Last week, a GQ interview with future Bruce Wayne and perennial weirdo Robert Pattinson dropped that made the internet fall into spasms of bafflement. Detailing the actor’s current lockdown situation in London, where he was filming The Batman before the COVID-19 pandemic brought production to a halt, the article allows Pattinson to revel in his oft-overlooked oddities. An extended bit where he details a dream pasta recipe he’s been working on that ends with an exploding microwave is the stuff of pop-culture journalism dreams and real-life nightmares. For some people, this profile seemed to be their first true indication of just how wonderfully strange the actor can be, at least in his public presentation of himself. Of course, if you’ve followed Pattinson from his Twilight days then none of this was new to you.
It’s easy to forget just how big a deal the Twilight franchise was, even though the entire saga only unfolded over the past 15 years (and is set to be revived this Summer thanks to the long-awaited release of Midnight Sun). For a few years, this tale of obsessive teen love with a sparkly paranormal twist was utterly inescapable, evolving from a true cultural phenomenon into yet another punchline to mock the interests of adolescent girls everywhere, with some genuine dissection of its curious themes and ideas along the way. It was obvious from the get-go that neither Pattinson or his co-star Kristen Stewart fully knew what they were getting themselves into when they signed on to star in what was, to them at the time, just a sweet and weird low-budget paranormal romance directed by an indie favorite with little to no expectations of wider success. The first movie’s gargantuan success catapulted the pair of them into the stratospheric peaks of fame that were simply unreachable for most stars of any age but especially ones barely out of their teens. The Harry Potter kids were probably the only group on that level, but there was one key difference that put the Twi-pair on much more treacherous ground: The romance. Sure, Ron and Hermione was a big effing deal for fans of the books but it was never the driving force of the story or the central selling point of the entire multi-billion dollar franchise. For Twilight, everything rose and fell based on the love of Edward and Bella, and by extension, the relationship of Pattinson and Stewart, which quickly became a very real thing.
For any fandom that’s centered on a romantic pair, the notion of your fictional fantasy becoming IRL is the stuff of dreams. Everyone’s been there. It felt especially potent with Twilight because that Edward/Bella romance is the singular reason the series exists. Yes, there is a sliver of a plot but did you ever really care about that? Stephenie Meyer certainly didn’t. It was all about the (literal) breeding pair, baby. Twilight’s success has always been rooted in the sheer obsessiveness of that romance. It’s feverish, it’s all-consuming, it’s borderline hallucinogenic at times. In canon, it is the absolute center of the universe. It’s not hard to see why it proved so alluring to millions of fans. Pattinson and Stewart becoming an actual couple merely cemented the emotional ideas at play with the Cullen/Swan story: A love so powerful that it breaks beds and changes the world.
Stewart and Pattinson never broadcasted their relationship to the world, nor did they allow it to be used as a marketing tool for the franchise itself. They didn’t need to. Its mere existence was enough to be the stuff of PR dreams. It spoke for itself and did all the heavy lifting for promotional clout, to the point where it didn’t matter if neither person ever said a word on the record about their romance. Indeed, that sheen of privacy only made things more alluring, adding to the image of brooding old-school cool that defined both actors long before they became indie darlings in auteur-driven European cinema. Given how much of the Twilight series is driven by the long, utterly agonizing wait for Bella and Edward to finally do the sex, fans seemed comforted by the knowledge that the on-screen chemistry was authentic off-screen too. Every sexy photo-shoot in-character doubled as an implicit document of their actual romance unfolding in real-time. The less they talked about themselves in real life, the easier it was for fans and the industry alike to project the fictional fantasy of Twilight onto Pattinson and Stewart.
The big problem here is that such illusions are inherently fragile. That’s simply not how real life works and it shouldn’t be. Pattinson and Stewart were never the playthings of Twi-hards, Summit Entertainment, or Stephenie Meyer. Breaking out of that mold could prove intensely difficult. This is a major driving force behind actors going against type with non-franchise acting choices or every teeny-bopper star going sexy the moment they turn 18. Stewart inadvertently shattered that mold when it was revealed that she had been cheating on Pattinson with Rupert Sanders, the director of one of her non-Twilight movies, Snow White and the Huntsman.
Stewart was photographed cuddling up to the director, a married father of two, in public and it didn’t take long for all hell to break loose. The press was not kind to Stewart, who was quickly painted as a homewrecker and the poison apple who tainted a perfect romance that the public adored. The New York Daily News called her a ‘Trampire’ on the front page. Donald Trump got involved via Twitter because of course he did. The slut-shaming was rampant across the internet and in every media narrative around the story, but only ever directed at Stewart. The married man with two kids who she cheated with, a man almost two decades her senior, faced little of that wrath.
Stewart eventually released a public apology, wherein she said she was ‘deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected.’ That apology famously ended with her saying to Rob, ‘I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.’ It was a rare moment of public passion from an actress who spent years of her career being unfairly maligned as emotion-free and aloof. A major problem with playing Bella Swan is that she’s less a fleshed-out character and more a vessel for readers to insert themselves into, a means for them to experience that all-encompassing love with the perfect sparkly man. Bella is meant to be every girl and woman in that regard, so Stewart irrevocably breaking that vessel made fans all the angrier. They couldn’t have Edward but she did, both on- and off-screen, so why would she jeopardize that? Moreover, why do so when there was still one Twilight film waiting to be released, thus making the crumbling fantasy all the harder to maintain?
Stewart famously suffered the most from this scandal. She reportedly lost a number of movie roles because she was seen as being too tainted by the story, while Rupert Sanders still got to direct the Huntsman sequel that Stewart was dropped from. She and Pattinson were allegedly back together by the time they were promoting Breaking Dawn: Part Two but the fantasy was gone, concluding as the franchise did. Afterward, both Stewart and Pattinson put their heads down and dived straight into work, choosing smaller, less commercial projects that wouldn’t require either of them to prop up a major fan-base or participate in tabloid culture. Pattinson entered a relationship with musician FKA Twigs while Stewart started dating visual effects producer Alicia Cargile. Neither actor could escape the Twi-frenzy, even after the sparkly make-up was packed away. The notorious Robsten shippers — a subset of fandom who truly believe the pair are not only still together but married with children that Stewart definitely gave birth to — viciously attacked Twigs with racist and misogynistic slurs. The homophobic and biphobic rhetoric around Stewart was hard to avoid too. There will always be easy narratives about this relationship for fans and the media to spin, much in the same way that the Aniston-Pitt-Jolie troubles will forever fill the front pages of tabloids the world over. Mostly, however, both Pattinson and Stewart have managed to get on with their lives free of the Twi-pressure.
Last year, Stewart sat down for an interview with Howard Stern and talked about the ‘absurd’ slut-shaming she faced for the cheating scandal and how angry she felt that over the fallout leading to her being branded as untouchable by the industry for a period. She also revealed that she never actually had sex with Sanders but couldn’t say that at the time because she felt that nobody would believe her. That’s true. Nobody would have, and isn’t that incredibly sad? Both actors are now free from the smothering confines of that franchise and the expectations put upon their real lives to maintain an impossible fantasy, and they’re thriving as a result. In 2020, we seem more cognizant of just how ridiculous it is to demand that a woman none of us know apologize publicly for something in her private life. Of course, it still happens to this day, a sign of how little things have changed in the grand scheme of things.
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