June 20, 2014 at 1:00 am

Robert Pattinson gets down and dirty in 'The Rover'

Robert Pattinson plays a damaged young man who mumbles disjointed sentences, often repeating them for no good reason, in 'The Rover.' (A24 / Porchlight Flims)

His name is Rey and he does not look, talk or act like anybody’s idea of a teen heartthrob.

His teeth are crooked and foul. His hair is a bad bowl-buzzcut. He’s dirty from head to toe, and when he manages to speak, he mumbles disjointed sentences, often repeating them for no good reason.

He certainly bears little resemblance to the world’s most handsome vampire, the perfectly coiffed, sparkly skinned Edward Cullen, hero of the “Twilight” franchise. And yet Rey, the train-wreck at the center of the post-apocalyptic manhunt “The Rover,” is indeed played by the usually dashing Robert Pattinson.

“I generally don’t get picked for these parts,” Pattinson admits on the phone from L.A. “There’s about five actors who seem to have a lock on the weirdos. I’ve never really been perceived to be one of them — up until now maybe.”

How badly did Pattinson want the part? He auditioned for it. Twice.

Understand, this is a guy whose last movie, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” earned $829 million worldwide.

But he understood the need for an audition.

“Well, it’s very different from who I am, personally. There’s no way of really proving that I could have done it by just talking about it,” he says. “It would have been a giant leap of faith.”

Pattinson, 28, saw the jittery, perpetually insecure Rey as a literal underdog.

“In a pack of dogs there’s always one who will completely accept the beta position,” he says.

To help him find the right mindset, director David Michod had Pattinson watch the documentary “Bully,” which follows the lives of kids who are constantly picked on. The actor understood right away.

“People have been accusing you of having something wrong with you for so long that you believe it,” he says. “No one’s expecting anything from you, you stop thinking, you’re a dependent. You don’t have any choice. Really, the only thing he feels is fear of everything.”

It helped that co-star Guy Pearce happens to be a fairly imposing presence.

“Guy’s just got this constant pressure on you in a scene. And he’s got such a singular focus that you kind of end up just falling to pieces,” Pattinson says. “It’s like you’ve got a laser beam on you.”

Pattinson certainly has experience with bright lights. Born and raised in London, he started working in amateur theater at age 15. An agent spotted him there and by 2005 he had landed a small part in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

By 2008 he’d been chosen to play Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” series. Five movies and countless magazine and tabloid covers later, the franchise concluded last year with “Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” having earned more than $3.3 billion.

Pattinson has learned to adapt to the spotlight over the years, and he even ventures out into public on occasion these days.

“You sort of weigh up what you want your day to be. If you say my friends are going to a movie or whatever and if you go you’re probably going to get a bunch of photographs taken of you,” he says. “Sometimes you’re cool with it, other times I don’t want to be bothered to deal with the stress of it. But I’ve definitely figured out a more balanced way to live than four years ago.”

Along with celebrity, “Twilight” brought Pattinson high visibility within the film world, and he’s been working with some of the most respected people around. He did “Cosmopolis” with director David Cronenberg in 2012 and stars in Cronenberg’s upcoming “Maps to the Stars.” He’s playing T.E. Lawrence in director Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” alongside Nicole Kidman and James Franco, and has “Idol’s Eye,” with Robert De Niro and Rachel Weisz, coming up.

Pattinson says “Twilight” probably gave him a boost with his peers, but he’s not sure how much of one. “Within the industry, lots of people I work with, none of them have seen ‘Twilight’ — but then Werner Herzog loves ‘Twilight’!” he says. “I think it’s helped me out in a lot of ways. You have to kind of figure out how to ride the wave afterward.”

And he wants to keep riding that wave, chasing the acting high.

“I guess I was a relatively shy person when I was younger. I still am kind of. It’s nice to challenge yourself, especially in big emotional scenes with a part you’re not capable of doing. To be able to challenge yourself in that way, it’s quite exhilarating,” Pattinson says.

“Especially when it goes right,” he adds. “It could be the worst thing ever.”

Robert Pattinson

■Born May 13, 1986, London, England

■Father imported vintage cars, mother worked for a modeling agency

■He plays guitar and piano and had two songs on the first “Twilight” soundtrack

■Began modeling at age 12

■Reported salary for “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2”: $12.5 million + 7.5 percent of the gross

Coming up: “Maps to the Stars” with Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Mia Wasikowska; “Queen of the Desert” with Nicole Kidman and James Franco

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