Every teen idol has a calling card – a look, a sound, a phrase so potent that merely the anticipation of it will transport his legion of admirers into that most moist territory located somewhere between incipient madness and uncontrollable lust. Elvis Presley sent his quiff west while his hips pointed east; Brando had his biker’s cap at just such a tilt; while the Beatles boasted the opening Fadd9 chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”. Robert Pattinson – and if you don’t think he belongs in the above company, then you clearly didn’t get out much in 2009 – well, Robert Pattinson looks like death warmed up.
Pattinson, for the uninitiated, entered this pantheon of poster boys with his pasty-faced depiction of the vampire, Edward Cullen, in Twilight. Thanks largely to RP’s dark-eyed charm, Twilight’s Catherine Hardwicke became the most commercially successful female director ever. Meanwhile, author Stephenie Meyer, from whose book the film was adapted, bestrides the bestseller lists, a storming Mormon and latter-day JK. The third instalment of the series, Eclipse, hits cinemas in July.
As Cullen, Pattinson is the latest incarnation of the doomy, Gothic leading man who’s been getting ladies in a lather since the Brontës first sharpened a quill. What’s new here, however, is that the Pattinson phenomenon has been propelled by an unstoppable trinity of Twitter, Facebook and Bebo. Combining an ancient archetype with a modern medium, Pattinson has become a conduit for the traditional sublimated rage, lust, frustration and fantasy of a billion bedroom-bound teenage girls (aka the Twihards). He is the first genuine http://www.heart-throb.
Nevertheless, he has also inspired many traditional dead-tree, deadhead, cut-and-paste quickie biographies that tell of a comfortable upbringing in Barnes to a model-agency mother and vintage car-importing father, two sisters (one, Lizzy, a recorded singer-songwriter) and that he answers to the nickname, Patty… which is also the name of his dog.
Fame came in two simple, but giant, strides the first seeing him cast as the doomed Cedric Diggory (or is it Dedric Ciggory as all Harry Potter names are equally intelligible when Spoonerised?) in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, and from there via not very much to the lead role in Twilight.
Pattinson’s appeal – not unlike Brando’s – is linked directly to the character he portrays, as much as his own persona. Edward Cullen is an outsider, albeit a cultured one, who has time for none save his fellow family members and his beloved, Bella. With his refusenik rectitude and James Dean-like snarl (not to mention fabulous facial structure), he stands foursquare in opposition to the clean-cut models of complicity represented by High School Musical and the Jonas Brothers (the latter a multiheaded construction more monstrous than anything even Mary Shelley could have imagined).
As well as the requisite bloodsucking chops, Cullen can read minds and is immortal, though, it must be said, he looks permanently peaky. Indeed, he manages to look so frail and pallid that the very effort of balancing his vertiginous quiff atop his finely chiselled features seems to be sapping every ounce of his energy, diminishing the demonstrably low levels of haemoglobin to a life-threatening level. In short, the very effort of staying alive appears to be killing him. What hormonally rampant, teenage girl could ask for more?
But the ace in the hole for Cullen is that he will not consummate the relationship. (This is one – possibly charitable – explanation why Pattinson has found favour with the mothers of so many adolescent girls.) The fortunate nexus of Stephenie Myers’ Mormon beliefs and the commercial clout of a PG-12 character who can commit but can’t copulate has taken his appeal into the stratosphere. Twilight’s True Love Never Dies ethos ickily echoes the True Love Waits pro-virginity Bible Belt pressure group. For his legions of admirers, the attraction appears to be getting teased to the point of climax and left hanging. To be left perpetually fluttering on the precipice of ecstasy somewhere close to what the 16th-century poet, Pierre de Ronsard would characterise as, “Chaud, froid, comme la fièvre amoureuse me traite”, and what the turn-of-the century realist Roger Mellie would call “the vinegar strokes”.
It has also been Pattinson’s good fortune to find himself at the forefront of the latest reanimation of interest in the vampire myth. True Blood is Twilight’s R-rated older sibling, made by HBO, created by Six Feet Under’s Alan Ball and based on Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels. Set in a Louisiana world where vampires and humans co-exist, Sookie Stackhouse (played by Anna Paquin) is a telepathic waitress and sex is always on the menu, while today’s specials include violence, death and painfully engorged male members.
Pattinson’s people won’t let him get anywhere near that kind of thing any time soon, you would imagine. But it will be interesting to see how Robert Pattinson one day will leave Twilight behind and seek further fortune in a Goth-less world.