Can Robert Pattinson Ever Shed the Cullen Identity?

Cast your mind back to 2008. It was a better time for many – before austerity, before Brexit, and Trump was just a tiny twinkle in Roger Stone’s eye. It was also the year which changed everything for two unknown actors, about to star in a franchise that would set them on career trajectories like no other. Twilight had been a phenomenon for years before Catherine Hardwicke’s film was released. It had been beloved, obsessed over and spurred fan fiction since it was published in 2005. Fans were excited for the first film installment but also skeptical: how would the teenage sensation translate to screen? Could celluloid capture the fluttering wings of forbidden love? Perhaps most importantly though: would Robert Pattinson be able to recreate the dark, brooding Edward Cullen that millions of young girls had fallen in love with? The answer returned as a resounding yes.

With the recent announcement of Pattinson taking on the Batman mantel, and the subsequent backlash from DC fans, it is clear that the ghost of Edward Cullen still haunts Robert Pattinson’s career. It’s a double edged sword: Edward Cullen and Twilight gave Pattinson the exposure to be offered meatier roles, but it has also meant that he has always been known as ‘that one who played a sparkling vampire’. Continuing with romantic dramas, Pattinson starred in Water for Elephants and Remember Me whilst also finishing off the final Twilight films. Intent on shrugging off the identity being carved out for him in these films, Pattinson then starred in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis – and had this to say on verging away from the romantic interest role: ‘…before I did this movie I was fully intending on hiding for a couple of years, but this has really reinvigorated my ideas about acting. And I like being slightly on the fringe as well, rather than trying to get movies that are sort of vehicles’

Splitting the critics and infuriating audiences (at least according to its RT score), Cosmopolis is a world away from Twilight’s simplistic love triangle. Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 27 year old billionaire who spends the entire film being driven to various meetings in New York on his way to get a haircut. The film explores greed, capitalism & technology, using Packer as a vessel through these big concepts. Not only was Cosmopolis Pattinson’s first significant turn in a non-mainstream film, the character is an unlikeable, egotistical man with little more personality than a piece of cardboard. In a very real sense Packer could not be further from the heart-throb Edward Cullen persona, but considering Cullen’s one dimensional character, Packer is a role befitting of him at the same time.  Here, Pattinson is cold, aloof and uncaring. Even though this character is so unrelatable, Packer is engaging as almost the sole voice of the film throughout.  Even when is engaging in sex multiple times during the film he does so dispassionately and so far removed from the situation, one wonders why he bothers. All in all a chilling and intriguing performance which successfully alienates Pattinson from the heart-throb stereotype. Cosmopolis is not just a dialogue on capital, society and technology; it is also a critique of these things. In turn, the critique is levelled at Packer – a man whose wealth and notoriety distance himself from the common man in a similar vein to how Pattinson’s own fame could do. Pattinson almost appears to be critiquing that kind of celebrity status, alongside Cronenberg, further removing him from that sort of iconic, untouchable status.

Moving on from Cosmopolis, Pattinson flexes his range working with Cronenberg again in Maps to the Stars and then with equally controversial film-maker Werner Herzog in Queen of the Desert, a film detailing the life of Gertrude Bell. Both roles are wildly different: in Maps to the Stars, Pattinson plays a struggling actor who moonlights as a limo driver to make ends meet in a very possible send up of his real-life persona and in Queen of the Desert Pattinson takes on the role of real-life figure T.E. Lawrence. It is however Pattinson’s recent career moves which seem to have done most of the heavy lifting to take him away from his Twilight past. In both Good Time and High Life, Pattinson plays criminals who are forced to reckon with the consequences of their actions. The two films could not be more dissimilar but in both Pattinson embodies characters who are morally grey or actively violent rather than a ‘bad-boy façade’. Even his latest role in Robert Egger’s fantasy-horror The Lighthouse will almost certainly show another dimension to Pattinson’s acting abilities if the trailer is anything to go by.

It is very possible that Pattinson was far too convincing as Cullen in the Twilight series, and this has marked him as that character ever since. The Twilight films are consistently ridiculed in popular culture, despite banking at the box office and simultaneously pleasing the existing fanbase, something which is notoriously difficult for book to screen adaptations to achieve. Despite their success and the success of both lead actors beyond the franchise, the series is an easy target for derision and consequently so is Pattinson. Perhaps this is why he cannot seem to step away from the Cullen identity, despite having the type of career that most actors could only dream of. His choice of hard hitting and indie films has certainly helped him to show the range and versatility he is capable of, as well as beginning to put some distance between Edward Cullen and Robert Pattinson. The decision to cast him as Batman is inspired to anyone who has followed his career – the vigilante-ism of Good Time’s Connie, the stoicism and wealth of Eric Packer and his back catalog of characters make him a perfect choice to play the morally ambiguous, emotionally numb Bruce Wayne.

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