Tell me about your first meeting with Claire, Robert. Inspired by the script, you handed her a picture of a Henri Laurens statue.
Robert Pattinson: When I first got in touch (with Claire) I would show her things. I think that a lot of directors would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’ The sculpture that I showed her was of a woman cradling a child. It was an abstract sculpture, but I liked it because there was something about how she was holding it. I knew that it was something I wanted to incorporate into the movie. I think that I’m drifting, with everything I do now, into a far less cerebral approach to the characters I play – into whatever I feel like doing with them. Claire is very open to allowing for that kind of process. Instead of the traditional way of talking about a part and saying where a character has come from, it’s just a completely different experience with Claire. (You are given) all kinds of different things like paintings just to inspire you, there’s not much logic to it – it’s much more to do with the feel.
Robert, tell me how you came across Claire’s work and what it sparked in you. Could you see yourself fitting into her world?
Robert Pattinson: I saw (2009 drama starring Isabelle Huppert) White Material. I’m (mostly) interested in two types of performance: one with insane intensity and operatic bursts, and the other so naturalistic that you can’t even tell if you’re watching a film or not. Claire’s movies incorporate a mixture of both. She creates a world and her films feel very contained within themselves. In every shot, you could point the camera in any direction (and still feel like you’re in Claire’s world). It’s a very fluid thing, and I became curious as to how it worked.
Robert Pattinson: There’s a scene where I start hitting myself in the face. The next day Claire walked on set with two massive black eyes: she was watching me do it and doing the same to herself!
Claire Denis: It’s true! I punched myself.
Robert Pattinson: I was pulling my punches, but Claire was doing it for real.
Monte is confronted with his transgression at the end of the film. Robert, it feels as if you are consciously downplaying this moment on screen.
Robert Pattinson: The relationship between Monte and (his daughter) Willow, and the movie as a whole, is so gentle. But when I first read it, I saw it as the story of a guy who’d had a daughter because he was raped, and who ends up, essentially, in a relationship with her. It doesn’t really feel like that when you watch it, but that’s what happens! Right at the beginning of this process, Claire said to me, ‘I don’t believe in morality.’ She is saying that morality is a personal thing and that we should all, individually, confront it. I thought the story (of High Life) was so interesting, because when you take away all the world’s mechanisms of judgment, how would you behave? How would you act if you knew that no one could judge you? How does this affect our understanding of love, what our relationships are, what the relationship is between a father and a daughter? When you only have one other person in your life, do you search for every relationship that you need in them? Willow becomes his mother in a lot of ways, as well as his daughter and girlfriend. And I guess that’s the thing with taboos as well, why would something seem perverse if there’s no one else around?
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