Budapest is in Robert Pattinson fever, who is here shooting the film adaptation of Maupassant’s Bel Ami.
Hundreds of twenty-somethings are lurking around the Opera, on the Pollack Mihály Square and around the American Embassy, hoping they can get a smile, a picture, an autograph and a bit more in Hungarian than „köszönöm, hogy csendben vagytok” (Thanks, for being quiet.) The messy-haired, shy, tight-lipped lad, who was sleeping at his agent’s two years ago, was happy if they let him on screen, but never wanted the hysteria that surrounds him now.
Robert Pattinson (for those living under a rock: Twilight, New Moon) is conquering Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci on the streets of Budapest, used for scenes of Paris, in the film adaptation of Maupassant’s novel, Bel Ami. Judging by the pictures he looks just as good with a serious face, wearing tailcoats and top hats as he is giggling, pulling his messy hair, wearing a misbuttoned shirt and jeans that slipped to his hips – the way he looked during our meeting in New York, a few days before he left for Budapest.
All my colleagues in Budapest are waiting for you to give an interview, but I know you already and know that you won’t give interviews while you are working. What are your plans for your days off in Budapest?
I’ve never been to Eastern Europe before and I have always wanted to go. You can imagine how curious I am. I’ve heard from my friends that Budapest is a beautiful city. People I know who’ve been to your country, they all love it but sadly I won’t have much free time. And I won’t have much of a chance to be an anonymous tourist.
The musical scene in Hungary is bustling though and you like to make music.
The guys I grew up with all became musicians and they are really good, I usually do something with them.
What kind of instruments do you play?
I’m fighting with the violin now, not with a teacher, only by myself, but not everyone around me is happy about it. And I’m composing. It’s interesting; it all depends on the actual character I’m playing. The guy I play in my new movie, Remember Me is a guy with deep feeling. When I was shooting that movie, I composed lots of new songs. The guy in Bel Ami though is absolutely shallow, who is not touched by anything in the world, especially not by art and since I’m in his skin now, I have a total mental block.
Do you have a band?
We had something, but we fell apart. It’s really different now that it’s not my main act anymore. It’s just a diversion from acting now. That sounds a little cheesy. Of course, if there’s a mic in a bar, you don’t have to ask me twice even today. I did that a few times in Los Angeles, but someone recorded it and put it on the internet and it scared me away. I don’t need that. I will wait until this craziness around me dies down and then I will make music again.
As a part-time musician, I guess you are interested in the Hungarian musical scene too.
What is that band in New York called? Gogol Bordello! Didn’t they do that documentary film about the eastern European gypsy musicians? I’ve been interested in ethnic folklore since my childhood, so of course yes, I’d like to check out the Hungarian music too.
Ask the producers, maybe they can shut down a bar for you in Pest.
Nah, on one hand that wouldn’t be fair, on the other hand, that wouldn’t be like blending into the clapping crowd and immerse myself into their music.
Let’s talk about Bel Ami then. Nicole Kidman was supposed to play your lover originally.
I don’t know what happened. She canceled…I didn’t get into it…Uma Thurman took the role.
And why did you choose it? It’s a fact that you worked in classical theatre in London but we can only remember you from the Harry Potter movies and the Edward of the Twilight Saga, which is light years away from Maupassant’s Bel Ami.
My agent sent me the script a year ago, and I read it not knowing the novel, and to be honest I didn’t really know Maupassant either. I liked it instantly, because the script has something special emotionally, that is really common nowadays. The world is full with men like Georges, the tailcoat and the top hat are just formalities. Everyone is envy and jealous, nothing is enough for them, even if they reach their goals. Also, if I change from the three Twilight movies, then this is the biggest jump, playing a guy who is rotten to the core, selfish and raw, who is lead by his own feelings and steps over everyone without thinking. I really felt the character, I saw him in my mind. And I liked that you can’t really see these epic, costume movies anymore, so I grabbed the opportunity.
And what do you like in Twilight’s Edward?
I loved the second book much more than the first, that’s when I first connected with the character. You can be young or old, when you fall in love with someone at first you start to idolize her, then you put her on a pedestal, then the other is a mirror. But after a while, you see your faults in this mirror and the more you see them, the less you can bear it and in the end you destroy the love, saying you don’t need this. This is real, I can tell you that. It’s strange that a cheesy book for girls like this brought me to fame, but it happened and I won’t protest.
Speaking of love…
I was obsessed with a girl for 10 years, and we never talked a word. But I still have that diary I wrote back then, because if there’s a problem in love, I just grab it and think about the person, if she is worth as much suffering as the old one was? When I finally told her back then what I felt, her jaw dropped and told me I never even had a good word with her.
How old were you?
And nothing happened?
No, because she thought I was an idiot. But I became an actor because of her. She was the reason I signed for an amateur acting class.
You became a sex symbol since then, and it’s not easy to find your soul mate now, even if you believe in them.
I’d like to believe that but I would be in trouble if I found her so soon, because I’m not mature enough so I’d probably screw up. And that other thing, being a sex symbol, no one should envy me, because 14 year old little girls admire me, it’s strange for me too. If I think about the fact that 2 years ago I couldn’t even get a date, and now everyone is obsessed with me…strange.
There’s a rumor that you got the role in Twilight accidentally, but I would like to hear the details from you.
I was living my life in London and I must confess I was fed up a bit with acting, so I made music instead. You can say that I wrote off acting in my head. But my American agent, who is a nice woman, didn’t leave me alone, told me that she hasn’t seen me in a year, I should get onto that plane and show up here. I did that, came to Los Angeles, started to go to castings, that’s how I got near Twilight. The thought that it would be such a hit never crossed my mind. It seemed really small.
If you gave up acting so easily, then why did you become an actor?
Accidentally. It was never in my blood, I didn’t go to acting class in school. I fell into acting because that girl I was obsessed with was there and they let me be there around the stage. They were rehearsing a musical and one day I thought that it’d be great to play the lead. I never sang before an audience but I went to the casting and although I didn’t get the role, I debuted as a Cuban dancer. Then the play was done and the good actors went away, then Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was chosen as the next play. And I was the only tall guy who seemed right for the role. After the premier, an agent came up to me and signed me. That agent is the reason why I had a role in Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon, then I got into Harry Potter. While I was doing these, I ran out of time to go to university so I started calling myself an actor.
But you still haven’t moved to Hollywood, you still live in London, because they leave you alone there. Can you still go down for a beer?
It depends on the district. London is a big enough city with enough pubs where they don’t give a damn about who I am. You just have to find them. We went out recently with my friends and the waitress kept telling me that I looked like the guy from Twilight, asked me if I wasn’t his brother. But she never thought that I’d go to a laid-back pub like that. If someone recognizes me on the street, they usually look away; they are too shy to come up to me. Less fame would have been enough for me but that’s how it is and I look at the positives. Twilight opened the door for me to make movies like Remember Me and Bel Ami. I’m constantly working and the price is the craziness surrounds me everywhere I got. But every actor wants to be on screen, and if they get roles that make their hearts beat faster then it’s really worth it.
Does the hysteria around you have any effect on you?
London is so different from America. I can live a normal life there and the fuss around me seems like a nightmare there. Sometimes I think it was just a dream and then I should quickly let it go. I can just go from one movie to the other, as if nothing happened. If I don’t care about it, then it’s simply not there.
You said it’s better to let it go?
Yes, it’s better to forget that I’m famous and act like I’m blind, I confess I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this quick popularity, because I’m scared that it will stop me from improving. Not just as an actor but as a person too. But maybe I’m wrong.
I can hear the question marks in your voice. Or am I wrong?
You hear the uncertainty, which is different from losing focus. Being uncertain is good, because you realize that you are not as stable as you thought you were and you start trying to find things to hold on to. At least this is what I realized, as my own psychologist. Those people who sit in their offices have everything in their lives only forget to actually live. I rather vote for life and that means uncertainty at times.
Because every day has a lot more in it than what we realize. We don’t use our lives enough emotionally. We don’t go deep enough.
I get the impression that they sent this fame thing to the wrong address.
Fame is a mythical thing, a strange value. You don’t need qualification, money, you can be born into it. Some people think that if you are famous, you have everything that’s important in life. That’s understandable even if I don’t agree with it, because there is no other choice to break out. My generation doesn’t want to hear that the only way to earn money is working until you are 70, if you are lucky you don’t work for pennies, you can be a boss before retirement. My generation is greedy, people want to be rich and famous at 20. Everything and now, that’s the key.
Not for you?
I don’t know. I would see it differently if I wasn’t famous. I never touched tabloids before and now…What they write about people, they totally destroy the performance of the actors. This whole celebrity culture is disgusting. The more famous you are, the more tabloids write about you, the less people want to know about your movies, because what they see in the tabloids is more interesting than what they see on the screen. Actors lost that mystique. You can peek into their bedrooms, you can analyze their relationships, you can make fun of their pain, so they are not interesting on the screen anymore if their lives are open books. I find it unbearable.
There’s this rumor about you that you and Kristen Stewart will be engaged soon.
This engagement thing is total bullshit, I don’t even know where it comes from. Kristen is my friend, I really like to work with her. She’s more mature than her age, a real professional, I couldn’t wish a better partner, because she makes my every move, every sentence authentic. A big franchise like Twilight is a scary thing, because it put me on the map and I’ll have it for my whole life. So it’s important to get along with my partner, and Kristen is the perfect partner. She sets the bar high, so I must deliver too.
But you didn’t answer my question, which means…
My only weapon for self-defense is to not care about the rumors. I concentrate on my work and on the positive sides of fame. You can’t even imagine how big it is that I don’t have to go to castings anymore. They are the worst. Especially when you don’t get the job in the end. Now I have lots of people around me, looking out for me, asking me if the script is ok with me. People say hi to me, smile at me on the street, come up to me to shake my hand. Lots of people stop me just to congratulate. That’s when I realize that there are so many good, nice, normal people. And they are the majority.
You still have to walk around with bodyguards. Does that bother you?
I only have the bodyguards when I’m shooting or when I have to go to somewhere. As long as they don’t know where I live there’s no problem. When there’s a crowd around me, that bothers me. Because when I’m shooting I wake up at 5am and by the time I get home I don’t have the energy for anything. I fall into the bed. I don’t really know normal life nowadays, but I can tell you which hotel has the nicer bathroom.
Sounds like you don’t have a life apart from acting.
There’s something in that. I have a boring life here and there, I read scripts, watch movies. And wait for the phone to ring. Once I say yes to something I give 100%. And since I really don’t have much of a life apart from my job, I get so lost in my actual roles, that I forget everything outside of that. That’s how I create real characters on the screen.
That sounded really disciplined coming from a rebel.
I know, people are comparing me to James Dean, but don’t believe that. I was never a rebel. I don’t like when people tell me what to do, but I don’t rebel just to do so.
Not even against the sex symbol label?
When someone is a man of few words like me, people easily think that he’s sexy, because they think he has a secret.
And you/they don’t have one?
Oh, we/they do.
Maybe they can accept it more easily when someone breaks their heart. And not the other way around.
You can easily break someone else’s heart. In most cases people don’t even notice what they are doing.
And if someone does it to you?
You mean how do I survive? I try to act like as if nothing happened.
Do you have a routine in that?
Oh sure. Happens almost every day.
Then finally please let me say goodbye with a woman who has a heart-clenching voice, and who won’t break your heart. Maybe you’ll like her and meet her in Budapest. I brought to you the CD of Palya Bea.
Thanks. If you don’t come to Pest until then and I see her, I’ll give her your best regards.
New York, February 2010