'There are lots of attractive women in the film," says Robert Pattinson of his latest screen release, Bel Ami.
"Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman and Kristen Scott Thomas..." He pauses before flashing a smile. "And I sleep with all of them!"
After five years cocooned in a teenage Twilight world of angst, anger, vampires and werewolves (in which sleeping with people is a complicated process), the 25-year-old Englishman clearly enjoyed this romp through 19th-century Paris.
Perhaps the best known of the six novels by French short story writer Guy de Maupassant, Bel Ami is certainly his most subversive, savage and ironic piece, charting the tale of Georges Duroy, a young man who travels through 1890s' Paris, from cockroach-plagued garrets to magnificent salons, employing his wits and beauty as he bids to rise from poverty to fame.
The story comes to the big screen in March — previewed by early screenings at the Glasgow Film Festival later this month — courtesy of theatre directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, who have put together a piece that resonates strongly today, regardless of its period setting.
"This character uses sex and women's huge attraction for him to get to the top of the pile," says Donnellan of Duroy. "It's an unremitting world and, in the end, he gets the lot. There are no consequences for him. People think it's very modern, somebody getting to the top with very little talent. Duroy has an enormous desire to get to the top, and that is his talent. It's about incredibly modern themes. That's one of the thrills of doing this story. It is set in 1890s' Paris but it would almost be too near to the bone to do it now."
To bring the laconic and lovely-looking Duroy to life, the directors turned to Twilight star Pattinson, one of the most desired men on the planet, whose real-life journey, while not quite mirroring the lothario lifestyle of his character, has certainly benefited from his exquisite good looks.
"My Bel Ami guy doesn't have a conscience," explains Pattinson. "Most fictional characters are driven by some target, but he is like a reverse character. He's so content to do nothing and thinks everything should just be given to him. But if someone slights him, or directs any insult at him, the most overwhelming energy grabs him and he turns into this absolute devil who will do anything."
An attack on the invidious French society of the time, the Maupassant story is dark and rather disturbing in places, but few could argue with its no-holds-barred candour.
"It's like in Giant," Pattinson continues, referring to the 1956 George Stevens picture starring James Dean, "when he builds the entire empire to say 'f*** you'. Duroy is exactly like that but without any of the redeeming characteristics. The whole story is about these people trying to beat him down into remorse, and just as he's about to touch it, something good happens to him again.
"And then he has another run of luck, right at the end, until eventually he stabs everyone in the back and then wins the lottery. It's a happy ending for him and no-one else."
Given the contrast between the caddish Duroy and Pattinson's chivalrous Twilight character, Edward Cullen, it's tempting to think that the actor has selected Bel Ami as a conscious bid to show his range, to prove that there's more to his make-up than a fiendish pout and excellent hair.
"Doing something like Twilight opens doors and it closes others. You can say, 'Oh if I was still unknown, then no-one would judge me,' but at the same time, nobody would give a s*** either." He laughs. "It's a weird little balance. And, most of the time, you are just completely guessing what people do, so I suppose doing scripts that you think are good is the way to go. And that's what I thought about Bel Ami.
'With Bel Ami, though, I guess there is something quite fun about going from Edward Cullen to playing a guy who pretty much abuses women to get money out of them.
"Edward so wouldn't approve! So, yes, I thought that was a funny irony. But the story, independently, is great, and I only thought about the irony afterwards. The thing that stands out in the story in Bel Ami is just his behaviour —the women that he manages to screw over are all attracted to him to begin with and so he starts having affairs with them and destroys their lives afterwards. That's kind of nuts. But, to answer your question, I don't think about doing things just because they are different from Twilight, no. Honestly, Bel Ami was just such an intriguing film."