This week Joe West looks at how movie stars struggle to escape the roles that define them.
The burden of being associated with a single character can be too great for some actors. Being cast in a career-defining role as a youngster can catalyse fame and fortune, but the popularity of such a role might end a star’s ascent just as quickly as it begins. Like a stifled sneeze on public transport.
There are few people who are more aware of this state of affairs than Robert Pattinson. He seems to be struggling gamely against the flypaper of the Twilight franchise, choosing interim roles which put Stephanie Meyer’s effective masturbation aid at arm’s length. Or a less suggestive sentence.
Pattinson has been relatively candid in his attempts to distance himself from Edward Cullen during press interviews, particularly when he has another project to promote. Of course becoming romantically entangled with Kristen Stewart was probably a poor decision in this respect, as it fortifies the public associations between the couple and the movies which made them. But his extracurricular thrashings have not all been in vain and could deliver their payload much further down the line.
It is Pattinson’s part in Cosmopolis, a claustrophobic drama from director David Cronenberg, out this week, which could be the leverage he needs to start building away from his time as a teen idol. While some of his fans may view and enjoy this movie purely for his presence, it is a far cry from the dour, vacant pouting required of him in each of the Twilight movies. And this must surely represent a decent progression for Pattinson’s escape plan.
He seems painfully aware that he has a limited window in which to do some ‘real’ acting that will be appreciated by adult audiences beyond the level of hormonal yearnings. Bel Ami was a soppy and flawed period piece that lacked the conviction to follow through on its erotic promises. Meanwhile Water for Elephants was middling romantic fluff that didn’t really stretch any of those involved. But regardless of what you think of Pattinson or his work outside of Twilight, at least he’s getting out there and actively trying to avoid the corrosive effect of perpetual character embodiment.
Kristen Stewart seems to be on a similar path to Pattinson, albeit one which is perhaps prone to revealing her weaknesses as an actress. Or more precisely her unflinching ability to portray moody hair-twiddlers. Adventureland was underrated and her role a Joan Jett in The Runaways proved that she was willing to take edgier roles, even if she doesn’t actually behave that differently onscreen.
The person from the Twilight gang I’m most worried about is Jacob. I’m sorry, I mean Taylor Lautner. His CV is sadly bereft of any stand-out excursions away from his time as a preposterously muscled lupine teen. He’s only been credited with the critically derided action film Abduction and a part in ensemble romcom Valentine’s Day elsewhere. It seems possible that in 20 year’s time he might be suitable for the kind of roles that Jason Statham currently champions, at least from the point of view of his physicality. But for the time being his overriding pleasantness will keep him from falling far from the teen tree.
Taylor, I urge you to prove me wrong. Robert and Kristen, get a room.