New Batman Robert Pattinson is every bit as intense as you might expect.
We're discussing his first day on set in The Lighthouse from VVitch director Robert Eggers.
"We’d just done a week of rehearsals where I’d basically hidden everything from him," he says. "I felt I had to prove myself on the first day, so I went [for] the most extreme and grotesque… Grotesquery."
Aside from that role, he’s quite a laugh, actually. Born in Barnes in south-west London, Pattinson made a name for himself as teen heartthrob Edward Cullen in the global phenomenon that was The Twilight Saga.
Since then, he’s done his best to shake off the idea that he’s just "that guy from Twilight". He’s played a bank robber in low-budget heist movie Good Time (2017), a death row prisoner who’s shipped off to outer space in mad sci-fi flick High Life (2018) and, last year, adopted a frankly ridiculous French accent as The Dauphin alongside Timothée Chalamet in Netflix’s The King. His latest appearance on the big screen is in The Lighthouse, a black-and-white shocker with a wilfully arthouse vibe starring Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as lighthouse keepers on a remote island off the New England coast.
Pattinson and Dafoe’s performances are brilliant as they slowly go mad, trapped on the island, bickering with each other. It’s billed as a psychological horror but parts of it are genuinely funny. Take the scene where Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) tries to hurt Thomas Wake’s (Dafoe) feelings by saying he hates his cooking. "Yer fond of me lobster, aren’t ye?" pleads Thomas, as they squabble like a married couple.
Pattinson’s character spends the film sorting out stuff (literally – he has to empty chamber pots), being taunted by seagulls and getting bossed around by Dafoe. Was it something Pattinson could relate to? "I kind of enjoyed stacking boxes," he says. "There’s a guaranteed sense of achievement at the end of the day." He was a waiter when he was 16 and remembers his manager using reverse psychology to get the washing-up done faster. "I always fell for it. 'There’s no way you guys can get all these dishes clean in time.' I was like 'Yes I can, yes I can!'"
Pattinson didn’t spend that much time doing menial jobs. He got his first movie role aged 18, playing Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But before that he was your average London teenager, albeit one with impeccable bone structure.
Now he’s 33 and mainly lives in LA – though he sees himself as nomadic ("I can only really stay in a place for, like, four months without getting itchy feet"). I’m interested to know what he remembers of London from his formative years. Trips to the West End? Seeing some life-changing show at the National Theatre? Not quite. "It was a big moment for me when the Tesco Metro opened," he says about growing up in Barnes. "It was a huge deal because [before] you’d have to go across Hammersmith Bridge to go to Tesco. That was probably 20 years ago…"
Now, after years of playing oddballs in indie and arthouse films, he’s making a return to blockbuster territory, following in the footsteps of Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck and Christian Bale to play Batman. He still can’t believe it. "It’s the coolest thing ever," he says.
It nearly didn’t happen, though, because the possibility got leaked to the press before Pattinson had auditioned, so he thought his chance of getting the role had been ruined. "It was really nerve-racking. You think, really? Is this how I’m going to lose this role? It’s the most annoying circumstance to lose something."
And while the film isn’t out until 2021, he’s already upsetting people. He recently said something about Batman not being a superhero because he doesn’t have superpowers. Big mistake. "I wasn’t educated about the subject," he jokes, sounding baffled by the whole thing. "People got very angry about it. It’s bizarre. I still can’t understand the argument. Okay, he’s a superhero, I’m sorry!"He starts talking about himself in the third person. "The next headline 'Pattinson retracts: Batman is, in fact, a superhero. He takes it back.’"
Joking aside, he does care what people make of it. "I’m only worried about if people like it when it’s done. Right now, people can think what they want."