in Dog Day Afternoon, or Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, the very characters who inspire people like Pattinson to become actors in the first place. Like all middle-class kids, he craved Connie’s authenticity.
“Everyone wants to say, ‘I’ve gone through hardships’ or whatever. And some kids at school got so obsessed with looking tough that eventually they just were. They were mugging people. It’s like, ‘Why are you mugging people? You live in Wimbledon!’ But you could see the progression,” he says. “It was born out of desire, not necessity. It’s fascinating.”
As for Pattinson, he just lied.
“I decided the best way to be real is to fake it! I used to lie all the time when I was younger. Like even though I had a London accent, I’d tell people I grew up on a farm in Yorkshire. That was about as gritty as I could pull off.”
His own life of crime was limited to stealing porn mags, aged 11, a story he told US shock jock Howard Stern. Eventually, he was caught, of course, the moment of humiliation seared into his memory as, in front of a line of old ladies collecting their pensions, the shop owner reached into his bag and pulled out one jazz mag after another.
“I turned on the tears and everything. I was desperate!” he says. “And when my mum heard, I totally threw one of my friends under the bus: ‘Dan did it!’ It’s pretty terrifying when you’re backed against the wall. When people ask how would you behave in an emergency, now I know. I’m a wimp! I guess that’s pretty obvious!”
He says wimp, but there’s a quiet strength behind that self-effacing, affable front. Not everyone would confess to being a cowardly kid, or lying about their background, as insecure people don’t admit their flaws so freely. One of the reasons he was so drawn to the role of Connie, for instance, was the character’s lack of fear or shame. “I’m the opposite. Shame is the most crippling thing. I don’t even know what it is, it’s not connected to any other emotion. So I choose work to directly combat elements of my own personality.”
Josh Safdie spotted Pattinson’s ambition early on. “There’s a mania to him,” he says. “A manic desire to conquer the world. I was very happy to see it.”
And for all his self-deprecation, there’s a pride there in what he’s achieved post-Twilight. None of his subsequent film choices are obviously commercial, which suits him perfectly: low-budget indies, he says, have a lower bar to break even and with his international stardom, courtesy of Twilight in no small part, he can usually rest easy. Sometimes, his involvement is what makes these projects actually happen.
But artistically — and this is where he’s definitely not a wimp — every project is a risk, a test, a leap, yet another opportunity to fail and land very publicly on his arse. But that’s just how he likes it. The nerves, the threat of failure keep him interested.
“I like a big mountain to climb,” he says. “Some parts no one would think of me for, and I don’t blame them.”
Why go for those roles though, if they’re so against type? He shrugs.
“Probably just to prove I can, really.”
As the bill arrives for our meal, Pattinson chomps merrily through another round of toothpicks. It seems he’s been entirely sensible this time around. Not even one beer. “If I drink I’ll sound like a cock,” he says. “Actually, I probably sound like a cock already!” Anyway, he’s saving room for a cognac tasting later tonight with the Good Time producers. Not the kind of thing he does that often but these are heady times, what with the excitement around the movie, the critical acclaim. It’s such a buzz that even the press tour isn’t so painful. There’s room for some mischief at any rate.
On Jimmy Kimmel Live!, he tried to make fun of Josh Safdie but it came out wrong. He told Kimmel that Safdie had asked him to jerk off a dog. “It got [animal charity] Peta angry… everyone. It was like a whole American uproar for a day-and-a-half,” Josh says. “He’s a little shit, I promise you. But I love that about him.”
For the most part, though, Pattinson leads a fairly quiet life. It’s just him, Twigs and Solo kicking around at home. When he’s not working, he says, he’s looking for work.
“I’m basically flicking through the pages of Loot every day. I live the life of an unemployed person.” And for him that means watching art house movies, trawling film-geek websites and — so long as Game of Thrones isn’t on — cold-calling directors.
In a couple of weeks, he’s off to Germany for cosmonaut training for the movie he’s making with Claire Denis. It’s about another ex-con, this time in space as part of a human reproduction experiment. He mentioned it in a Q&A session in LA after a screening of Good Time, and no one in the audience had heard of Denis. Such is Pattinson’s particular taste.
“I don’t think Claire has made a bad movie in, like, 20, but I don’t know if any have been commercially successful!” he laughs. “That’s what it’s like in France. There’s a market there for less conventionally commercial movies, and that’s the world I want to be a part of. I just want to do stuff that people are only making for themselves, because it ends up being, by definition, more singular.”
The project that has him excited comes at the end of the year: The Devil All the Time, by Antonio Campos, who made Christine last year, a brilliant drama about a depressive Seventies news anchor in Florida. (For the record, Pattinson cold-called him too.) “There’s this line in it — and sometimes that’s all you need. And it’s like, ‘Ooh... that’s scary to say’. Because it’ll go down in posterity and I’ll be the one saying it. You literally cannot get darker. It’s fucking dark. This character is an evangelical preacher in the South in the Fifties, but he’s gleefully bad and kind of funny and charismatic too. I know, it’s irresistible.” Like, sexually repulsive, violent?
“Mmm... yes, all that. But you know when actors say, ‘I refuse to play someone who does something bad.’ I’m, like, why? That’s fucking crazy. You can’t do anything bad in your real life. I think if someone needs to play a hero all the time, it’s probably because they’re doing really gross stuff in their real life.”
So you’re telling me, this is the only chance you get to be bad?
He laughs, and gets up to put on his Lacoste jacket, his camouflage, and flips up the hoodie underneath. Now he’s safe to leave our meeting without causing an incident. But it’s impossible now not to see shades of Connie, the sociopath bank robber from Queens.
“Yeah,” he grins. “The rest of the time, I’m an angel!”
Good Time is out on 3 November