RIGHT now, being Robert Pattinson is a full-time business fraught with danger. The last time I saw him, the British star of the Twilight vampire franchise was in Cannes, surrounded by screaming French fans ready to sink their teeth into his flesh. With the release of Twilight sequel New Moon in November furthering "R-Patz" mania, it's now reached epidemic proportions – fuelled by his relationship with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart.
• Robert Pattinson
When we meet in a New York hotel it seems impossible to escape him. Posters cover the subway for his latest film, Remember Me, while shops are full of Pattinson posters, calendars and T-shirts. Meanwhile, the cover of US magazine Details sees him wedged in between a model's legs (a photo shoot that led him in the accompanying interview to say "I'm allergic to vagina" – a quote that will doubtless follow him to his grave). No wonder, with his five-day stubble, unruly sideburns and unkempt James Dean-like mop of hair, he looks a little haggard.
Dressed in black jeans and a forest green puffer jacket, he says much of his day is about maintaining his sanity. "I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to not be seen," he says. "It's kind of annoying but the payoff is infinite.
"If no-one finds out where you're staying, if people aren't following you as soon as you leave your house, if people aren't waiting outside a restaurant if you have dinner there… then it's great. People coming up to you in the street – that's nice. But it's just when people know they can make money off your life, that's when it becomes difficult. They're relentless."
Returning to the city where he shot romantic drama Remember Me hardly helps. When he was filming there last June, hysteria haunted him wherever he walked.
"I don't know why I didn't see it coming. I really thought it was going to be a tiny little film, shot in New York, and I'd be able to just hang out." Instead, with much of the movie filmed in and around the city, it was done to the backdrop of screaming fans and the clicks of the paparazzi.
"Some days it just went completely mad, but you can't do anything," he says. "I remember one day we were filming by NYU, and there was a bunch of paparazzi on the other side of the street. It was in the middle of the scene and they were going 'Look up, look up!' as we were shooting. And when you don't look up, they go 'What? Do you think you're acting or something?'"
While he admits he got "more and more pissed off" with the intrusion, a security guard put it into perspective – telling him to imagine the embarrassment, not to mention the furore, if he tried to punch a pap and missed. "Then you feel fine. No-one can do anything to you then."
Given the role he plays in Remember Me, it's to his credit he never swung a fist off-camera. His angst-ridden character Tyler Hawkins evidently has visions of emulating his Fight Club namesake Tyler Durden, brawling with just about everyone, from his wealthy father (Pierce Brosnan) to louts on the street. While Pattinson previously told me "I'm really just playing myself", he's changed his tune since making the film. "I think it's impossible to do that. It's more your fantasy of yourself – like 'Yeah, I could play that. I get into fights all the time'." So does he? "I don't at all," he says. "I just want to." What about in the past? "I've been beaten up quite a few times. I generally don't see it coming, so I can't really class it as a fight. It's been a few years though."
It's hard to imagine this 23-year-old from Surrey getting into schoolyard scraps. Raised with his two older sisters by his father, a former car dealer, and his mother, who worked in a model agency, his middle-class upbringing in Barnes hardly sounds like the stuff of drama. "I'm always really worried," he says, "because I didn't go through a rebellious streak when I was young, that now I'll suddenly start rebelling against stuff completely unnecessarily."
Considering how his life has been mapped out for him by Twilight, it'd be hard to blame him if he did. Everything was a lot simpler when he was a teenager – and he certainly didn't experience the pressure to succeed that Tyler feels from his alpha-male father. "When I was not trying very hard at school, my dad was like: 'Just leave school and get a job.' No-one ever said: 'You need to do your exams.' It was more like: 'If you're not going to take advantage of things, don't do it. Do something else.'"
This he did. Ditching the idea of going to university, he veered towards acting, something his father first suggested when he urged him to get involved with amateur productions at Barnes Theatre Company.
After a bit part in Mira Nair's film adaptation of Vanity Fair, followed by a more substantial role in a TV film of Wagner's Ring cycle, Ring Of The Nibelungs, Pattinson's big break came in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, playing martyred Hogwarts pupil Cedric Diggory. Yet with success comes responsibility, and it's clear that post-Twilight, he's beginning to feel the pressure. "You can see all these articles," he says. "Like 'If Remember Me doesn't make any money, then what is he? What is his worth to the world?' I don't know. Nothing."
While the film made a modest box office bow in the US, taking $8.7 million in its opening weekend, Pattinson has no regrets about taking it on. "It's not a big epic action film. It's not going out to the marketplace to sweep up everything. It's just made to be a film. That's the weird thing."
While the film concentrates on Tyler's relationship with Lost star Emilie de Ravin's student Ally, Pattinson says: "I always thought it was more a film about living, trying to live, than specifically a love story" – a reason perhaps that Twilight fans have so far stayed away.
Not that this is a surprise. As shown by last year's little-seen biopic Little Ashes, in which he played artist Salvador Dalí, it's not Pattinson the fans want so much as his Twilight character Edward Cullen. Not that they'll have to wait long, with the third instalment of the franchise, Eclipse, due in July. While Pattinson returns to shoot the final episode, Breaking Dawn, in October, at least in between he's managed to squeeze in another adult role – an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's 19th-century novella Bel Ami – to further show there's more to him than teen pin-up.
Indeed, if the gay love scenes of Little Ashes didn't fluster his female fanbase, playing Bel Ami's hard-living journalist and social climber surely will. As a cad of the first order, the film pits him against a legion of female co-stars, including Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas. So did that help his curious little phobia? "You mean did it ease my fear of vagina?" he says. "It's funny, playing this character that uses them all and uses sex as a weapon. He just destroys these people's lives in such horrible ways – it's so strange for me to be playing that part."
If this hints he's no heartbreaker in real life, today he's as reluctant as ever to talk about romance with Stewart, or anyone else. "When the spotlight seems to be quite centred on you, the best thing I think is to remain as much of a mystery as you can," he says. "Don't try and label yourself. Don't put yourself out. That's the only thing that creates stories."
If there's one thing he's learned, it's that a public persona isn't helpful when trying to sustain a career. "If you're seen all the time and if your opinions are all over the place, no-one wants to see your movies." Not that there's much danger of this – at least until the curtain falls on Twilight.
• Remember Me is released on 2 April. The third Twilight movie, Eclipse, follows on 9 July