Forget the relationship with Kristen Stewart—Robert Pattinson has fallen hard for a pachyderm named Tai, one of his co-stars in this month’s Water for Elephants. That movie, with Reese Witherspoon as Pattinson’s on-screen love interest, gave him a professional break from the supernatural stylization of the five-part Twilight saga, but even on a remote Tennessee set he was besieged daily by crowds of his Twihard fans. Nancy Jo Sales finds the 24-year-old actor torn between gratitude for and despair about the fame that has engulfed him.
Robert Pattinson doesn’t like to fly doesn’t like to fly anymore, because flying means airports, and airports mean encountering people who might go bananas when they see him, screaming and crying and trying to touch him and asking him to bite their necks. Shy, for an actor, Pattinson, who turns 25 next month, says he finds the hysteria that has surrounded him ever since he first appeared as the gallant teenage vampire Edward Cullen in the first Twilight movie, in 2008, “quite strange.”
“This thing with everyone knowing you,” he says one day in Baton Rouge, where he’s filming the fourth and fifth installments in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn: Part I and Part II, “it’s weird, because people have this one-sided relationship where they look at your picture and feel they know you more than someone they actually know.” And, Pattinson adds, “I don’t really know myself that well.”
And so—given his aversion to air travel, and his feeling that he could use some time to get to know himself—Pattinson decided that, when he had to get from Los Angeles to New Orleans to join the Twilight cast in November, he would drive. “It was awesome,” he says of the trip, which he made with two friends from London. “I went on service roads the whole time. I navigated it on an iPhone.” This updated Kerouacian adventure took them through Arizona and New Mexico, where they came upon the tiny Native American town of Zuni. “It didn’t seem like America at all,” Pattinson says nostalgically. “Me and my friends were the only white people.”
They stopped in a bar in Lubbock, Texas, where, for the first time in as long as Pattinson can remember, he sat and had a beer, undisturbed by paparazzi or fans. “No one recognized me or anything,” he says. “And I was like, Ah, this is really cool, sitting there eating chicken wings and stuff.” He’d been searching for a place where he could feel what it’s like to just be himself, and thought he had finally found it.
But then something happened. Word got out. “They always find out somehow,” he says resignedly. Suddenly there were a thousand people in the street, and the police had to come and control the crowd. A bouncer asked him, “You want us to go and knock someone out?,” and Pattinson says, “I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t need to hit anybody.’ ” Now he and his friends were trapped in the same bar that had been an oasis of anonymity. A police escort had to take them back to their hotel.
A few months later in Baton Rouge, Pattinson says he doesn’t feel like going out, as there’s no telling when a simple trip to a restaurant might ignite another riot. “And I’ll just be like this,” he says, putting his head down on the table, hiding in the crook of his arm. He picks his head up again and—oh, wow. He can’t escape his looks any more than he can escape the attention of his fans. His face has a kind of gorgeousness one sees in the faces of children, with its perfect pale skin, red lips, large eyes. It’s hard to say it any other way: he’s beautiful.
But such superlatives are probably just the kind of thing that would make him cringe and sweat even more profusely than he’s doing now, through his light-blue cotton button-down. He seems nervous; he says he’s nervous. This interview thing isn’t his thing. “I’m just so boring,” he says, running his hands repeatedly through his thick brown hair until it stands on end. “I’m just so dried up.” He’s chain-smoking American Spirits, drinking coffee and water and Snapple iced tea, nibbling at chocolate-covered pretzels left in a bowl for him by his assistant.
Outside, we can hear the growling of dogs. “I hope they’re not killing poor Martin,” says Pattinson, getting up from the kitchen table and peering out the window. Martin is a stray, the underdog of a pack of dogs belonging to the assistants for Pattinson and his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart. The assistants are sharing this cozy rental house in a quiet residential section of Baton Rouge. They’ve lit a crackling fire and scented candles to keep Pattinson comfortable while he does his interview.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Pattinson says, returning to the table. Ever since he came back to the Twilight set, he says, he doesn’t feel—well, quite himself. “My brain doesn’t work anymore. I haven’t any memory. I can’t write. All I can do is sign my name. I tried to write the other day—it looked like I was writing in Braille.” I ask him to write something on my notepad; he does, and it’s illegible. “See?” he says. “It looks like spiders have written it.”
There’s a joking element to his bleak description of his state of mind, but he’s being serious as well. It seems the restrictions of living in the bubble of his immense fame are starting to get to him. “I’ve just kind of stopped doing everything,” he says. “I never change the channel in my trailer. I just watch reruns of House of Payne and Two and a Half Men. I love Cops—I think it’s my favorite TV show.