"Fucking brilliant! It could be like Finding Nemo!" says Rob. "And the little candiru is lost in the balls! Think of the soundtrack!"
BEER NO. 1
Fourteen months later we're in London. New Moon, the second movie in the Twilight saga, has set box-office records for largest midnight opening and biggest opening-day gross. Remember Me, Rob's young-man-in-crisis drama, has wrapped. He has 24 hours before he has to start rehearsals for Bel Ami, based on the Guy de Maupassant novel, in which he plays a bed-hopping social climber.
He is waiting to pick me up in the bar of my hotel. He has ordered himself a pint of beer and, remembering my beverage of choice, a Diet Coke for me. He has the lovely manners of the good son of a good mum.
He says he wants to take me to a particular restaurant nearby, "just a little out-of-the-way place." So out of the way, it turns out, that after wandering around nearly all of Covent Garden, we can't find it. He doesn't seem too surprised, really. Of late he's been getting lost a lot in his own hometown. But then it's been a couple of years since he's actually lived here, and London is confusing as hell anyway.
Considering alternatives, we peek into a crowded café full of the young and beautiful, but he recoils. A few minutes later, when we come to a tiny Mexican place, his hackles go up a bit. Hmm. I ask him whether, at this point, he's able to sniff out crazed fans lurking under the tables.
"Yes. Sure. But last time I was here, the guacamole was bad."
Rob has made no sartorial concessions to Britain's ugliest winter weather in 30 years. A button-down, light Carhartt-like jacket, no gloves. He does have a hat, perhaps the same one he wore in New York. I'm swaddled like the Michelin Man and I'm fucking freezing. He's cheery, unfazed, giggling away. It occurs to me that London seems to afford him a freedom he doesn't have in New York or Los Angeles. And a London night with deserted, snow-piled streets, after an epic storm that paralyzed Heathrow and shut down the Eurostar trains, is like an unbridled romp while going commando.
Without trying, we arrive back where we started, in front of the Covent Garden Hotel. Across the street there's a high-end sex-toy-and-bondage shop called Coco de Mer. I mention that I popped in there earlier (before the National Gallery, thank you), and I tell him about this insane S&M body-harness contraption they have that allows you to dress up like a horse and have a long tail.
"That's so English. I want to do this entire interview wearing it, from an equine point of view," he says, stomping the sidewalk with make-believe hooves. "Seriously. As an experiment in public perceptions. Is the place still open?"
BEER NO. 2
We're inside, at a warm corner of the hotel's Brasserie Max, and Rob is having another beer. We're talking about how he copes. "When I was 17 until, I don't know, 20, I had this massive, baseless confidence. This very clear idea of myself and how I would achieve success, which involved making decisions. I saw myself picking up the phone and saying 'Absolutely not' or 'Definitely yes.' Having control. Except you have to figure out whether the way you think at 19 or 20 has any value. And eventually I understood, with all that control, which was probably illusory, I wasn't progressing. So now I'm relinquishing a bit. I'll be a tiny bit naked. Except tonight I won't, because it's fucking freezing and my balls will shrivel up."