Robert Pattinson: No More Safe Bets

Robert Pattinson’s new movie Cosmopolis is a big change of direction, but will the gamble pay off?

Robert Pattinson earned $20 million in 2009. He made it into time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

If it wasn’t for the annoying boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe, he’d currently be the highest earning British entertainer in The Sunday Times Rich List (Radcliffe – £54m, Pattinson – £40m). Forbes have gone so far as to describe him as one of the most influential celebrities in the world. Make no mistake, whatever your thoughts on his pasty white skin and sticky up hair,  Pattinson is what agents describe as a ‘Big Deal’. And yet, when you look back at his body of work, starting properly with 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, you have to admit that the man has made some really average films. Which is probably why INDUSTRIA  knows so little about him. Yes, we were vaguely aware of the teenage-based hysteria surrounding his role as Edward Cullen in the tween vampire series Twilight, but in the same way we know of Justin Bieber, ballet shoes and those small fish that clean women’s feet.  With the arrival of David Cronenberg’s movie Cosmopolis this month, however, all that looks set to change.

Originally a starring vehicle for Colin Farrell and based on the novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis aims to be the vehicle to deliver Pattinson some mainstream credibility (read: anyone but screaming teenage girls) and if an actor is good enough for such a visionary director who’s given us the likes of Videodrome, The Fly, Scanners, Eastern Promises and most recently A Dangerous Method then we felt we should pay attention to “R-Patz”. 

“When Colin left the project to film the remake of Total Recall, it made me rethink everything,” says Cronenberg. “Anyway he was too old for the part; he’s 35 and I wanted to be faithful to the book, it was necessary to have a 25 year old actor. Then I started to check all the actors of that age and that’s how I thought of Rob. I had seen him in Twilight, of course, but nothing he had done so far really predisposed him to act in Cosmopolis. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. We talked a lot on the phone. Rob is not one of those people with a big ego. He wanted to make the movie, but seriously wondered if he could. It was his only concern. He said, ‘Do you really think I’m good enough to play this part? I’m afraid to ruin your movie.’ I told him that this conversation more than convinced me that he was perfect for Cosmopolis.”COS_D035-07991-Pattinson-CS

Quite what the breathless followers will make of Pattinson’s latest career move remains to be seen. As he’s made, without question, the least accessible movie of his career (which has also included the drama Water For Elephants and more recently the period sex romp Bel Ami), but one that makes him an acting force to be reckoned with as Pattinson dominates the screen (he’s in almost every scene) in a warped and very wordy tale of a billionaire city boy travelling across Manhattan in a high tech limo having to deal with death threats, riots, a new high maintenance wife and all the while in desperate need for a haircut. 

On a rainy Friday evening, the 26-year-old Pattinson is kicking back with a few drinks in his hometown of London before heading off to premiere Cosmopolis to the sniffy film press at Cannes. Once more making us reassess our previous disinterested stance  on him, he’s fun to talk to (the story of the one armed washing up man had us in fits of laughter, more of that later) and anyone who starts an interview by declaring “I’m probably going to be quite drunk by the end of this interview…” is alright by us. 

When did you first hear that Cronenberg was making Cosmopolis?

I got sent the script about a year before I did it. My agent thought I would be interested, as I told her I wanted to be sent anything from whoever was writing good scripts. Colin Farrell was attached at the time, I liked it, but I felt I was too young and I think I was considering doing a different part in it. But it disappeared. Then when I was finishing the last Twilight movie, I was resent it out of nowhere again with a straight offer for the lead. I didn’t understand what had happened. It was a nice surprise.

Did you then have a chat with Cronenberg about it?

I re-read it again and I didn’t particularly understand it. I knew that there was something really passionate about it, it seemed like someone really knew what it was about but that someone was not me. So I was terrified to talk to David about it. My agent was like, ‘You have to accept this job’ but it’s a terrifying prospect to call up one of the best directors in the world and talk through a script you don’t really understand. 

So did you call him?

I spent a week putting off the conversation. I was trying to figure out how I could say no, as it seemed like the logical thing to do if you don’t understand something. But I love all of David’s movies and the only reason I would be saying no is because I’m a pussy. So I called him up, was honest and said I didn’t know what it was about but I really wanted to do it and he was like, ‘Great, I don’t know what it’s about either’. It all worked out in the end. 

What was the first Cronenberg film you saw?

I think it was Scanners. I loved it. I was obsessed with Jack Nicholson when I was growing up and I bought the DVD because I thought it was him on the cover and it turned out to be Michael Ironside, who I then became obsessed with. I also remember buying Videodrome. I’d never really acknowledged how much I liked Cronenberg but I realised I owned about 10 of his DVDs before working with him. I never thought I would be able to do a film with him, as he seemed to be always making films with Viggo Mortensen. He’s amazing  and you can see why actors keep going back to work with him. 

How does his directing style differ from others?

He’s just incredibly confident. He doesn’t make out that anything is a big deal at all. And in doing that there’s kind of an indirect assumption that actors need to come to the set prepared to do any scene in the movie. David would turn up and if he couldn’t figure out the best way to shoot something he would just move onto something else. Cosmopolis is fairly wordy and required a significant amount of thought to figure it out so I was preparing 40 pages of dialogue for every day. I hadn’t done that since my theatre days. And everyone else would be prepared for that so you didn’t want to let everyone down. 

Is it true he didn’t want you to deviate from the script at all?

Completely. That was the one of the things I wanted to do too, what I liked about it most was the writing and the irregular pacing of it. I read the book too and it has an odd, slightly off-rhythm cadence to it that David obviously liked. But it was nice as you don’t have to try and make the words your own.

Most of your scenes were filmed in the back of a limo. How claustrophobic was that?

For me it was great as I was extraordinarily nervous at the beginning but I could stay in my comfort seat and every other actor had to genuinely enter my world. I would turn up before everyone else everyday so I would be the first one in the car so I would have that moment where the other actors would have to approach and come into my car. There was no one else in there but me and the other actor as the camera was on a crane and David would speak through an intercom. It meant that these other great actors like Samantha Morton and Juliette Binoche came in a little bit nervous, which was fantastic for me as it evened the playing field. 

Had you met your co-stars beforehand?

I had barely met anyone other than Jay Baruchel and Sarah Gadon. I met Juliette Binoche two or three minutes before we had a sex scene, and she is one of my three favourite actresses in the world. It was an incredibly strange thing to deal with. 

It’s a pretty brave role. In one scene you seduce a co-worker while having a prostate exam.

That was one scene where I wished I’d worked out a bit beforehand haha. I thought it was one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read and one of the only things that has been cut down – it gets even more extreme in the book, the last line is, ‘I’m going to bottle fuck you slowly with my sunglasses on’ and all this while I have a doctor’s finger up my arse. You get to the day and you think, ‘I’m the one who’s vulnerable in this scene’, usually it’s totally the other way around. David was laughing all the way through. You are in a position, bent over, where you are the butt of all the jokes, so you have to give up your pride quite quickly. 

Despite the complexity of the dialogue did you have fun making it?

For something so wordy and seemingly very complicated you would think it was highbrow on set, but it was the most fun job I’ve done. We were making it kind of like a comedy; it’s an odd movie. 

At one point you get a pie in the face.

I think I broke my nose in one of the takes. My nose breaks really easily and Mathieu (Amalric) is a bit of a method act so really went for it. In that scene I was slightly off camera pissing my pants laughing, I was useless. I was treating it like a stand-up comic was performing for me. 

Was it a deliberate move to do something a world away from the Twilight films?

It really came out of the blue. There are very few auteur directors who can still get movies financed and the best way to improve as an actor is to work with the best directors out there. Unfortunately  studios love hiring first timers more than the classic directors. It’s such a risk. With David it won’t be just a string of recorded events stuck together with some music over the top as every single one of his movies is “something” – it’s a self contained piece of art. The only way I judge what to do next is when I read a script that is so insanely different from everything else that I question if it will ever get made. And I think this is one of those. The last scene of the movie is a 20 page two hander with a completely new introduced character. If you read any script writing manual they will tell you it’s breaking every single rule in the book. The only reason it got made was of Cronenberg. It would have been ridiculous not to have done it. 

Do you not think that you now have the pulling power to get a movie made?

Not really. I guess I have been put in the category of potentially getting Twilight fans into a movie but I don’t know if that’s even guaranteed. I’m just lucky with this Cronenberg film, as it’s the sort of thing I would have auditioned for even now, I would have auditioned as many times as they wanted in order to get it. I’m just trying not to do stuff that’s bad. Hopefully people will start to see that I’m making interesting choices and then it’s a legit career. I don’t want to have a career that’s just an illusion. I was scared that I would never be asked to be in anything interesting, that my life would pass by and someone, someday would ask me, ‘So apart from Twilight, what did you do?’ 

How do you cope with the attention?

I have never been fooled by the hysteria that surrounds me. It’s the character that I play, Edward Cullen, the romantic vampire. Before the movie was even made, girls would scream at Stephenie Meyer’s public readings. Most people who are famous really like it and I can’t figure out how to like it that much. I’m not a particular horrible person so when fans come up to me in the street I’m nice to them but whenever you are mean people have no idea why. Not sure if that makes sense, sometimes I have no memory of what comes out of my mouth. 

It’s ok. It did. You have The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 in October will you be relieved when it’s all over?

The only difficult thing about the Twilight series was that the character didn’t change. And so I didn’t really know what to do with it after a while. It works in the books, he’s much more of a canvas for the readers, which was why the first one worked so well for me. After a while people start to know you and you make other movies and you’re not a fantasy figure anymore. You’re just a guy. I don’t know how to feel about it, I’m still working on it. I just did the final reshoots a couple of weeks ago. If the character could have got older and if he could have got hurt, it would be different for me. It’s beautiful as a self contained love story – where the two main protagonists will never leave each other no matter what – that’s a nice idea, but to play it? The audience already knows what’s going to happen before it happens. You don’t even have to have any suspension of disbelief. 

Now that you’re making a success of acting do you ever look back at the time you were waiting tables and think, ‘I’m glad I’m not doing that anymore?’

The weird thing is I didn’t hate the jobs I did before I was an actor. I loved being a waiter. I was terrible at it, but I really enjoyed it and I got fired from three different places. I once dropped a bottle of wine on a bald guy’s head. It was a full bottle of red wine, luckily it didn’t break. After that incident I was relegated to the kitchens and I worked with this one armed Turkish guy washing all the dishes as I wasn’t allowed in the main restaurant anymore. 

How did he wash dishes with only one arm?

Actually, I think he was mainly drying dishes. 

Surely that would still have been a struggle?

He seemed to manage OK haha. 

You loved Jack Nicholson as a child, are there any other actors’ careers you’d like to have?

I think it’s impossible to emulate another actor. Everyone always looks up to Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis but there’s no way to follow anyone’s route these days. People get over-saturated so quickly. I want to do my thing and if people like it, they like it. That whole thing about an actor’s career – you do one for the studio, one for yourself – doesn’t work anymore as you can do twenty for the studio, twenty for the money basically, and you’ll do one for you that tanks and your whole career will go down the toilet. 

What are you doing next?

I’m doing Mission: Blacklist #1 with Jean-Stephane Sauvaire who made Johnny Mad Dog, about Eric Maddox who is the interrogator who led the US to find Saddam Hussein. I hung out with Eric in Washington, he had just got back from Afghanistan, and he gave me the full run down, over 16 hours, of how he found Saddam Hussein. He has a photographic memory and talked through every single detail. Hopefully we will be shooting in Iraq, I think it’s going to be very cool. I’m also going to do David Michod’s new film The Rover, he’s part of this group called the Blue Tongue and I have been a fan of theirs for years and would watch all of their short films on YouTube. They are a group of friends who have reinvigorated the entire Australian film community, they can all write, act and direct and they only employ Australians. I read the script and desperately auditioned for it, I think I’m the only non-Australian person in it.