No one would blame you for thinking that after years of being a pop-cultural punchline, comedian and actor Robert Pattinson (pictured above on the red sofa) would finally reclaim his spot in Hollywood as a leading man. And you’d be partly right: In the last year, Pattinson has broken out of Hollywood’s “It” boy shell, starring in memorable blockbusters including the upcoming blockbuster remake of The Lion King and its accompanying soundtrack. And while his films rarely garner much acclaim from critics, they do manage to pull in audiences.
But this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, in his earlier years, being cast as a heartbreaker in the Hollywood blockbuster Sunset Boulevard didn’t do much for his reputation as a serious actor. In the early 1920s, shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Pattinson landed his first starring role in The Other Side of Paradise alongside Greta Garbo. And although the film itself is now considered a classic, it wasn’t exactly an auspicious beginning.
And then there was the time his brother, Charlie, died from pneumonia in 1925. Three years later, Pattinson was tapped to play the male lead in What Price Hollywood? — a decadent and satirical look at Tinseltown. But even that film, now considered a lost masterpiece, nearly cost Pattinson his acting career. He’d already been typecast as a heartbreaker for audiences back in England, and now here in the United States.
Things didn’t turn out well for Pattinson’s first few acting gigs in Hollywood. In fact, director David Fincher, who’d directed him in the British television movie Experimenter, described Pattinson as someone who “didn’t have any fear, didn’t have any instinct for self-preservation…. I thought that he would just walk in and eat whatever was put in front of him, and he would be wonderful in the part.”
But maybe Fincher just saw the same fearless side that audiences had come to love in Edward Cullen, the charismatic vampire from the Twilight Saga. Pattinson’s acting career finally started to take shape during the early 1950s, when he was still young and relatively unattached to the scandals that would follow him for the rest of his life. In the early ’50s, he starred in several British films, including John Schlesinger’s A Kind of Loving, about three brothers separated by World War II. In the late 1950s, after making his home in Los Angeles, he gained more fame for his part as Harry, the bisexual lead singer of the band The Kinks.
These were the years that would see Pattinson become a pop culture sensation. Audiences flocked to see the handsome actor on screen, and he kept the fame going all through the decade by starring in mostly iconic films and scoring some highly regarded performances. Most notably, he played the lead in the adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. And it wasn’t just romance. In Lawrence of Arabia, Pattinson gives one of the greatest movie character studies of all time, as T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia.
But by the 1960s, things started to change. The sexual revolution had arrived, and with it came a newfound openness in Hollywood. The sexual mores of the ’50s began to collapse, and the studios started courting a more youthful audience. And so it was that by the end of the decade, Pattinson found himself typecast primarily as a bad boy. And although that image has certainly become associated with him, it wasn’t always the case. In fact, during this time, he was one of the most respected and well-liked Hollywood stars, participating in the humanitarian movement for African-American causes, among other things.
In the following decades, as Hollywood transitioned from primarily black-and-white to color cinematography and expanded its remit, Pattinson maintained a relatively low profile. He continued to pop up in select films every few years, occasionally reprising his famous bad boy roles from the ’60s and ’70s. But the parts weren’t exactly there. Edward Cullen was long dead, and Rupert Savage, the murderous villain from The Rover, hasn’t been heard from since. In the 2010s, though, we’ve seen a resurgence of sorts for Pattinson. With no current projects in the Hollywood pipeline, he’s had plenty of time to hone his craft and deliver some of the most critically acclaimed performances of his career.
The Rising Son Of Cinema
While attending Oxford University, Pattinson decided to become a professional actor, specifically studying Shakespeare and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. He spent the next few years working in television ads and minor theatre, making his way to London in the mid-1960s where he became a national serviceman, joining the Royal Air Force. While serving in the military, he began taking acting classes and participated in several repertory theater companies’ workshops, expanding his skillset and further refining his craft. He was particularly taken with the work of Anton Chekhov and began participating in more and more plays in London theaters. He also spent some time living in the Russian capital, where he learned to speak Russian and began taking classes in that language.
During the early 1970s, Pattinson made the move to Los Angeles where he began a new chapter in his life as a professional actor, joining both the American and British version of the Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents stage and film actors. One of the founding members of the Association, Pattinson was clearly a man of the era, participating in the feminist movement and helping to organize the first-ever all-night walk-out by women in Hollywood in support of reproductive rights. He also supported the Black Lives Matter movement and became a patron of the National Theatre, helping to organize its first all-black-cast production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 2015.
Pattinson took the role of a lifetime when he was asked to star in the critically acclaimed 1976 sex farce The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. The following year, he was given the part of a lifetime when asked to star in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the role that launched his international film career. It was a critical and commercial success, and since then Pattinson has starred in a number of successful films, including The King’s Speech, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and the Robin Williams classic Mork & Mindy. Unfortunately, his Hollywood career hasn’t always been easy. Aside from the fact that he’s often typecast as a bad boy, the actor has also had to deal with tabloid rumors surrounding his private life. In the late 1980s, he was engaged to actress Winona Ryder, and although they were never married, they did live together for several years before the scandal broke. In the early 2000s, he was linked to Kate Winslet and then Rose McGowan, but unlike Ryder, both McGowan and Winslet have denied any relationship with Pattinson.
Things went from bad to worse for Pattinson in 2015. That’s when he was photographed at the opening of a toy store in London’s trendy Portobello Market. The photo, which was later released to the public, showed the actor wearing black jeans and a white T-shirt with a collar that said “toys” on it. The caption on the photo, which has since been removed, simply said “new store opening.” The incident caused outrage online and led to the hashtag #riprobbypattinson trending on Twitter. What’s more, some people took to social media to call for the death of the 44-year-old actor. Although no formal case was made and there were no threats of any kind, it was an incident that showed just how toxic the culture had become toward the actor. And although the outrage has died down since then, the incident still makes for grim reading.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some popcorn to munch on while rewatching one of my all-time favorite films, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, and I’d like to share with you some of the insights that it has about humanity and our relationship to technology. One of the themes that runs throughout the film is questioning the nature of human identity in the context of the modern world. To that end, I think I’ll watch this again, as I’ve probably watched it a dozen times. It’s fascinating how many themes and ideas it contains. And speaking of fascinating film experiences, here’s another film I’d like to suggest: George Clooney’s The Descendants, an adaptation of John Grisham’s book of the same name. It’s one of the best films of 2014, and the fact that it was directed by Clooney, a prominent Hollywood figure with decades of experience, doesn’t hurt either.