Robert Douglas Thomas Pattinson was born May 13, 1986 in London, England, to Richard Pattinson, a car dealer importing vintage cars, and Clare (née Charlton) Pattinson, who worked as a booker at a model agency. He grew up in Barnes, southwest London with two older sisters and attended Tower House School until the age of 12, and then The Harrodian School. He discovered his love for music long before acting and started learning the guitar and piano at the age of four. He used to perform solo acoustic guitar gigs at open mic nights in bars and pubs around London where he sung his own written songs. He became a big cinephile for love of auteur cinema in his early teens and preferred to watch films rather than doing his homework.

Thinking about becoming a musician or going to university to study speech-writing, he never thought about pursuing an acting career and his drama teacher in school even advised him not to join the drama club because she thought he wasn't made for the creative subjects. But as a teenager, he joined the local amateur drama club after his father convinced him to attend because he was quite shy. At age 15 and after two years of working backstage, he auditioned for the play 'Guys and Dolls' and he got his first role as a Cuban dancer with no lines. He got the lead part in the next play 'Our Town', was spotted by a talent agent who was sitting in the audience and he began looking for professional roles.

His first screen role was a small part in Vanity Fair (2004), but he'd been cut out of the final film and didn't know about it until he attended the premiere. The casting director felt so guilty for not telling him, that she got him the audition for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). He was lucky and succeeded in gaining the role of Cedric Diggory, which brought him to a wider audience at the age of 18 and he continued to star in mostly smaller British TV productions. Hollywood expressed only mild interest in him and he was still debating whether or not he wished to pursue acting.

Throughout that period, Pattinson would occasionally send audition tapes for roles in America. One, for a rom-com, led to the opportunity for an in-person audition in Los Angeles. That audition did not pan out, but while in town he went in for another, with Thirteen (2003) director Catherine Hardwicke, for a part in what he understood to be an indie movie based on a low-profile book about a vampire. Being the last one out of 3000 male actors to audition for the part, the role of Edward Cullen in the film adaptations of the Twilight novels written by Stephenie Meyer brought him to unexpected worldwide stardom at age 22 and the five films between 2008 and 2012 grossed over $3.3 billion in worldwide receipts. Between the Twilight Saga films, he also starred in Remember Me (2010), Water for Elephants (2011) and Bel Ami (2012).

Pattinson's Twilight-era was surreal. He had been catapulted onto Hollywood's A-list as a heartthrob, but also experienced a loss of privacy and certain preconceptions about what he wanted - or was capable of doing - as an actor. That changed with an unexpected straight offer from auteur director David Cronenberg to star in Cosmopolis (2012), which he described as an eye-opening experience: It reminded him of his love for cinema, why he wanted to become an actor in the first place and solidified his foremost desire for the coming years to work with great filmmakers. With Pattinson being a big cinephile, he since then starred in mostly independent films from respected auteur directors, such as The Rover (2014), Maps to the Stars (2014), Life (2015), Queen of the Desert (2015) and The Childhood of a Leader (2015). His unrecognizable role as an explorer in the amazon jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) from director James Gray brought him much critical acclaim. His transformation to a sleazy, manic conman in the gritty crime thriller Good Time (2017) earned a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and brought him a nomination for Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards. It was a major step for his transition into a character actor with incredible range, with critics calling his performance a revelation and career-defining.

He starred in the western-comedy Damsel (2018) as a cowboy with sociopathic characteristics and played a convict sent to space for sexual experimentation in the psychological mystery drama High Life (2018) from acclaimed French auteur director Claire Denis. He returned to work with director David Michôd in The King (2019) and starred in the fantasy-horror movie The Lighthouse (2019) from director Robert Eggers.