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Vacant himbo or eccentric genius? The mystery of Robert Pattinson

Who is this man

Whether he’s inventing a pasta dish so hazardous it would give Guy Fieri pause for thought, or citing ‘fretting’ as his sole hobby, Robert Pattinson knows how to generate a headline. Or maybe he doesn’t? Hard to say. The teen heartthrob-turned-indie-auteur has always had an unusual relationship with the press, toeing the line between a clumsy ‘I don’t know why I said that!’ sort of honesty and genuine eccentrism. He’s previously acknowledged this as a way of dealing with the harsh spotlight of Twilight, but even then it’s a coping mechanism very few celebrities default to – and even fewer are able to hone into a brand. The man is a mystery.  

Over the 12 years since his big break as Cedric Diggory, it’s been a fact universally acknowledged that when Robert Pattinson gives an interview he’s going to say some dumb shit. He jumps between oversharing, making fun of Edward Cullen, and simply making things up. He lies constantly, casually dropping fibs about, for instance, there being a deleted scat play scene in Breaking Dawn, or that he saw a clown die as a child, or that he had a rap persona called “Big Tub” – but it’s unclear to what extent. And because of his charisma, which lands somewhere between a member of the royal family and Greg from Over the Garden Wall (a strange little boy who wears an upside-down teapot for a hat and communicates largely in non-sequiturs), it’s really unclear how much of this is a deliberate “bit” and how much is him simply lacking a filter. The lying further underscores the bold question mark around anything he says, contributing to his mythology as the unreliable narrator of his own personality.

Pattinson leans into celebrity myth-building harder than any other mainstream modern actor, and that’s partly why we find interviews with him so compelling. The fact that we don’t really know whether it’s intentional or not only makes it better. What we know of him amounts to a collection of facts. We know that he likes being spat on, erotically. We know that he once shaved a landing strip into the back of his head. We know that he smells like a crayon. With each interview, you come away with another strange detail that sounds like it was written by Harmony Korine, and a diminishing sense of who this man really is. On the one hand, he’s like Nicolas Cage: a generator of listicles regarding the “MOST BIZARRE!” things he’s ever said, while also holding a world-class resume of box office hits, oddball films and genuinely outstanding performances. On the other hand, he’s like a child running amok in the workplace, shoving pencils up his nose and saying ‘what happens if I do this’ before putting a spoon in the microwave. Inside him are two wolves.

On account of his childlike surrealism, it’s very tempting to call Robert Pattinson a himbo – a weird one, like a skater who has a young Dicaprio jawline and thinks you cook peppers by boiling them, but a himbo all the same. I think that would be doing him a disservice, though. There is a darkness running through Robert Pattinson that suggests a level of inner conflict that simply doesn’t occur to the true himbo. He often talks, quite desperately, about self-loathing and self-improvement – like in this interview where he says he wouldn’t want to be anyone else for a day, because he needs all the time he can get as Robert Pattinson. “I need to change myself!” he says, with this face:

His sense of humour seems to similarly revolve around confronting darkness, finding humour in the extremes of melodrama and tragedy. He regularly mocks Twilight – a deeply self-serious franchise – and often misinterprets scripts as comedies with the logic being they’re so bleak they can’t possibly be serious (this happened with wartime drama The Devil All the Time). For Batman, a typically traumatised but heroic role, he taps into what he views as an underlying sense of purposelessness that has led Bruce Wayne to create this persona for himself. The way he talks about it might sound ridiculous – “It’s kind of such an insane thing to do: the only way I can live is to dress up as a bat” – but its meaning is rooted deep in his own perspective on life (and, it seems fair to say, himself). Simply put: he finds unusual things in obvious places. This is not the himbo way.

The classic Hollywood himbo is a hot, respectful man whose body is large but whose brain is empty. Think: Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove, or Brendan Fraser in anything. They’re not necessarily unintelligent, but they’re defined by purity and optimism above all else. Robert Pattinson, however, embraces chaos and nihilism. From the hyper-friendly personal branding of the late 00s, to the 2020s rejection of marketing that has knocked ‘the influencer’ off the cultural pedestal, Pattinson has remained the same. Distinctly relatable, but distinctly distant. If the likes of Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Frank Ocean opt for silence as a way to cultivate intrigue, Pattinson does the same by saying far too much, all the time. He bombards us with anecdotes of varying accuracy until we think we have a strong image of him, but when the mind reaches out to define it the image recedes like the details of a dream just after you’ve woken up.

Who is Robert Pattinson? Is he a bro who became famous by accident? Is he an idiot savant? Is he a genius? All of the above? We will never know for sure, and neither should we care. Mystery is 99 per cent of the fun, after all, but for my money it doesn’t feel accidental. This is an actor who has never once played a role with his own voice. As The Batman director Matt Reeves told GQ: “He’s a chameleon [...] The voice is one of his ways in.” He has taken on a dramatically different role not just with every film, but with every interview as well, blurring the line between truth and fiction, the light and the dark, with every passing year. He’s a master of disguise, both the jester of the court and the weirdo king of Hollywood. Long may he reign.