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Image: Water For Elephants
20th Century Fox
Robert Pattinson's character makes a four-legged friend in "Water for Elephants."
TODAY contributor
updated 4/15/2011 4:29:05 PM ET 2011-04-15T20:29:05

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
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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.”

For Pattinson, circus is scarier than vampires

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.

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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.

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“He appears to have paid close attention to Leonardo DiCaprio’s career,” Weitzman noted, “and has taken some good lessons in how to separate the idol from the actor. Now that he’s got fame and adulation, he needs credibility. He’s got two literary adaptations coming up, in ‘Water for Elephants’ and ‘Bel Ami,’ and is also attached to ‘Cosmopolis,’ a David Cronenberg thriller based on a Don DeLillo novel.

“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.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Watch the 'Water for Elephants' trailer

Photos: Robert Pattinson

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  1. Supporting the arts

    Robert Pattinson attends the LACMA Art Gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles on Oct. 27, 2012. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fan pleaser

    Pattinson greets fans during a "Breaking Dawn Part 2" event at Fox Studios on Oct. 22, 2012, in Sydney. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sneak peek

    Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, director Bill Condon, Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Jackson Rathbone attend the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on Sept. 6 to promote the final installment of "The Twilight Saga" by revealing a trailer for "Breaking Dawn Part 2." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Forever love

    Pattinson and Kristen Stewart both play vampires in the final "Twilight" film, "Breaking Dawn Part 2." Stewart's character, Bella, transformed at the end of the previous film after giving birth to their child. (Andrew Cooper / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Sign of the Times

    Robert Pattinson attends TimesTalks Presents: David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson at TheTimesCenter on Aug. 15, 2012, in New York City. (Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. For whom the bell tolls

    Director David Cronenberg and actor Robert Pattinson ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 14, 2012. (Ben Gabbe / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Opening night

    The actor attends the "Cosmopolis" premiere at the Museum of Modern Art on Aug. 13, 2012, in New York City. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Hands up!

    Robert Pattinson in a dramatic moment in the thriller "Cosmopolis." (courtesy Prospero Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Surf's up

    Actors Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, and Robert Pattinson accept the Ultimate Choice award onstage during the 2012 Teen Choice Awards on July 22, 2012, in Universal City, California. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Con' artists

    Actors Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart speak onstage during Comic-Con on July 12, 2012, in San Diego. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images for Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Yes we Cannes

    From left, actors Paul Giamatti, Emily Hampshire, Robert Pattinson, director David Cronenberg, and actors Juliet Binoche and Sarah Gadon depart the "Cosmopolis" premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2012. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Say 'fromage'

    Actor Robert Pattinson poses at the "Cosmopolis" photocall during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2012. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. On the road again

    Robert Pattinson attends the "On The Road" premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2012. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Sprechen sie Deutsch?

    Christina Ricci and Robert Pattinson pose at the photocall for the film "Bel Ami" in Berlin on Feb. 17, 2012. (Gerard Julien / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Man of the people

    Robert Pattinson accepts Favorite Drama Movie award for "Water for Elephants" from actress Ashley Greene at the 2012 People's Choice Awards on Jan. 11, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'Dawn' patrol

    Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart arrive at the premiere of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" on Nov. 14, 2011 in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. TODAY's the day

    Pattinson is interviewed by Ann Curry on the TODAY show. (Peter Kramer / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Cementing their fame

    Actor Robert Pattinson, left, poses with his "Twilight Saga" co-stars, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner after the trio were immortalized in a hand and footprint ceremony at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, calif., on Nov. 3, 2011. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Like water for ...

    Pattinson and Stewart go deep for a chilly scene in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1." (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Another world tour

    Pattinson is all smiles while promoting "Breaking Dawn" at the start of a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 26, 2011. (Yves Herman / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Shirts on, for now

    Pattinson and Lautner speak at a "Breaking Dawn" news conference at Comic-Con in San Diego on July 21, 2011. pattinson told fans not to get their hopes when seeing him with his short off. "I look like an inflatable frankfurter in some of those [scenes]." (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. What a bruiser

    Pattinson, left, Xavier Samuel and Bryce Dallas Howard accept the award for best fight at the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles on June 5, 2011. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. 'Elephant' man

    Pattinson arrives at the "Water for Elephants" Sydney premiere at the State Theatre in Sydney, Australia, on May 6, 2011. (Marianna Massey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. He's a little bit country

    Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon present the award for best female vocalist at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 3, 2011. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Packing his trunk

    Pattinson stars as a veterinary student who hops a train and finds himself working at a Depression-era traveling circus in "Water for Elephants," based on the bestselling book by Sara Gruen. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Golden boy

    Pattinson arrives at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Dynamic trio

    "Twilight" stars Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner accept the award for favorite movie at the People's Choice Awards on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Back with more bite

    A pale Pattinson and Kristen Stewart star as a vampire and his human love in "The Twilight Saga." (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. De-fanged

    Pattinson hits the red carpet in the U.K. for the premiere of his latest film, "Remember Me," which was released March 12, 2010, to lukewarm reviews. The film allowed the actor to try new things onscreen. "I had never played a normal guy. I've always done period stuff or fantasy stuff," he said. (Joel Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Father-son act

    Pattinson stars in "Remember Me" alongside "Lost" actress Emilie de Ravin, who plays his love interest, and Pierce Brosnan, who portrays his father. The film is a romantic drama about overcoming tragedy to find new meaning in life. (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Stealing hearts and records

    In the second installment of "The Twilight Saga," "New Moon," released in November 2009, Pattinson's Edward breaks Bella's heart when he breaks up with her, thinking it will protect her from vampires. The film broke the midnight box-office record, which was previously held by 2008's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," as well as the opening day record, with a $72.7 million haul that overtook "The Dark Knight's" previous record of $67.2 million. (Photo: Kimberley French) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Team Edward

    The "Twilight" films sent Pattinson's popularity skyrocketing around the world. In this photo, a fan makes clear she's on Team Edward at a screening of "New Moon" in Munich, Germany, in November 2009. (Alexandra Beier / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Kisses for a cause

    Pattinson appears with movie producer Harvey Weinstein, right, during a benefit for the AmfAR Cinema Against AIDS benefit during Cannes in May 2009. The actor came up with an impromptu auction item: a kiss on the cheek for the highest bidder's daughter. He sold two smooches for $27,600 each. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Going all artsy

    In the film "Little Ashes," Pattinson portrays a young Salvador Dali who finds sexual freedom with poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, played by Javier Beltran. Pattinson told GQ magazine that while filming a graphic interlude, the crew members giggled. (Regent Releasing) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A role with some bite

    2008's blockbuster "Twilight" catapulted its actors to megastardom. () Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Are they or aren't they?

    Pattinson and Stewart are honored with the best kiss award for their smooch in "Twilight" at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards in May. The couple has dated offscreen as well, though they try to keep their relationship quiet. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Not just a pretty face

    In the 2008 coming-of-age comedy "How to Be," Pattinson plays a struggling young poet and musician who invites the author of a self-help book to live with him and his parents. The actor, who plays guitar and piano and composes his own music, had three of his original songs included in the soundtrack for the film. () Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Before the luxurious locks

    In 2007, Pattinson starred in the made-for-TV drama "The Bad Mother's Handbook," which was based on the best-selling novel of the same title by Kate Long. The actor played Daniel, an awkward teenager with bad hair who latches onto a quirky teen girl. (ITV) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Early brooder

    2006 found Pattinson in the made-for-TV film "The Haunted Airman," based on "The Haunting of Toby Jugg" by Dennis Wheatley. The actor stars as the young pilot Toby Jugg, who is sent to a mansion in Wales to recuperate after being injured in action. But once there, he begins to to suspect the methods of his psychiatrist as he attempts to cling to sanity. (E1 Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Magical role

    Pattinson got his big break in the 2005 film "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," in which he played Cedric Diggory. U.K. daily paper The Times named him British Star of Tomorrow for his role as the young wizard, which he reprised in 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." () Back to slideshow navigation
  41. The beginning

    Pattinson's first acting job was a supporting role in the Nordic legend that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The actor plays Giselher, the king's brother in "The Ring of the Nibelungs," a 2004 TV movie. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (41) Robert Pattinson
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    Slideshow (18) April and May movies - April
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