayne - Batman. Do you consider him, like, morally ambiguous?

PATTINSON: I mean, I've got a lot of thoughts. Well, it's funny, like, doing - I've done so many movies where, you know, I play these sort of partially monstrous characters. And whenever I've been promoting them, you know, normally, no one cares what you say about it. And I've just noticed every single time I say one sentence about Batman, there's this massive - I'm offending swathes of Batman fans. But, I mean, it's kind of - I mean, the interesting thing about Batman itself is that you can basically - it's been played in so many different ways. The comics cover so much ground. The movies cover so much ground. I mean, if you're going on the kind of - if you're trying to play a historically accurate Batman, I mean, you could literally play anything. So I guess it's kind of what Matt Reeves is directing and kind of wants to go for.

And I've always found this - until you are on set and until you can feel what it feels like to be around the other actors, to be in the costume - I mean, the few times I've been in - that's not even the real costume yet. Like, when I was just doing the screen test and stuff, I mean, it's pretty astonishing how different you feel when you put it on. You can have as many ideas as you want, and as soon as you put that costume on, it feels, you know, an entirely different situation in which you could never have predicted.

GROSS: Well, how does it feel to have, like, the tights and the cape?

PATTINSON: It's just - it's that kind of - it makes you a lot larger. And people also - I think the main thing as well is something where covering your face, like, going around with a mask on, to anybody, I mean - it does something to everyone around you even though they know - you know, they know who it is underneath. But it's just - I could even - I could feel even in the few minutes I was doing it. People kind of behave differently around you, and you'd never really know until you've done it.

GROSS: We have to take a short break here. So if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Pattinson, and he's now starring in the new film "The Lighthouse" with Willem Dafoe. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEFON HARRIS' "UNTIL")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Pattinson. And he's now starring in "The Lighthouse" in movie theaters, and his movie "The King" is now on Netflix.

Your first jobs that resembled acting was modeling. You started modeling when you were 12. What were you modeling for at age 12 - I mean, like, what kinds of products - like, clothing?

PATTINSON: I used to do women's hand modeling (laughter).

GROSS: Oh, you're kidding me.

PATTINSON: No, yeah. That was the first couple of jobs - for jewelry.

GROSS: Explain what hand modeling is.

PATTINSON: For - yeah. For, like, catalog rings and stuff...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So the beautiful engagement ring would actually be on your hand.

PATTINSON: It would actually be 12-year-old me. I only did that once, but I definitely liked that.

GROSS: How did you get that job?

PATTINSON: I don't know, actually. I think it was just - I think it was sort of like an accident. I just had...

GROSS: I could see all these, like, women coming to audition and a 12-year-old boy - he gets the job.

PATTINSON: The patriarchy.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: "Snatch," there's another one.

(LAUGHTER)

PATTINSON: That only happened once. I think I might have only got about 50 bucks for it, too. But yeah, I did that. I mean, I did - I mean, I do very, very few jobs. I kind of - I did like going to the cast things, though. It was always kind of fun. It was definitely an access to a world that I would never have had access to otherwise. And then to transition from that to doing acting auditions, it was just - I mean, I remember the first acting audition I did after having done thousands of modeling castings where you line up for hours. And they don't even look at you. They just look at your book of photos and they just say no.

And then you do an acting audition and you're actually - you know, people are asking you questions and stuff. I mean, it just seemed so - it was night and day. And, I mean, I think my first audition - my first audition, I think, was for "Troy," the Brad Pitt movie. And I just thought it was so fun even the audition - and just wild that anyone was even listening to me do any of this stuff.

GROSS: I think some people were probably initially surprised to hear you - like, people who first knew you from "Twilight" were surprised to hear your British accent when you spoke as yourself. You're good at accents. You've done plenty of them. You're - you also sing and play music. And I always think a musician's ear and an actor's ear are similar in being able to do, like, accents and, you know, mimic voices and stuff. But how did you teach yourself how to do accents, or is that just a gift that you had?

PATTINSON: I think, especially with American accents, I - it was probably definitely from singing and also - and I did genuinely really want to be a rapper when I was a kid. And so that - and, like, and I used to obsessively listen to that and all the kind of '90s and early 2000s rap records. They always used to have these kind of interludes with little skits on the album. And I remember, like, me and my friends after school would always try and record those, make her own little ones of those.

And still to this day, I mean, whenever I'm doing a movie or a character in an English accent, I mean, I find - I literally feel like I'm naked. And I can't - I'm incapable of doing my normal voice in a character. It just doesn't come out at all. It's - every single time I read something, the first thing to change is - has something to do with my voice. It kind of - it just does it naturally. And I think there's - I find a kind of deep pleasure in doing accents as well.

It's kind of - especially something like "The Lighthouse" where, I mean, the more you practice it, there's just certain syllables that are really fun. It's really satisfying to say. And it's kind of - when you're trying to get something to sound right, it's like tuning guitar strings. And you kind of, you know, you can listen to a bunch of examples of the accent you're trying to do. And then when you're practicing and practicing and practicing, repeating a line. Eventually, the two - you know, your idea and the sound comes in harmony with each other. That's a very, very satisfying feeling.

GROSS: Robert Pattinson, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

PATTINSON: Cool. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

GROSS: Robert Pattinson stars in the new films "The Lighthouse," which is in theaters, and "The King," which is on Netflix. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be investigative reporter Heidi Blake, author of "From Russia With Blood." She writes about Putin's ruthless assassination program and the 14 suspected Russian assassinations on British soil - exiled Russian oligarchs, security officials and others critical of the Kremlin, including Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in 2006. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.