Though he’s lived in the U.S for over a decade, Robert Pattinson remains profoundly British – despite his Hollywood good looks and global fame. The Hollywood star grew up in a large, close-knit family in London, and his debut novel, Prestige, is set in post-Brexit Britain. Despite the political tensions that have arisen since then, Pattinson hasn’t wavered in his commitment to writing for the masses – creating accessible stories featuring strong female characters that challenge the conventional wisdom of the day – and he’s never been happier or more secure. We spoke to Pattinson about his time in Hollywood, his debut novel, and what Brexit means for his career.
On His Upcoming Debut Novel
I wrote the first draft of Prestige in four months. I’d been working on my debut novel for about five years, and had finally cracked it. I took a year off from filming Finding Neverland to complete it, and I’m so proud of what it is. It’s a bit of an unlikely mix of really dark and gritty crime fiction with a bit of romance. I’d like to think it’s not your usual fare. What I love about it is that it’s completely character driven. The story follows a former London police officer, Richard Rawlins, and his investigations into a string of unusual murders that plague the city. As the crimes get more gruesome and the bodies pile up, Richard’s psychologically fragile, and sometimes unstable, wife, Julia, begs him to stop. But Richard, who believes he’s on a righteous path, will not be swayed.
I wanted to write a contemporary take on the classic ‘villain of the piece’ – the immoral and corrupt politician or police officer who sets out to destroy the lives and freedom of ordinary, law-abiding citizens because they feel that you don’t match their own level of privilege. It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart – I spent a lot of time as a child building up a hate-love relationship with John Cleese, and went on to study screenwriting at university. There was definitely a lot of John Cleese in Richard. He started off as a loveable rogue, but as the story progressed, you began to see more of the ruthless, amoral cop that I originally conceived of. I think it’s important to keep in mind that while Richard may be an antagonist, he’s also the hero’s polar opposite in many ways. If the story had ended after the first act, I don’t think there would have been a problem with readers. But I wanted to show you more about Richard – the more I wrote, the more I wanted to give you a sense of who he was, and the reasons for his actions.
Brexit Means Brexit
I’ve always been fascinated by the British class system and how it affects individuals. The majority of my stories feature very upper middle class characters – I suppose you could say I’m a little bit of a snob. You have the very wealthy, the upper classes, and the rest – the working class – who don’t really exist in mainstream British culture. Perhaps it’s the closest many British people get to class-based drama, which is something I often draw upon for story ideas. Though the U.K is a very multicultural society, with people from all walks of life coming together, there still seems to be this artificial dividing line between the classes.
I’m certainly not naïve enough to think that Brexit has opened up the country and given everyone an equal chance to thrive, but the fact that there is now a semblance of a working class again makes me very happy. When I was growing up in England in the ‘80s, especially during the Thatcher years, there definitely wasn’t a lot of opportunity for people who didn’t have the family and friends who could help them out. It wasn’t pretty, with a lot of homelessness, crime, and desperation. Thankfully, things are changing for the better, and I hope that future generations will look back on this time in British history with nostalgia and celebrate the fact that the country has moved on from the dark ages and opened up new opportunities for everyone.
On Being A Global Icon
It’s crazy to think that I’ve been in Hollywood for over a decade and have only just begun to see the rewards of my labour. I’ve worked hard to build my portfolio and tested the waters in the UK, but I still can’t believe I’ve gained so much recognition around the world. When I first got the call from my agent that I’d been shortlisted for an Oscar, I didn’t really believe it. I was with my family, who I was close to bursting with pride, when my phone lit up with notifications from my Twitter and Facebook accounts. People were hailing me as ‘the new King of Romance’ and sharing their condolences over my breakup with Taylor Swift. All of a sudden, I became aware that I had a whole other audience out there – people who didn’t know me from Adam but had seen my films and were taking a punt on what I was going to do next. It was breathtaking.
To cap it all off, a few weeks later, my wife and I were driving to Costco, and my phone lit up with a notification that I’d received an email from the President of the United States. Within one of the most powerful offices in the world, I’d been personally invited to the White House. Though I’d had a pretty good relationship with President Obama (he even let me nickname him ‘Oberstachelpeppar’ – I’d like to think it’s Germanic, but it’s actually a reference to the movie Pulp Fiction), this was a whole other level of exposure. It was breathtaking. Though there are undoubtedly downsides to being a globally iconic figure, I wouldn’t change a thing.
On His Upcoming Film
I’ve been busy shooting Dark Phoenix – the last film in the X-Men franchise. It’s been a real passion project for me, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am about it. I play a young inventor, whose creations bring him and his family great success, but also great resentment from big business and the government. Though the world seems to be progressing towards greater inclusion and equality, there still seems to be a large underclass suffering from living in poverty – which is something I wanted to explore in Dark Phoenix.
On His Favorite Book
I don’t usually read novels, but when I do I always go for British authors – it seems to help my mood when immersed in fiction. Of the books I’ve read, the one that has stuck out to me the most is Adam Thorby’s The Silkworm. It’s the story of a young man who, having lost his mother at a young age, is brought up by his father, a former barrister. The young man becomes politicized at an early age and starts to question his fathers’ choice of career, as well as the class system that exists in England. Though it’s not a pleasant read, especially in the first few chapters, you can’t bring yourself to turn the page. Once you do, you’re captivated by the writing and the incredibly interesting story. Though it’s often compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, I think The Silkworm is more akin to Margaret Atwoods’s The Handmaid’s Tale – a bleak look at life in contemporary England, where womanhood is little more than a costume you wear for the benefit of the class system. Thankfully, times are a-changing, and while it’s clear that Atwoods wrote before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, her novel, penned over 70 years ago, is as relevant now as it ever was.
I don’t usually do this, but I’ll leave you with a quote from Dark Phoenix, one of my favorite films of the year: “You can’t trust anyone. Not even your own kind.”