It’s fair to say that Robert Pattinson’s recent publicity blitz has seen him transform from an average Joe to a being of mythic proportions.

The 28-year-old actor first captivated audiences with his portrayal of vampire Edward in the blockbuster series The Twilight Saga. Since then, he’s become a household name and a tabloid favourite for his tempestuous private life. 

His media appearances, from chats with Katie Couric to magazine covers, have seen him adopt a more adventurous image, with pouty lips and mischievous eyes.

But is all this just surface deep? Is Robert really stepping out of character, and if so, what does this mean for his future? Ahead, we examine the evidence — and the myths — that surround him.

The Transformation

Let’s cut to the chase. For those of you late to the party, welcome to the club. For the rest, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Back in 2012, when The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 was released, the world was in the grip of a global mania for all things Robert Pattinson. 

The final instalment in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire saga saw the actor donning a variety of wacky costumes as he cavorted with co-stars Kate Winslet and Danny DeVito. The film also marked his directorial debut, which came with an enviable pedigree: His father, David, is one of the most esteemed English film directors of all time.

The scene in which Robert transforms into a dog for Winslet’s character was so popular that it spawned a meme. The actor himself even appeared topless in a PETA ad at the time, alongside a bevy of scantily-clad women, including Taylor Lautner (Taylor Lautner would go on to play the titular character in the upcoming The Twilight Saga: Eclipse).

It was, by any account, quite the baptism of fire. Within days of the movie’s premiere, Robert was already trending worldwide on social media, with fans clamouring for a glimpse of his luscious man-candy. The curiosity was understandable. After all, this was the first time in years that the actor had stepped out of character, and the audience was eager to see if he would keep up the ruckus or if he would slump back into his familiar, brooding Edward self.

It turns out that he didn’t slum it. Far from it. In fact, as we’ll soon see, the media frenzy that greeted the release of Twilight almost completely erased all previous images of Robert — and of Edward, for that matter.

The Curious Case Of The Disappearing Act

The first solid clue that something amiss was afoot came with the premiere of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. During a particularly raunchy sequence in which Robert plays hide and seek with co-star Winlet, he dons a cape and jumps into a pool of water wearing only his underwear. After getting wet, the actor hops out of the pool and into his character’s limousine, where he proceeds to give Winslet a passionate kiss. (The film’s director, David Slade, has since denied that this scene was scripted.)

There are a number of problems with this sequence, not least of which is the fact that it was removed from the theatrical version of Eclipse. (The Director’s Cut is almost completely different from the theatrical release, which is a good thing.) The second clue that all was not as it seemed came with a Reddit AMA conducted by Robert in early April 2013. During the Q&A, he was asked if he ever worries about stepping out of character, and he responded:

“Sometimes yes, but I feel like I’ve been given a gift in that I can go anywhere and be anyone, which is more than most actors can say. So I guess in that way it’s lucky for me that I can’t really step out of character, because it means I can always have an adventure somewhere!”

It’s a fair to say that this was quite a change from the usual Robert Pattinson PR — in fact, it marked the first time in the actor’s career that he’d ever spoken publicly about his character. This sort of candour usually evades Hollywood stars, but it was something that he’d clearly been itching to do, and it certainly didn’t hurt that Meyer’s last book in the Twilight Saga had just come out that month. (The last installment, Breaking Dawn Part 1, was released in November 2012.)

A Still, Beautiful Monster

It’s fair to say that the frenzy that greeted the arrival of Twilight in 2012 hasn’t quite dissipated. In fact, the series — and its extravagant marketing campaign — has arguably contributed to the current wave of fascination with all things vampire. And that’s not just a British phenomenon. Across the pond, Americans are now more likely to be familiar with vampires than they are with Native Americans. (According to a recent study from NPR.)

For those unfamiliar, vampires are a creature of myth and legend, generally depicted as tall, elegantly-dressed men with pale skin and fangs. There’s also the odd werewolf mixed in for good measure, which is presumably why Disney decided to go all in on its latest live-action adaptation of the “Beauty and the Beast”, a story as old as time. (It’s also the reason why people keep mistaking Taylor Lautner for Robert Pattinson. Just last week, during a live Q&A on Instagram, a fan asked if Lautner was dating anyone, to which the 27-year-old actor responded, “Yeah, I’m dating a vampire. How do you think I look in this?”)

The point is, despite the passing of time, despite the fact that he is now established as a leading man, despite all the tabloid fodder that has piled up along the way, despite a steady diet of coffees and teetotallers (depending on the season), despite everything we know about him, Robert Pattinson is still a beautiful, strange, shapeshifter kind of guy.