In 2005, Stephenie Meyer released Twilight, making waves in young adult literature. It was the novel’s 2008 film adaptation, though, that truly cemented The Twilight Saga in the teen cultural landscape. A major player to emerge from the series was Robert Pattinson, the British actor who portrayed vampiric protagonist Edward Cullen and was poised to become the next Hollywood heartthrob. Pattinson donned a stilted American accent for the role, inadvertently setting a precedent for the rest of his career.
Rather than capitalize on his major studio presence, Pattinson then starred in a string of independent movies with auteur directors, showcasing the full potential of his acting talents. Over the last few years, though, Pattinson has slowly returned to large-scale movies with wider audiences, developing an unlikely reputation for his craft: A chaotically aloof presence known for outrageous performances bolstered by unforgettable accents.
Any actor can do an accent—not necessarily well, and nothing to make note of either. But for Pattinson, his staggering array of accents have added to the mystique of his public persona.
There are roles where his accent is clearly well-researched: His role as a Queens native and frenetic bank robber Connie in 2017’s Good Time grounds his character with realistic gravitas. And then, there are roles where Pattinson’s accents seem to stand in stark contrast to the rest of the film, almost slapping the audience in the face with their surprising grandeur.
In 2019’s The King, Pattinson plays the Dauphin of France. While the movie is not necessarily memorable, Pattinson is easily the film’s biggest standout, in part due to his outrageous affect. On the surface, his accent might just be an extravagant—albeit incorrect—French caricature that Pattinson allegedly based on several Dior employees with whom he had previously worked. Pattinson’s ridiculous accent, complemented by his equally ridiculous long and wavy wig, elevates the Dauphin to unprecedented levels of comedy in an otherwise grim, slow, and brooding movie.
In 2019’s The Lighthouse, Pattinson adopts an archaic New England accent to play an isolated lighthouse keeper who starts to lose his mind. The film received great critical acclaim, inadvertently melding Pattinson’s penchant for insanity with his impressive acting chops. Further, in 2020’s The Devil All the Time, Pattinson created a heinous and incorrect American Southern accent on his own, as he refused to work with the on-set dialect coach. As with his French accent in The King, Pattison’s absurdity should again feel out of place alongside more grounded vocal work, but it somehow improves the film by adding unintentional bouts of levity.
It’s difficult to pin down what about these accents cement Pattinson so distinctly. Maybe Pattinson just exudes a leading man charisma. Maybe it’s his self-aware humour. Maybe it’s the way that his physical appearance remains distinct no matter how unrecognizable his character’s voice is. Perhaps the cultural resurgence of Twilight has brought renewed attention to Pattinson’s early accent work. Perhaps Pattinson is this generation’s Nicolas Cage, immortalized by internet culture regardless of the caliber of work in which he is found.
Pattinson, simply put, is by no means easily definable. In a recent GQ feature, the actor stated he had almost blown up his kitchen by putting a tin foil ball filled with pasta, cheese, cornflakes, and sauce into the microwave—and made it sound delightful. Pattinson’s bizarre roles and accents have always seemed to fit hand in hand with his own ludicrous public persona. Even dating back to his Twilight days, the films’ ridiculousness was offset by many press interviews in which Pattinson expressed his dislike of the franchise and his own role. Along with his career choices, Pattinson’s life has always seemed serendipitous despite his unpredictability, and he has remained at least moderately relevant.
Nobody really knows where Pattinson will venture next, or what new eccentric accent he will undertake—maybe not even Pattinson himself. But, whenever it comes, the world is ready and waiting.