Robert Pattinson sheds "Twilight" image in film

LOS ANGELES Wed May 6, 2009 5:14pm EDT

Actor Robert Pattinson poses at the premiere of the movie ''Twilight'' in Los Angeles, California in this November 17, 2008 file photo. Pattinson explores new territory in his new film ''Little Ashes'' where he plays a young Spanish painter, Salvador Dali, who is sexually attracted to poet Federico Lorca, played by actor Javier Beltran. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

Actor Robert Pattinson poses at the premiere of the movie ''Twilight'' in Los Angeles, California in this November 17, 2008 file photo. Pattinson explores new territory in his new film ''Little Ashes'' where he plays a young Spanish painter, Salvador Dali, who is sexually attracted to poet Federico Lorca, played by actor Javier Beltran.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni/Files

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Twilight" fans fell in love with Robert Pattinson as a vampire who makes girls swoon. But in "Little Ashes," which opens on Friday, the actor explores a relationship that could reshape his heartthrob image.

Pattinson, who turns 23 this month, plays surrealist painter Salvador Dali at a youthful stage in his life when he had a sexually charged relationship with poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

Pattinson took the role long before he became a sensation with legions of adoring, young female fans captivated by his portrayal of vampire Edward Cullen in last year's global box office smash, "Twilight."

Industry watchers say the success of the movie, based on a popular book series by author Stephenie Meyer, was largely due to girls imagining they -- not the film's heroine Bella Swan -- were being wooed by the fanged Cullen.

Pattinson, who has said he is straight, told Reuters he doesn't believe "Twilight" fans will think differently of him for his character's sexuality in "Little Ashes."

"I don't really mind either way," Pattinson said of his movie choices. "I'm not really trying to appeal to anyone in particular."

The British actor said the romance between Cullen and Swan somewhat resembles the attraction between Dali and Lorca in "Little Ashes."

"In a lot of ways, the storyline is similar to 'Twilight.' It's about two people who, for various different hangups and terrible insecurities, can't in any way consummate their relationship," Pattinson said.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER?

Made with backing from companies in Britain and Spain, "Little Ashes" shows Dali forming a bond with Lorca (Javier Beltran), and evolving from a quiet student to the famously eccentric artist with his long, pencil-thin mustache.

Dali and Lorca kiss and swim in the moonlight, but the painter eventually spurns Lorca's advances.

In 1969, the painter told an interviewer that he had rebuffed Lorca's attempt at a sexual affair.

"I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn't homosexual, and I wasn't interested in giving in," Dali said at the time.

Yet the film portrays him as a willing, if emotionally conflicted, participant. Dali died in 1989 after a decades-long marriage to Gala, who served as his muse.

Cooper Lawrence, author of "The Cult of Celebrity," said Pattinson is an icon to young women because he seems like the perfect boyfriend.

"He's edgy but not too edgy, he's someone you can still bring home to mom, but he's a little down and dirty so you think he's cool. And he's so nonthreatening, and that's a big part of it," she said.

Many of his fans may not get a chance to see "Little Ashes" because initially it will screen in a limited number of theaters, mostly in big cities.

Last month Pattinson's "Twilight" co-star, Kristen Stewart, appeared in "Adventureland," also a low-budget film in limited release. It made $16 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Xavier Briand)

(please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)

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