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Pattinson was born in London. His mother, Clare, worked for a modelling agency, and his father, Richard, imported vintage cars from the U.S. Pattinson has two elder sisters, singer Lizzy Pattinson, and Victoria Pattinson. Growing up in the Barnes suburb of London, he attended Tower House School until he was 12, and then The Harrodian School. He became involved in amateur theatre at the Barnes Theatre Company. He auditioned and was cast in a small role in Guys and Dolls. He next auditioned for Thornton Wilder's Our Town and was cast as George Gibbs. He also played in Anything Goes and Macbeth. He caught the attention of an acting agent in a production of Tess of the d'Urbervilles and began looking for professional roles.
Pattinson began modelling when he was twelve years old, but the number of jobs began to decrease only four years later. In December 2008 he blamed the lack of work as a model on his masculine appearance: "When I first started I was quite tall and looked like a girl, so I got lots of jobs, because it was during that period where the androgynous look was cool. Then, I guess, I became too much of a guy, so I never got any more jobs. I had the most unsuccessful modelling career." Pattinson appeared in the advertising campaign for Hackett's autumn 2007 collection.
Pattinson had supporting roles in the made for television film Ring of the Nibelungs in 2004 and in director Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair, although his scenes in the latter were deleted and only appear on the DVD version. In May 2005, he was slated to appear in the UK premiere of The Woman Before at the Royal Court Theatre, but was fired shortly before the opening night and was replaced by Tom Riley. Later that year he played Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For this role he was named that year's British Star of Tomorrow by The Times. He has more than once been touted as the next Jude Law.
Pattinson played Edward Cullen in the film Twilight, based on Stephenie Meyer's best-selling novel of the same name, which was released on 21 November 2008 in North America. According to TV Guide, Pattinson was initially apprehensive about auditioning for the role of Edward Cullen, fearful that he would not be able to live up to the "perfection" expected from the character. He reprised his role as Edward Cullen in the Twilight sequels The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which was released 30 June 2010.
In 2010, Pattinson executively produced and starred in the film Remember Me, which was released on 12 March 2010. On 13 May 2010, Pattinson appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and also made an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on 18 May, which aired the following day. Pattinson attended the official worldwide red carpet premiere for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse on 24 June 2010 at the Los Angeles Nokia Theatre.
He will play Georges Duroy in a film adaptation of the 1885 novel Bel Ami, with Uma Thurman, which will be released in 2011. He will also appear in a theatre production for producer David Pugh.