Robert Pattinson is a vampire. He may be a London-born model, actor and musician. He may have been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World last year. But to most of the general public, he is a pale, brooding, blood-sucking denizen of the netherworld who is in love with one human girl and has millions of others swooning.
For most vampires, there is no hope of ever hanging up the fangs. It has something to do with fate and doom and whatnot. But in Pattinson’s case, there could be a light at the end of the “Twilight” tunnel.Video: Watch the 'Water for Elephants' trailer (on this page)
Pattinson’s turns as Edward Cullen in the film adaptations of the Stephenie Meyer “Twilight” series of novels has made him wealthy (a reported $27.5 million in 2010 alone) and famous. Now comes the hard part: Establishing himself as a respected thespian beyond his signature role as the toothy blood-sipper. Next he stars opposite Reese Witherspoon in the Depression-era circus drama “Water for Elephants,” which opens March 22.Story: 'Water for Elephants' is a three-ring bore
Will audiences bite?Video: Up close and personal with Robert Pattinson fans (on this page)
“I believe that the role of Edward is so inherently ridiculous that I refuse to dismiss Pattinson as an actor based on it,” explained Mary Pols, movie critic for Time Magazine. “Pattinson has a better chance than most. He's got name recognition to get in to see directors, he hasn't disgraced himself in these ‘Twilight movies’ — even if the hearts of middle-aged film critics do not beat faster for him — and he has the marketing power of a fan base that will keep giving him chances.”
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Pattinson has established a virulent fan base around the world. Vanessa Corn is a part of it. She runs the site, “strictlyrobpattinson.com,” which focuses on the actor’s work beyond “Twilight” and Edward Cullen.Slideshow: Robert Pattinson (on this page)
“I am a major fan of Rob's,” said Corn, a wife and mom who lives in Chicago, works a day job as an administrator and has been operating the site for just over a year. “I definitely don't think that ‘Twilight’ showed his acting strengths, but I am positive we haven't seen his best.
“[T]’Water for Elephants seems very promising in that regard, especially after seeing reactions from critics who — up until now — have been more than happy to pan him and write him off as simply 'that vampire guy.’ I think his best so far has been ‘Little Ashes,’ where he really turned himself into Salvador Dali and showed people the other side of him, the very private side.”Story: ‘Remember Me’ lets Pattinson ditch the fangs
Anna Benefield is another ardent Rob follower. She is a wife and mom, too, who lives in Atlanta and owns her own business. She said she has seen all of Pattinson’s film, and also lists “Little Ashes” — the 2008 indie about Dali, filmmaker Luis Bunuel and writer Federico Garcia Lorca — as her favorite.Video: Bloodthirsty Pattinson tastes ‘Water for Elephants’ (on this page)
“Although I'm a fan of the Saga,” Benefield said of the “Twilight” series, “the movies are campy at best. They're fun for what they are, but none of the actors show their best abilities. To be honest, after I saw ‘Twilight’ I wasn't sure how much of a career Rob would have.
“He definitely has a pretty face and takes pretty pictures. But acting? Eh. Time would tell. I was happy when ‘Little Ashes’ showed in our local art house. I really enjoyed the story and I thought he did a fantastic job. That was kind of the moment I realized he could do so much more.”Video: Witherspoon, Pattinson fall in love on 'Elephants' (on this page)
Sometimes when charting a career path, it’s wise to observe someone else’s. In the case of Pattinson, film critic Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News sees some parallels between the star and another one-time heartthrob who has established himself as one of the most respected actors in the business.
“Clearly and wisely, he’s more focused on prestige pictures than blockbuster success. It’s obvious he’s determined, for now, to stay away from anything even remotely similar to ‘Twilight’ — no series, no teen movies, no lightweight thrillers. That’s a smart move. As long as he takes his work seriously, adult audiences are bound to do the same.”Video: 'Water for Elephants' premiere (on this page)
Pols was reminded of another actor who attained a large following in a popular hit: David Schwimmer of “Friends” fame. She recently reviewed his second directorial effort, “Trust,” and read an interview with him about shedding the character of Ross Geller.
“Clearly it makes him cringe, to always be associated with Ross, but he's careful to convey how grateful he is for what that part did for him,” Pols said. “I think that's the key — don't spit on your past. He joked about returning to acting later and still being labeled Ross. It has been years since ‘Friends’ ended and he still doesn't feel out from under Ross's thumb as an actor. So he's behind the camera."Story: For Robert Pattinson, circus is scarier than vampires
It seems Pattinson has a better-than-average chance to drive a stake through Edward’s character when the time comes.
“People are interested in him because he IS more than ‘Twilight,’” Corn explained. “He writes, he reads, he loves movies and music, he’s extremely witty and sarcastic – my favorite combination.
“He seems like a genuinely interesting person, and we want to see him succeed.”
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com.
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