He's bigger than Ben-Hur at the moment, if you believe all the hype. Yet to come face-to-face with Robert Pattinson is to meet a serious artist, a multi-talented individual who could as easily have been a classical or funky musician as a movie star.
The Twilight juggernaut is propelling the 23-year-old British actor to the heights of mega stardom and, having previously only played minor roles, most notably as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he is making the most of it.
The small independent movie, Remember Me, was able to go ahead as the result of his casting and Pattinson is now in Unbound Captives, a western set in 1859, where the world's sexiest youngster gets to act alongside the "Sexiest Man Alive", Hugh Jackman.
"The Twilight fans are so devoted, even fanatical, that I'm now able to do so many films," Pattinson says. "The economy is just so bad at the moment. I don't care if they think I'm right for the part or not. I can get their movie made, which is great."
The trim actor says what has happened to him has been "pure luck." After all, handsome Henry Cavill, who made a dashing impression in TV's The Tudors as Henry's friend, the Duke of Suffolk, had been Twilight author Stephanie Meyer's original choice to play Edward Cullen, the lovelorn vampire who falls in love with the human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).
But Cavill was too old by the time the blockbuster movie went ahead and Pattinson won the role instead. "I never set out to achieve anything, certainly not fame like this," he admits. "I still have to deal with how to actually make my life work."
The obvious comparison regarding his ascent to stardom is with Daniel Radcliffe who, even if he gets his gear off on stage, will forever be known as Harry Potter. Like his fellow Briton, Pattinson has gone against the puerile grain of Twilight to appear in gay sex scenes for his portrayal of the Spanish painter Salvador Dali in Little Ashes.
Pattinson hopes his Twilight role will leave him without the typecasting that Radcliffe will surely face. "I worked on Harry Potter for 11 months and I couldn't imagine doing that for all those years. I don't know how those guys have stayed sane. I would go completely crazy, hardly being able to do anything else for so long."
Pattinson was contracted to do the four Twilight movies and once Eclipse wraps up in Vancouver, only Breaking Dawn remains to be filmed. "They were all filmed quickly and painlessly," he says.
The much-anticipated second instalment, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, is in cinemas next month. In the flesh, Pattinson only vaguely resembles Edward Cullen because he is far from being a tortured soul himself. A lot of the image is created through posturing, make-up and that mop of tousled hair. "I wear contact lenses for the character and in the first movie I wore a bit of lipstick but in New Moon I don't. They've changed my look in this one. I don't pluck my eyebrows so much in this one, either."
Is he wearing make-up today? "Naaa," he replies disdainfully, and seems pleased that New Moon is aimed more towards males. "This was always my favourite book. New Moon will be a lot more relatable for guys, whereas it was quite difficult for me to express all those emotions in Twilight. I think it's difficult for guys to accept those kind of emotions."
Given that expectations are running so high, he approached reprising the role with trepidation. "I was really worried I wouldn't know how to do it again, but I have a natural chemistry going on with Kristen and doing the sequel was so easy. She always says she pretty much got me the part, but I don't really believe her," he says with a smile.
Pattinson also could relax because he has a smaller role in New Moon. This time werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) takes centre stage. In the third movie Eclipse, the two have to jostle over who wins Bella's heart – if she still has one by then.
Pattinson seems the most unlikely heart-throb material as he really has grungy tastes and disdain for the high life. But, while he maintains he doesn't like fast cars (his father used to sell them) and that he is single, he was photographed driving a Porsche leaving his co-star Kristen Stewart's house. Maybe they were learning their lines or it could even be a set-up. It wouldn't be the first relationship created to sell a movie.
Though the idea of his being single seems all the more likely given that he probably hasn't any energy for a relationship. (Twilight cast member, Anna Kendrick, confirmed his single status in an interview last month.) Pattinson has so little time to do anything but work. "I'm working almost every day this year," he confirms.
"I had three days off between Remember Me and Eclipse and then I've had to start learning Comanche and bareback riding for Unbound Captives. I don't only want to do the same part. I'm doing Bel Ami, based on the Guy de Maupassant novel in January as well, and I don't really know how I'm going to fit that in. I have to gain weight – but I don't think they'll let me put on much as I have to shoot the final Twilight movie afterwards. I have to look older, as the character Georges Duroy has been living hard for a good six years just getting drunk all the time. So I want to look a bit haggard."
While he says that in Remember Me he is basically playing himself, Georges Duroy probably is also closer to his own reality. Currently Pattinson lives out of three suitcases. "I live in hotel rooms," he admits. He had a grungy rented flat in London's Soho but let it go when it essentially became a crash pad for his buddies.
The young London-born star has kept his close friends close, and his family, too. "The fame thing's been good for one thing. My friends I grew up with are musicians and they were involved with a few songs on the Twilight soundtrack and it's amazing what's happened to them. They're doing tours of America and they're selling out every single show. My friend Sam Bradley did a show at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles and it sold out quicker on telephone presales than any show that's been there. Sam's unsigned [to a record deal] and there was no advertising, nothing. It's insane what you can do just by that connection."
Pattinson, who composes and sings, performed two songs for the Twilight soundtrack. He has been playing the piano since he was 5. Raised with two elder sisters – Lizzy, a musician, who's in the band Aurora; and Victoria, who's in advertising – Pattinson grew up in comfortable family surrounds.
His mother, Clare, used to work in a modelling agency, but it was his father Richard who suggested he become involved with amateur productions at Barnes Theatre Company. "That was only because he saw a bunch of pretty girls who were going there, and he said: 'Hey Rob, you've got to go do that.'"
Pattinson's parents are now both retired and live vicariously through their son's fame. "It's funny; I think they expect me to be reacting differently. They think it's more impressive than I think it is. Ultimately everyone in my life knows what's real – apart from my mother, who seems to believe every negative thing that's written about me."
Such as? "Oh, it was about sleeping with people and swearing and I wasn't even in the city at the time. She's like, 'No, I don't believe you; I bet you did say that.' She believes a gossip magazine over her own son. "My sister Lizzy just finds it bizarre. She was in America in May and sent me a text saying, 'It's ridiculous how famous you are!' It's weird, the mags print stuff every week even if I don't do anything."
Initially the fanaticism was stronger in the US, he says. "I came back to the UK at Christmas and was mostly left alone. Now it's everywhere," he shudders, laughing. "I keep waiting for the day when I wake up and I'm just an asshole to everybody."
The security is so tight around Pattinson now that he leads his life in a kind of bubble. "I'm usually half-carried in and out of buildings by bodyguards," he says. "It was driving me a little bit nuts at first, but you just learn to deal with it. If you keep being negative, if you keep saying, 'I hate this, I hate this' then you'd go crazy."
If only he could come up with an answer to the burning press pack question: "What does he look for in a girl?"
"Errr, money," he replies, "and an unbelievable amount of patience." Is it true that famous women try to hit on him? "That's all bullshit. Maybe I don't even realise that they're doing it ..."
He says he doesn't have a perfect girl, though admits, "she would have to be down-to-earth." So is there a celebrity he's adored? "Um," he stutters, struggling for an answer to yet another trite question. "I like Patricia Arquette in True Romance. She was always my pin-up. I like Linda Blair [from The Exorcist] as well."
* The Twilight Saga: New Moon is in cinemas November 19.