Our man has just woken up. He’s just rolled out of bed. He’s sitting opposite me on an overstuffed sofa in trousers and a T-shirt. The year’s teen idol, the month’s hottest “get” in celebrity journalism, obviously hasn’t done up his laces.
In its opening weekend in the United States, Twilight, the vampire film he stars in, took &襛48m. A cast appearance in a mall in San Francisco, projected to attract 500, was attended by 3,000 and had to be closed down. At another appearance in Pennsylvania, a girl broke her arm. There is even such a thing as a “Twilight mum” (“because loving a vampire is so wrong”).
And at the centre of it all is Edward Cullen, a character described by Stephenie Meyer in her bestseller as “devastating, inhumanly beautiful”, with “lips as cold as marble”. And he is played by Robert Pattinson. The film is good if, like the female protagonist, Bella, you are a willing believer in romantic love that lasts an eternity. There was a lot of screaming when I went to see it. There are some bits that don’t work, but there are some touching moments, too, and Pattinson walks away with every scene he’s in.
His hair is leading-man hair, and he’s been told not to cut it. In the film, it’s done more like the Fonz, but today it’s sticking up in different directions. Did someone do it like that? “Nobody’s ever styled my hair in my life,” he says. “I’d hate anyone to do that.” His accent is Queen’s English by way of the South Circular and he’s chatty and willing. But he is 22, stuck in an awkward spot between being a normal, quite rubbish boy, and knowing that this is his moment. Later, he admits that, given the chance, he’d probably rather not speak at all.
He grew up in Barnes, where he went to private school. He has two older sisters, now 25 and 28, who, until he was 12, would dress him up and call him Claudia. He says the only reason he got involved with theatre at school was to meet girls. And I had him down as a player. “Nope, I wasn’t with the cool gang, or the uncool ones. I was transitional, in between.” It took him until he was 20 — two years ago, about the time that he was playing Cedric in Harry Potter — to stop being shy.
He makes a point of not doing any of the things other people do. It’s why he doesn’t regret choosing acting over university. “Even when I was 17 and I’d go to a student bar, I’d think, get me out of here. Not W that I got accepted into any universities,” he chuckles. “Not one.”
I ask him whether he’s ever been in love and he says, “I guess so.” Then, because for some sadistic reason I feel like torturing him, I ask what it felt like. He looks puzzled, so I tell him about what I call the “clunk moment” — when you look at someone you fancy and realise you’re so into them, there might be no turning back. “I just got that feeling as you said that,” he says. “But I’m not sure if it’s related,” he mutters.
I’m thrown. Is he flirting with me? It would be easy to imagine it — he’s so gentle and charming and reticent, and so much the ultimate crush of my 15-year-old self, that I have to consciously pull myself together.
I don’t know what to say, so I continue. That feeling — does he know it? “The oh-God-I’m-stuck feeling?” he says. “Yeah, I think I had it once. I was going out with a girl, and I saw a missed call from her and felt it. Mostly, I never care, though. Right now, I don’t even bother checking my phone.”
So — no girlfriend. Of course, everyone’s wondering about him and his co-star, Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella. In one interview, 18-year-old Stewart, who has a long-term boyfriend, says, “I’ve made a very dear friend and that’s worth more than anything,” which sounds to me like a very firm “No, and I don’t fancy him”.
“They’re so ridiculous at the film company,” he says. “They keep refusing to deny it. They just say, ‘No comment.’ And we’re like, ‘We’re not \.’ ” Anyone else? He looks askance when I tease him about taking advantage of the 16-year-old bounty surely offering itself up to him. He feels terrorised by the screaming hordes. “I never, ever like anyone.” A shame — but one that might make you think, despite everything you know about men like him, how can I be that girl?
And he is a picture. He says he hasn’t bought any new clothes for this gig, and wears second-hand ones if possible. I wonder if he knows how attractive he is. “Good-looking? Noooo,” he says, grabbing tufts of hair again. “Before I have to go out to face a crowd, I stare and stare at myself in the mirror until I have to tell myself to stop staring, since there’s nothing I can do.” Because of the expectations? “Yes.”
What do his parents — a vintage car salesman and a former model scout — make of all of this? “It’s hard for them because they want to be proud of me, but I keep reminding them that it’s all luck. Luck is what got me here, nothing else.”
Luck, then, has got him and Twilight author Meyer the sign-off on the next movie in the franchise (there are four books in total), a move that, as today’s 16-year-old Twilight fans become 18, 20 and beyond, will make him one of, if not the, biggest male film star in the world.
First, though, his next appearance is as the young Salvador Dali in the biopic Little Ashes, a role he says he loved. The part he really wants, though, is that of Jeff Buckley, the doomed folk singer who recorded one exquisite album before floating off down a river one day and never coming back.
Having proved such effective teen catnip, he’s reported to have doubled his fee for the next Twilight from &襛3.4m to &襛6.8m. It’s hard to imagine him caring. Cash to spend on a house in a forest, maybe. “Yes, somewhere very remote,” he says with another giggle. “I’ll buy my escape from this world.”