Robert Pattinson is one of the most recognizable movie stars on earth. But for his most recent film, Good Time, directed by the Safdie brothers, he managed to go undercover in New York. He worked in a car wash. He took the subway. “Basically was just trying to think, okay, how can you change yourself so people never recognize you once the entire time,” he explains. Miraculously, he got away with it. Here, the actor explains his method, and path to superstardom.
Did you always want to be an actor?
Uh, no. I was not at all into it. In fact, my drama teacher when I was in school told me not to do it. Actively told me not to pursue it and do geography instead. She just thought I wasn’t cut out for the creative subjects. When I was signing up to choose my subjects, she told me to stay behind and said, “Yeah, I just don’t think it’s right for you.”
What was the first thing you auditioned for?
I was working backstage at this place called Barnes Theater Company which was like a drama club at a church hall. And I auditioned for Guys and Dolls. I auditioned for Nathan Detroit and got the part of a Cuban dancer. With no lines. But that was my first-ever part, dancing with a rose in my teeth.
Is that when you knew what you wanted to do? Did you have fun?
Doing the audition definitely was. It was really a kind of breakthrough. I just thought I could never do anything like that. And once you break through that fear, it was really, you know, popping a cherry. I had never done any public speaking, had never sung in front of people or anything. And did all of it at the same time. It was great.
And then was Harry Potter shortly after that?
No, my first job when I was 15 or 16 is I was Reese Witherspoon’s son in Vanity Fair, which I got cut from. Basically I went to the screening and no one had informed me that I was cut. So I went to it with one of my best friends who was also in the movie, and we had adjacent scenes. We watched his scene and we were like, that’s great, yeah. And they got on to my bit and it was just a totally alternate ending. But they casting director, Mary Selway, who sadly passed away, she felt so guilty that no one had informed me that she basically gave me a first run at the part in Harry Potter. So I was quite glad I got cut in the end.
Wow. Did you become focused on movies at that point?
Yeah, I mean, I was still in school and I really was just sort of stumbling into things. I couldn’t believe I was getting any of the stuff I was getting. I didn’t understand how it was happening. And then I just got an agent from this church hall place, which I only went to because I fancied a girl who went there. And then suddenly this world was opening up to me. But it took me a long time to really feel like I was a part of it or knew how I could add to anything in any way. I thought I was scamming everybody for years.
Well, that’s not true. Definitely not true. So after you were in Harry Potter, obviously there was Twilight. What was the audition like?
I mean, the audition was fun. I flew out to L.A. to actually audition for something else. Which I was told it was mine to take, just on a plate. And I went in and completely ruined the audition. And then the next day it was the Twilight audition. And I think I was at such a kind of nothing-to-lose state, it was quite easy for me to do. But the audition was really fun.
Did you know the books?
I didn’t at all. I think they became bigger and bigger and bigger as the movies were taking off. When I auditioned for it, it was difficult to get the books then. It hadn’t really fully exploded. It was still quite a cult thing. By the time the second movie came out it was kind of fever pitch. But, I still was kind of unrecognized until the second movie, really. So yeah, it wasn’t too much pressure in the introductory part.
Was it fun to be a vampire?
It was really fun, yeah. It was such a wild experience. And what a strange way to spend my early twenties. I never really quite knew how to play a vampire though. I mean, if it hadn’t been so successful, I think people would have thought it was really weird. It’s a really weird story. But I think once it becomes mainstream, it’s difficult for people to see how strange the story is.
The last installment with the sex thing and the –
It’s nuts. And the baby. And I had to give her a caesarian by chewing through a placenta. I don’t know the medical – how it works. But there was definitely chewing through something. No, it’s wild. Once you got it in your head you’re like, oh, this is just the thing for little girls. And then, like, it’s kind of – it’s difficult to get past.
After Twilight, what came next?
When I did Cosmopolis with David Cronenberg. I was a really massive Cronenberg fan before. He’s just these are people who I’ve had on my DVD shelf since I was 16. And I just never thought I’d have those opportunities. It was such a satisfying experience that I just kind of wanted to go more down that road.
That was your first movie at the Cannes Film Festival, right? What was that like?
Yeah. Well, it was fun. I mean, I was still very associated with Twilight. Cosmopolis was one of the most bizarre movies ever. And there were like hordes of teenage girls screaming to watch a two-hour-20-minute prostate exam. And I always thought it was really entertaining.
This year, you were back in Cannes with Good Time, which has just been huge. How was that different?
This time, I think people sort of were expecting something different.
And how did Good Time come to you?
I saw a photo of Arielle Holmes from Heaven Knows What, the Safdie Brothers, Josh and Benny Safdie’s previous movie to this. It was just on the banner of a website. And I was just like, that’s an incredible photo. And I just asked around to see if anybody knew them. And met up with them in L.A. and I just really, really, loved them in the meeting. Basically I hadn’t seen any of their stuff at all. And just from the strength of that meeting we were like, let’s just do something.
So you didn’t even have the script for this.
There was no script. I think it was just the kind of nexus of an idea. The original idea was incredibly different to what it actually ended up being. It kept developing. I mean, even when we did reshoots, we added in new characters. It was very, very a kind of organic process.
How long were you filming?
I think it was five weeks. All in New York, all around Queens and Brooklyn. I knew after I saw Heaven Knows What and lots of the Safdie’s previous stuff, what world I wanted to be in in a movie. I’m getting to know how I perform better. And I just really wanted to be part of their world. So I went a few months early. And luckily pretty much every single person who is working on the movie and who is in the movie, they’re all from the [New York] area. And a lot of non-professional actors and it was just a very different experience. And quite different preparation and stuff.
How did you learn the accent? Did you follow tapes of people speaking?
Yeah, well, me and Benny Safdie, we went out a few times in character. Like we got jobs at a car wash.
You’re kidding. How long did you work there?
Just for a day until Benny started pulling off people’s windscreen wipers and stuff, and we were like, it’s actually committing crimes. But we spent a few days in character and we spent a whole day in Yonkers, just kind of talking to this guy in a, in a mechanic’s [shop]. So that was fun. I’ve never done anything like it, where you just kind of full-on go in character, to spend an entire day in character. We did it a few times.
I was worried because when I shoot in New York, normally there’s people taking cell phone pictures or whatever. And I just thought it’s going to ruin the whole thing if it just feels like a movie, because the Safdie’s style, it’s all really long-lens and really far away. And so I basically was just trying to think, okay, how can you change yourself so people never recognize you once the entire time. And there wasn’t a single cell phone picture the entire shoot, which was crazy.
That’s so great, because you are quite recognizable.
I know, it’s so strange. We were like shooting on the subway. And we were stealing so many shots. Like shooting on a packed subway at rush hour and we’re shooting on 36 millimeter cameras as well with big lenses. And no one really recognized it. No one could really tell. I was just getting directed by text message. It was pretty great, though.
You were filming in New York, but you live in LA, now. Do you like it or do you miss London?
I do. Like, I think everybody from London who comes the first time here it feels like kind of paradise in a lot of ways. Just peaceful. But, I do love L.A. It’s just I’m a bit of a isolated loner in a lot of ways. And it does exacerbate those parts of my character. I think when I went back to London I actually do kind of talk to people a little bit more, which I think I should do a little bit more often.
What else do you have coming up?
The stuff I want to do, it takes such a long time to get together. My career decisions are, like, they’re very long term. They take ages to come to fruition. So nothing ever really changes that quickly. I’m finally doing this movie with Claire Denis in the summer. She is just one of my heroes. It’s taken three years to get together. I met her over three years ago. I just wanted to work with her. And the meeting went surprisingly well. It’s in English. But I think it’s her first fully-English movie. It’s a sci-fi movie, but it’s incredibly strange in lots of ways and difficult and not that cheap.
Now, for a fun question. Do you have a karaoke song?
Um, yes. What was I thinking the other day? It’s the Interlude on the Twelve Play-2 by R. Kelly.
By R. Kelly?
But they don’t really have it on karaoke things. But if anyone listens to it, it’s referencing the name Robert quite a lot. R. Kelly is talking to himself. But his name is also Robert. It’s a very kind of life-affirming tune for Roberts. Basically the whole thing is how everyone used to say, “No, Robert. No, Robert. No Robert.” But at the end it’s like, “Yes, Robert, you go boy.”
Do you have a secret skill, something that you are good at that people would be surprised to know you’re good at?
I can open a beer bottle with pretty much any object. I can open it with a teabag. I can do it with a dollar bill.
How do you do it with a teabag? Is it a friction thing?
Yeah. You have to fold it in the right way. If you fold anything the right way, you can get the right, um, purchase on it. It takes a while. You rip up your hand a bit as well. It sounds way cooler than it looks.
Royals 2017: Why Pharrell Williams, Winona Ryder, Tracee Ellis Ross and More Are the Role Models of Today
Winona Ryder wears Fendi dress; Angela Friedman bra; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Fogal tights; Gucci shoes. Beauty: Chantecaille.
Tilda Swinton wears Loewe jacket, shirt, and pants. Beauty: Chanel.
Hailee Steinfeld wears Valentino dress. Beauty: Maybelline.
Tracee Ellis Ross wears Vetements dress. Beauty: Lâncome.
Saoirse Ronan wears Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt and pants. Beauty: Nars.
Chris Hemsworth wears Boss shirt and pants; his own belt and necklace. Grooming: Hugo Boss.
Pharrell Williams wears Sacai shirt; Bulgari necklace (top); his own necklace. Grooming: Giorgio Armani.
Robert Pattinson wears Dior Homme turtleneck; Haider Ackermann pants. Grooming: Dior Homme.
James Corden wears Ann Demeulemeester shirt and hat. Grooming: Neutrogena.
Jared Leto wears Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Artemas Quibble belt. Grooming: Gucci.
New Royalty: Movie Star
My first kiss was on set. It was my very first film as well. My character really liked this boy, and she didn’t know if he noticed her. In the end she got to kiss him. At that time, I was only 11 years old, and not ready to kiss a boy. I asked the director, “How long do you want me to kiss him? How many seconds?” And the director said, “Three seconds.” So while kissing, I counted in my head. Every single take I was like, One, two, three. And then: “Okay, kill, cut!” I definitely suffered for art.
Ronan wears a Louis Vuitton top, cape, and shoes; Falke tights.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
Is there anything that scares you? I’m not easily scared, and I’m wary of being bored. I think risk-taking is a subjective thing. One person’s risk is another one’s comfort zone. And, to be honest, I’m too lazy to get easily scared. Maybe I’ve got a bit of my brain missing, but I love not knowing what I’m doing next. What about when it comes to clothes? Did you always have a fashion-forward outlook? Again, what somebody might think of as unusual is, to me, supercomfortable, inspiring, and interesting. I’ve never truly been that aware of fashion; I’m interested in style.
Swinton wears a Haider Ackermann shirt; Alexander Calder necklace from Stephen Russell, New York.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
Where do you get your ideas? The shower is a frequent place. Actually, near any running water—whether it’s the faucet or the shower. And sometimes I get ideas on a plane because of the sound deprivation.
Do you record your ideas on your phone? I just hold on to them. The best way to remember something is if you home in on the excitement. That you don’t forget.
Is there a song that makes you cry? It’s been maybe 10 years since I heard something that made me cry. There is an old Donny Hathaway song called “Take a Love Song,” and it would make me emotional. But I think I was eating a lot of weed candy at the time, so that may have pushed me over the edge.
Whom do you consider Royal? Wes Anderson. I love what he does. Bill Murray running from a playground in Rushmore made me very happy. Anderson’s composition is amazing: his color, the music that he uses. I’m not an actor, but, in a heartbeat, I would just walk by or whatever he asked me to do in one of his films.
Williams wears a Chanel jacket and necklace; G-Star pants; Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams shoes; his own shirt, belt, bracelets, ring, watch, and socks.
Classic Royalty: Renaissance Person
When did you start dancing? When I was 3. I loved it. I did recitals and I loved being onstage. I particularly loved the collective mind of the audience. Applause was nice, but I liked the silence of the audience better. The silence means, Oh, my! You have their rapt attention.
MacLaine wears an Akris turtleneck.
Classic Royalty: Activist
I came to New York in the ’70s to become president of Planned Parenthood. It was a time of great difficulty for the city—and for the country—but also one when women made tremendous progress toward being in control of their lives and their bodies. My position allowed me to be a spokesperson for women in the midst of the great changes that were taking place and the turmoil that occurred as a result of them. Today, 40 years later, the continuing opposition to Planned Parenthood comes from people who want to roll back the clock.
Wattleton wears a Row coat; Vhernier earrings; Verdura necklace.
New Royalty: Activist
When I was 11, my parents gave me an iPhone. I think it shaped who I am as a person because I had access to everything very, very early on. But now I’m 18 and I have gotten rid of it. I was worried about the mental-health effects it was having on me. The phone was taking over my life. I felt like I was floating away, and part of that had to do with being in a virtual world without any tangible substance. I felt like I was always refreshing Instagram instead of refreshing my life.
Stenberg wears a Prada top; Buccellati earrings.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
To me, Paula Abdul is royalty. I just saw her live, and the whole time I was watching her, I was hitting the person next to me and saying, “Oh. My. God. Yes!” I’m late to the game, but Paula Abdul is completely amazing.
Steinfeld wears an Yves Salomon coat; Nili Lotan dress; Mahnaz Collection ring; Lynn Ban earring.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
There were eight boys in The History Boys, and we were all at a similar point in our careers. The other seven would get incredible scripts for Spielberg movies or big HBO shows, and I would get a one-page script for the guy who drops off a TV for Hugh Grant. I remember thinking, These decisions are being made based on the way I look. I realized then and there that I needed to try and start creating stuff on my own. And I did.
Corden wears a Berluti jacket; Burberry shirt; Balenciaga scarf.
New Royalty: Society
The notion of being born into the right stratosphere no longer exists. More and more, young people want to dedicate their lives to doing something meaningful that has a positive effect on the world. That’s what is valued now—not your name or your lineage.
Bush Lauren wears a Ralph Lauren shirt; Zimmerli of Switzerland tank; Hermès scarves; Vicki Turbeville earrings; vintage bracelet from Stazia Loren, New York.
Classic Royalty: Society
You got involved with God’s Love We Deliver during the ’80s AIDS epidemic. It was a terrible time. We delivered meals to people who were sick. A lot of my friends thought I had lost my mind. There was so much fear.
How did you meet Robert Trump? At a fundraiser. We were married in 1984. But years later things changed, and, in 2007, we divorced.
Did you go to your former brother-in-law’s presidential inauguration? Yes. It was kind of an out-of-body experience. [Laughs] It’s like, Am I really here? I went to all the balls, and there was a wonderful small lunch, and Donald and Melania were there. She looked beautiful.
Is it strange to see your last name everywhere? Yes—very, very strange. I mean, forget paying with a credit card. It’s always, “Are you related?” It never ends.
Trump wears a Chloé dress; David Webb earrings.
New Royalty: Model
I always go into a zone when I’m posing for a photographer. I like to try and get into whatever character is wanted for the photos. For this shoot, I tried to be kind of vulnerable and soft because I can be quite hard with my resting bitch face. I wanted to look innocent, but mysterious. And royal. Very royal.
Aboah wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Stephen Russell earrings; Vhernier bracelets; her own rings.
Classic Royalty: Model
What is your secret skill? Fucking.
Fucking? Mm-hmmm. It’s an awfully good thing to be good at, no? And it goes on forever, guys and girls. You should remember that.
Hutton wears a Row coat.
Classic Royalty: Superhero
My first audition was for some random sort of commercial. I remember walking in and having to tell them about myself, and none of it was very interesting because I never got those jobs. My first regular acting gig was on a soap opera called Home and Away. I did that for three and a half years, and I went through every melodramatic tragedy that one can go through: plane crashes, fires, robberies, landslides. I had three different kids with three different women. And my character was 19 for three years. I never had a birthday. Never aged.
Hemsworth wears a Boss jacket, shirt, and pants; Western Spirit bolo tie; stylist’s own belt.
New Royalty: Superhero
I don’t fuck with karaoke. I tried it once, and it was the biggest disaster. The song I bombed on was “Eye of the Tiger.” It was at a wedding, in front of hundreds of people. The only line of the song that I knew was “eye of the tiger,” so I just mumbled, and it was awful. Deep shame. Now I stick to singing my own songs onstage with my band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. There are some things you just know you’re not good at.
Leto wears an Ann Demeulemeester shirt; Gucci pants; Mikimoto pearls; his own ring and necklace.
New Royalty: Television
As a boy, I was very, very sensitive. Ever the emotional young thing. In eighth grade, a drama teacher put me in a play, and I got really involved with theater. Within a year, all the kids who were making fun of me were my allies. I remember thinking, Instead of being a weird guy in the corner of the classroom, now I’m the weird guy that everyone has to pay attention to! And, like, Wow—maybe someone will kiss me!
Middleditch wears a Prada shirt; Coach 1941 pants; Artemas Quibble belt; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
Classic Royalty: Television
Since signing on to Stranger Things, I’ve become a binge-watcher of TV. My favorite show is The Americans. It’s brilliant, and Keri Russell is just mind-blowing. I watched the entire last season all at once, and I was crushed when it ended. I met Keri, and I was like, “What’s going to happen?!” I had turned into a fan-geek. But she wouldn’t tell me. Everyone in TV has to keep things a big secret—which I’m learning.
Ryder wears a Dior dress and hat.
New Royalty: Movie Star
I didn’t think I could play Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton. I was asked to audition, and I remember saying no because I didn’t want to be the one to mess it up. I was nervous because it was Dr. Dre. And now, after the film, I walk down the street and people ask, “Is that Dr. Dre?” Nobody did that before Compton. Now everybody does it.
Hawkins wears a Giorgio Armani jacket, shirt, and pants; Tom Ford shoes.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
What was your first acting job? When I was 15 or 16, I was cast as Reese Witherspoon’s son in the film Vanity Fair. I went to the screening, and no one had informed me that I had been cut from the film. But the casting director felt so guilty that she gave me a first run at the part of Cedric in Harry Potter, which I booked. So, in the end, I was quite glad to have been cut from Vanity Fair.
How did you prepare for your role as a bank robber on the run in Good Time? I stayed in character for several days and got a job at a car wash. I wanted to change myself so that people would not be able to recognize me for the whole shoot. And it worked. We were filming in a packed subway at rush hour; I was directed by text message, and no one could tell we were making a movie. Not one person took a cell-phone picture, which would have ruined the whole thing. It was great to not be recognized.
Pattinson wears a Berluti jacket; Charvet scarf.
Classic Royalty: Television
After Everybody Loves Raymond ended, it wasn’t hard to say no to other sitcom offers. This sounds awful, but I had all the money I needed, my wife had all the money she needed, and creatively I wanted to do other things. I thought, Suddenly I have time, I have money, I have a bit of fame, and this is going to be fun. After three months, it wasn’t fun anymore. I had a kind of emotional breakdown until I started creating the next show. People ask me sometimes, “How do you keep going?” And I like to say, “I have to keep moving, or I catch up with myself.”
Romano wears a Balenciaga shirt.
New Royalty: Television
Your mom is Diana Ross. Did you ever borrow her clothes? I’m not going to lie: It was more like stealing. One time, she left the house and I saw her car go down the driveway. I marched myself into her bathroom and started taking clothes. I liked to put them in my closet and live with them as if they were mine. Just as I was loading up, my mom walked into the bathroom. She said, “What are you doing?!” I was like, “I’m organizing your closet for you!” To this day, I visit her closet and call it shopping.
Ross wears an Alexander McQueen dress; Gianvito Rossi shoes.