After enduring more than six years of female hysteria, it's little wonder that Robert Pattinson is a bit jumpy. Meeting with the teen icon in a Beverly Hills hotel, he's amped up on copious amounts of Coke (the soda variety), his body is in constant motion, he runs his fingers through his floppy hair or stretches his arms around the back of his chair.
If his Twilight co-stars Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner have grown weary of their own celebrity, then consider Pattinson, who has held swoon status since 2005, when he made his debut in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as Cedric Diggory, the hottest boy in Hogwarts.
Six years as a heartthrob is a long sentence by any calculation. Few boy bands have even survived that long. Pattinson, of course, was given a second term as a pin-up boy. Cast as brooding bloodsucker Edward Cullen in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, he's evolved into a vampire-of-sorts in his personal life, holed up in hotel rooms by day, slipping out at night when those dreamy blue-grey eyes and thick eyebrows are less visible.
Thus it was with great joy he emerged into the bright lights of Francis Lawrence's Water for Elephants, adapted from Sara Gruen's novel about forbidden love, set against the backdrop of a travelling circus during America's Great Depression of the 1930s.
In accepting the role of veterinary student Jacob to Reese Witherspoon's circus performer Marlena and Christoph Waltz's brutal big-top boss, Pattinson placed a fairly safe bet on starring in his first hit film outside the Harry Potter and Twilight series; his other films, Remember Me, How to Be and Little Ashes produced disappointing box-office results. "I liked the idea of this film, but I also thought it was a fairly good career step. It doesn'talienate the audience or image that I sort of have. Also it's not like it's an ultra-violent or ultra-depressing movie, which is demanding to be taken profoundly. It's a simple, old-fashioned story, which isn't asking too much from the audience. I'm doing a [David] Cronenberg movie next, Cosmopolis, with Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti, which I think is a pretty big step for me. After that I'm hoping to be producing something. I'm not entirely sure yet," says the actor, who will next be seen as womanising Georges Duroy in Bel Ami, an adaptation of the second novel by the 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant.
In Water for Elephants it was his four-legged co-stars who first won him over. "I really felt a special bond with the elephant, Tai," he says. "She really had this aura. She could lay down on top of me without squashing me; she carried me around in her mouth and played catch with her trunk. I cried on the day she finished shooting.
"I also had a neat experience with a baby giraffe who wouldn't respond to anyone but me.
"In a lot of ways, I prefer working with animals and kids more than grown-up actors," ventures Pattinson, who turns 25 on 13 May. "If someone else isn't acting in the scene, it's easier to not act. It seems like actors become almost competitive, which works sometimes, but a lot of times my brain doesn't want to do that. "If I feel like I can't beat the other actor, I just don't do anything."
Pattinson was born in the affluent London suburb of Barnes to vintage car dealer Richard and model agent Clare, who helped to launch his modelling career when he was 12. Thereafter he joined the local amateur theatre company.
Together with his two older sisters he enjoyed a life of gentle privilege, attending the exclusive private preparatory school Tower House and the Harrodian School.
"I wanted to go to university and study international relations, because I wanted to be in politics. I'd still love to, but I wouldn't want to be held accountable by anybody. I'd be a dictator!"
Despite his obvious good looks and talent, acting is a curious career path for someone who admittedly struggles with shyness.
"My first film audition was for Troy – I was auditioning to play Brad Pitt's cousin. I was like: 'What? I'm gonna play Brad Pitt's cousin!'
"Then I did Vanity Fair with Reese," says the actor, who strangely made his debut with Witherspoon as her son – a scene which was later deleted – and is reunited with her eight years later as her lover.
"After Vanity Fair I went to South Africa for three months which, for a17-year-old, was pretty great: you get an apartment, you get paid, it's fun. I thought: 'OK, I'm an actor now!'" he laughs, referring to the little-seen TV fantasy movie Curse of the Ring.
If the perks seemed cool at the time, today he's more pragmatic.
"I enjoyed them then, but I don't now," says Pattinson.
"If anything, I kind of wish I could stay in a s****y hotel and be a part of everything. You're always separated from the crew; you have to be in some secure place; you're not able to hang out with anyone."
'Water for Elephants' is on general releaseReuse content