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Why Robert Pattinson Is Perfect For The Devil All The Time

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Over the past eight years, Robert Pattinson has solidified his reputation as one of the most eclectic and exciting actors in Hollywood, but watch out. You've never seen him like this.

In Antonio Campos' The Devil All the Time, a Southern gothic thriller based on Donald Ray Pollock's 2011 novel, Pattinson plays Reverend Preston Teagardin, who takes over the parish in Cold Creek, Virginia. Don't let his title fool you, though. In a movie filled with psychotic photographers, crooked lawmen, and some of the most despicable characters ever put onscreen, Teagardin is the worst of the worst. After arriving, it only takes Teagardin a few minutes to begin preying on Cold Creek's most vulnerable worshippers, and it doesn't take long before he attracts the ire of young, honorable Arvin Russell, played by Tom Holland.

Ethically, Teagardin is the worst character that Pattinson has ever played. There's absolutely nothing redeeming about him. On one hand, he's terrifying. On the other, he's an excellent showcase for Pattinson's skills, and a real testament to how far he's come since his teen idol days. Even monsters have depth, after all, and Pattinson squeezes so much self-righteous, hypocritical horror out of the role it's almost impossible to imagine another character playing him. Here's why.

He's not concerned with his image

After Twilight, Robert Pattinson's career could've gone two ways. He could've embraced his leading man status and, with the help of a carefully curated PR push and team of experts, charmed his way into blockbuster after blockbuster. He also could've used his newfound fame to do whatever the heck he wanted, image be damned.

For film fans, it's a good thing that Pattinson chose the latter. Just look at his post-Twilight collaborators. Filmmakers like David Cronenberg, the Safdie brothers, Werner Herzog, and Claire Denis might be critical darlings, but their movies rarely set the box office on fire. It's not just the projects that Pattinson chooses to work on, either. For Lost City of Z, in which he played explorer Henry Costin, Pattinson donned a scraggly, dirty beard that hid his famous face. For The Lighthouse, he licked up puddles of mud and made himself vomit on camera. In The Rover, he sports a pair of rotten teeth and spends most of the movie covered in grime.

That's not an actor who's too concerned about his image, which is a definite benefit when it comes to The Devil All the Time. Now, Reverend Teagardin isn't a slob. He's well-groomed and he dresses well — given his position and the community he represents, maybe a little too well. However, morally, he's one of the most despicable, loathsome characters ever put onscreen, and it's a part that many superstars would steer clear of in order to protect their personas. Not Pattinson, though. For him, the performance is the thing. Public persona? Eh. He just doesn't care.

He's not afraid to play with his sex symbol reputation

Look, there's a reason why Robert Pattinson became a star. He's charismatic. He's got screen presence to spare. He's unbelievably good looking — in 2009, Vanity Fair crowned him the most handsome man in the world, while People Magazine called him the "Sexiest Man Alive" not once but twice. All that, and award-caliber acting skills, too? It almost isn't fair.

And yet, Pattinson has never let his smoldering good looks stand in the way of his performances. In fact, in some of his best roles, he uses them to his advantage. In David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, Pattinson plays a young one-percenter whose wealth disappears over the course of a day. In Cronenberg's follow-up, Maps to the Stars, he's a limousine driver who ends up embroiled in a series of love affairs. In Brady Corbet's The Childhood of a Leader, he plays both a seductive aristocrat and a fascist despot. Those parts don't just benefit from Pattinson's former heartthrob status. They rely on it, actively subverting Pattinson's sexiness in order to make deeper thematic points.

The same goes for The Devil All the Time. Plot-wise, Teagardin needs to be handsome and magnetic in order to get away with his specific brand of debauchery, but with Pattinson at the helm he's also undeniably weird. Look at how he licks his fingers while sampling Emma's chicken fingers, or how he slumps in the pews while talking to Arvin. Listen to him scream "Delusions!" while delivering a particularly unhinged sermon.

In a way, Teagardin has the same vibes that Pattinson brought to movies like the Safdie brothers' Good Time, in which he plays a criminal who's bursting with nervous energy. The end result is perfect. In The Devil All the Time, there's no denying Teagardin's appeal, but he's also strange and unsettling. As far as the movie is concerned, it couldn't work better.

He knows how to make the most out of small parts

It's very easy to imagine a world in which Pattinson leveraged his late-'00s fame into a career filled with leading roles, but according to the actor himself, headlining major features isn't something he's interested in. "I think for me the main thing is being okay with doing little parts in things — it really, really, really frees you up to do stuff," Pattinson tells IndieWire. "There just aren't enough lead parts out there if you only want to do interesting things."

That's not just talk. While Pattinson has plenty of lead roles on his credits list, he's also popped up in plenty of smaller parts, like his turn as T. E. Lawrence in Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert, or his dual roles in The Childhood of a Leader. In both of those movies, Pattinson only appears for a few minutes, but his inspired performances make a huge impact that far outweighs his limited screen time.

The same goes for his performance in The Devil All the Time. Reverend Teagardin doesn't enter the film until about an hour in, and he only has a handful of scenes with the rest of the main cast. That doesn't mean that Teagardin is just a bit part, though. Thanks largely to Pattinson's performance, the not-so-good reverend ends up being one of the most memorable characters in a film full of them, and his actions color everything that happens when he's not on screen. 

In that way, he's kind of like another iconic screen villain: Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter, who only appears in 16 minutes of Silence of the Lambs. Teagardin's screen time might be limited, but Pattinson makes the most out of every second, and when you're dealing with a character like Teagardin, a few unsettling minutes ends up being more than enough.

He's passionate about every project he does

By now, the story of how Pattinson got cast in the Safdie brothers' Good Time is a minor Hollywood legend. If you haven't heard it before, it goes something like this: While browsing the web, Pattinson ran across a promotional still from the Safdies' previous film, Heaven Knows What. He didn't know anything about the Safdies. He hadn't seen the movie. He hadn't even seen a trailer. And yet, that one image was striking enough to make Pattinson email the filmmakers and practically demand to be in their next movie. The rest is history.

It's a wild story, but Pattinson tends to get almost all of his parts like that. He signed on to The Lighthouse after he saw The Witch and ended up so impressed with Robert Eggers' direction that he reached out to the director about collaborating, assuming they could find the right project He contacted High Life director Claire Denis after catching one of her movies on late-night TV. Pattinson initially passed on the deconstructed western Damsel, not realizing it was by the same people who made Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. Once he put the connection together, he scrambled to correct his mistake.

Given director Antonio Campos' filmography, you can assume that The Devil All the Time came about largely the same way. Good thing it did. A role like Teagardin demands passion. Otherwise, he risks becoming a caricature. Thankfully, Pattinson was more than up to the task. "Rob prepared a bunch of ideas and you don't know what you're going to get but it's all interesting," Campos told Entertainment Weekly. That's an understatement. As Pattinson plays him, Teagardin really is one of the best cinematic villains of recent memory. It's a performance that really must be seen to be believed.