Pattinson Trades Vampires for Elephants – Will Twihards Follow?

Robert Pattinson — whose latest non-Twilight movie, Water for Elephants, opens today — should consider asking Leonardo DiCaprio for career advice.

R-Patz’s problem?

What’s a good-looking, sleepy-eyed young male star, one with actual acting ambitions and some talent, to do when he’s become the object of lust for fervent teenage girls worldwide who want only to see him in one role?

DiCaprio, now 36, faced exactly this dilemma after taking his memorable fatal dip in the chilly Atlantic in Titanic (1997). He was fortunate enough, after a few fallow years, to tether himself to master filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Britisher Christopher Nolan. Thanks to his ambitious performances in their movies, including Gangs of New York (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2005) and Inception (2010), DiCaprio successfully transformed himself into an adult leading man.

The pouty-lipped Pattinson may face a tougher road. When DiCaprio became every teen girl’s dream, it was largely the result of his star turn in a single movie, Titanic. The London-born Pattinson, who turns 25 on May 13, has already played hunky-sensitive vampire Edward Cullen in a trio of Twilight films and will reprise the role in two more, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 and Part 2, which open this year and in 2012, respectively.

Pattinson with Reese Witherspoon in Water for Elephants

It’s the role his fans adore him in and want to see more of. In the U.S. alone, the first three Twilights grossed a combined $800 million at the box office.

Whether these same fans want to see their beloved R-Patz portraying someone other than Cullen is still an open question. Last year, when he played an alienated college student in the love story Remember Me, its U.S. grosses failed to reach even a paltry $20 million.

That’s why Hollywood is going to be watching closely how Water for Elephants, a period romantic drama, performs at the box office. It’s another test of whether fans rooting for Team Edward will follow their man when he’s playing a regular guy rather than one with an unquenchable blood lust. And it’s also a test of whether Pattinson can appeal to moviegoers older than the teen and tween Twilight demo.

In Water, which is based on a bestselling novel, Pattinson turns in an appealing performance as a young man who joins a traveling circus during the Great Depression. His character’s job is to look after the show’s animals, including a pachyderm. He ends up falling hard for the circus’ leading lady (Reese Witherspoon), who happens to have a very jealous husband (Christoph Waltz).

While it starts off promisingly, awash in period color and detail, Water’s tight focus on just three characters ends up feeling claustrophobic. Even more disappointing, Pattinson and Witherspoon evince little chemistry.

I’m guessing Water will be a box office underachiever. More power to Pattinson, though, for trying to move beyond Twilight. It’s just that he may be trying to stretch too soon. He needs to lie low for a couple of years until the Twilight frenzy is behind him.

He should take time to smell the roses. Do a play on Broadway or the West End. Star in an indie film where there’s no pressure for it to score at the box office.

Then, after the Twihards have had a chance to grow up a little, he should — and this is easier said than done — hook up with a power director who offers him a challenging role in a potential  blockbuster.

Who knows? Pattinson just might become the next DiCaprio.

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Will  you go to see Robert Pattinson in Water for Elephants?

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Trailer for Remember Me:

Trailer for the first Twilight film: