Robert Pattinson is every bit as intense as you might expect. But he’s not that intense. He’s quite a laugh, actually. Which is handy, as we’ve decided to pelt him with petals and shove a load of flowers in his face for our photoshoot. And for the most part, he rolls with it. There’s only one thing he won’t do, which is holding flowers up to his eyes like glasses. “That’s where I draw the line,” he says firmly. “It’s a little too Teen Vogue for moi.”
Where he draws the line is clearly more flexible when it comes to acting roles. 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, a death row prisoner who’s shipped off to outer space in mad sci-fi flick High Life 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 and getting drunk on kerosene when the booze runs out. 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.
I really liked the scene where you argue about Willem Defoe’s cooking. Did you have any favourite scenes or lines?
I quite like saying to Willem in that same scene “don’t be such an old bitch”. There’s something about calling an older man an old bitch, there’s something quite satisfying about that.
It’s quite a mad film. What was the maddest day on set?
There’s a scene where I’m making love to a mermaid. I don’t know if that’s a spoiler but we shot it initially in the ocean. It was terrifying for one thing because it’s pretty rough and you’re lying on a rock on the ocean and it’s basically arctic temperatures as well.
What was it like working with the seagulls? Were they special film seagulls?
They are called Greg and Neil. There are only three trained seagulls in the world. I think you’re not allowed to do it anymore so they’re the only seagulls who are trained. But I actually never met the seagulls. I just did it with nothing in front of me.
What did you use?
Oh, that was a rubber chicken dog toy with feathers stapled on it, which squeaked.
Really messing with your dramatic energy.
I think there was something about it squeaking that made you more vicious. You suddenly realise when you see dogs really trying to destroy their toys and shaking it and it squeaks inside, you get that same primal instinct.
You’ve said your first day on set was spent filming that “ferocious masturbation scene” – were you glad to get it out of the way or were you quite up for it?
Yeah, the sequence in the movie was so funny – it’s like a weird manga porn scene. That was one of the only scenes when I first read the script I was like I kind of know how to do that. It was quite fun doing it on the first day – definitely an ice breaker.
I read that you went in a different direction than what you’d discussed and Robert Eggers looked a bit shocked.
With that, we’d just done a week of rehearsals where I’d basically hidden everything from him. And then I was, I guess, I think he wanted me to do more in the rehearsals so I felt I had to prove myself on the first day so I went the most extreme and grotesque – and just like vomit on myself. I just thought, how do you make a spectacular wank? A prize-winning wank. Throw up on yourself.
Were the drunk scenes fun to shoot?
Yeah, but it’s actually really difficult to play drunk without looking really stupid. It goes into being really fake really quickly. If you’re just too sloppy, it’s irritating. I’m generally quite anti directors telling me to go faster but on this – because it would take me like 20 minutes to get through a drunk scene – I was quite glad they told me to speed it up.
Yeah, because it’s quite intense. You guys are drinking paraffin or something
I also wanted to talk to you about Tenet. Is it true that you were only allowed to read the script once in a locked room?
Before I got the job. I actually, in retrospect, don’t think it was locked. But I think they shut the door. It’s kind of always exciting. I like it when people want to keep things a secret. I like being in on the secret.
Can you say any more about that film?
Speaking of which, with Batman, that got leaked. How did that all play out?
It’s just really nerve-wracking because I was really excited about it and you think, really, is this how I’m going to lose this role? It’s the most annoying circumstances to lose something, so it was kind of terrifying. Then I had to do the premiere for this [The Lighthouse] the next day and everyone was like “is that true, is that true?” And it wasn’t true at the time, I hadn’t got the job. It was pretty terrifying.
It was leaked before it was confirmed with you?
Mmm, I hadn’t even done the audition.
But you got it – are you excited about it? Did you have a batman costume when you were younger?
Yeah, I think everybody did. But I’m really excited about it – it’s the coolest thing ever. I still can’t really believe it. But you want it to be good. Hopefully people will like it.
Were you worried about what people’s reaction would be?
No, I’m only worried about whether people like it or not when it’s done. People right now can think whatever they want.
Do you read much about yourself online or do you just avoid it?
Not really. I read reviews but I always find that random stuff that’s written about me is always pretty repetitive. I find with interviews, I can say the most controversial stuff and no one ever cares and then you say something which I wouldn’t think is controversial at all and everyone’s like “waaargh!”
When was the last time that happened?
Recently, someone asked me about Batman and they referred to him as a superhero. I said I think a superhero has to be someone who’s defined by having super powers. People got very angry about it. I still can’t really understand what the argument is. Okay, he’s a superhero, I’m sorry! The next headline ‘Pattinson retracts: Batman is in fact a superhero. He takes it all back, he’s very sorry.’
The Lighthouse is now playing at The Projector until February 8.