Translation by Laura
Good Time broke into Cannes competition as Robert Pattinson enters into the movie: manic, disheveled and mid run. When we met him two days later, the actor found back his gangly figure, as he defines himself: lanky, lean and ready for disarticulation. His shyness is not fake and his nervousness is expressed by sighs with expressive warmth. He is one of those actors embarrassed by his beauty and doubting their qualities as actors. From our side, we have not doubted him for a long while. The very physical character of Josh & Benny Safdie’s movie is another metamorphosis in his filmography growing richer and richer, choosing roles with an obvious taste for novelty. The interpretation price would have been perfect to acknowledge this path which after ‘The Twilight Saga’ worldwide success, which made him a superstar, brought him towards more adventurous movies, with David Cronenberg, James Gray or Werner Herzog. But Pattinson will not stop there. Waiting for ‘High Life’ by Claire Denis and ‘Idol’s eyes’ by Olivier Assayas (he will be playing with Sylvester Stallone), he has already announced a collaboration with Ciro Guerra, Colombian director from ‘Embrace of the Serpent’.
(Robert Pattinson asks the first questions)
Did you have fun at the festival?
Yes, even if the movies in competition were not that good this year… lucky us we had a good time watching ‘Good Time’!
‘The Day After’ by Hong Sang-Soo
Oh yeah, Claire Denis told me about it, she loved it. Need to see it.
At the Quinzaine there was a very good movie by Claire Denis, ‘L’Amant d’un jour’ by Philippe Garrel and ‘Jeannette’ by Bruno Dumont…
‘Jeannette’?! I was told it was bad!
On the contrary! It’s brilliant!
Well I need to see it then…
‘Good Time’ was a phenomenon in the competition.
You probably know it, at the beginning the movie was not in competition. If it would have been in special screenings, the reception by the audience would have been different, it would have been taken as a fun movie. But it is a more serious film.
You were the one contacting the Safdies to work with them?
I had seen a poster for ‘Heaven Knows What’ on the internet and I told myself that if they were using that kind of image for the promotion then their sensitivity was interesting to me. The trailer was incredible, really energetic. I met with them and in a matter of seconds I knew we were cool. It is the kind of things you feel right away. I did have seen the movie yet though during this first meeting I told them: let’s do something together, whatever it is. They have this rare quality of reacting and taking decisions pretty quickly. Usually you are told, okay, and then it takes forever. With them it was ‘let’s do this!’ and a month after I received the first version of the script. The original idea for ‘Good Time’ was very different, I was Buddy Duress’ brother and we took interpretation courses, it was strange (laughs).
Josh Safdie sent you your character’s biography before sending the script?
Yeah, I think it was before. It is a part of their writing process. Josh wanted me to learn these five to six pages about Connie’s life, which taught me he went to prison at age 12 for example. I felt like an undercover cop learning his cover. Nothing extreme happened to the character. I knew how he grew up, his family members’ names. From the second version of the script, I had constant email exchanges with Josh and Ronnie Bronstein . I wanted to be sure to go in a certain direction so I told them about my idea of an ideal script and they always answered me, stayed very open minded.
Did it last long?
About eight months. We were talking daily when I was in Columbia for ‘The Lost City of Z’, because there, there was nothing much to do. It made me invested in the script and to feel really connected to the story.
There was from the beginning a mix between impulsivity and time lapses.
Yes, that’s how they work. I think most of the other actors had not read the script, except Buddy maybe. Five minutes before rolling, Josh explained the scene. It’s quite crazy, I had never seen that, this way to put the set under pressure, I don’t even understand how it works! (Laughs). On my part, I prepared myself conventionally for the role. I loved the dialogues, but Ronnie and Josh were ready to give up. Josh could tell me: I love the voice you used in this scene, ho ahead, do whatever you want, own the dialogue! But I wanted the already written words. Everyone was improvising around me, though I tried to keep the thread. It was a bit scary. When your partner just improvisés as the scene is supposed to go a certain way and you could be sure he was going to say the opposite of what was written in the script! So I had to constantly work on intentions, which was exciting.
Did you work with the other actors before going on set, for example with Buddy Diress?
No. I think Buddy was in jail just before the movie was made, if I recall we had to delay the starting work because we had to wait for him to be bailed. The majority of the actors play roles that are close to how they are in real life. They are mostly New-Yorkers and I was scared to not fit in with them. It was my biggest fear during the filming. It’s not nothing to be a real New-Yorker, they are all looking at you to see if you’re faking it. We worked for so long… As a consequence I took the Queens accent while being there. It did not come from the role but more from the daily life. Everything comes easier when we have time.
Your character perpetually metamorphoses during the movie. Are some of these metamorphosis your ideas?
Josh & Benny have a really precise universe, kind of an environnement, and I knew I wanted tonne a part of it. I needed to be included, I needed to go in the streets, interact with the people outside. In my other set experiences in New York, people recognized me, as everywhere else in the world – pedestrians wanted to take my picture. It was one of my fears, especially working with non actors. I would have become a curiosity for everyone around. So we began tries on costumes and make-up, I would go in the street to check if people recognized me. One day, we went scooting camera tries with authorizations in a car wash station, I wore a costume, with Benny, I had spots on my face, dyed beard and I could see in the people’s eyes they did not recognize me. I used the character to hide.
Connie tries constantly to hide and to run away from himself. Like you? Did it become a personal role?
Yeah, he kinda is an actor without realizing it. He also is like a dog tuning after his own tail. It’s always fascinating to see, this animal going faster and faster with such an obsessive way. You are right, there’s something very personal here but I cannot really define it. Lots of elements were taken away from the movie, they were dream sequences where the character seem more mystical… When you love isolated from the others the imagination takes more and more room and you just loose contact with the reality. We talked about it with Josh, for example the scene where Connie is at the hospital, he crosses path with a police officer and tells him he was with his father in a room and that there’s a problem with the tv… but for me he does not lie: in his head it has happened. On one side he is immersed in reality but it is constantly an imaginary world. And that’s something I share with him.
Your taste for transformation was already there in ‘The Lost City of Z’ or ‘The Rover’
The more you go into your life the more you know what king of attitude will bring this or that reaction but to use this knowledge in a movie always make me feel like repeating myself, to be fake and cheap. But to do something you have never done in real life… I don’t know, what I am telling you makes no sense! (Laughs) It’s just a way to get rid of all the vanity, all the ‘I want to be handsome’. And if most of the actors want to be transformed, it is just because they have a huge feeling of embarrassment and shame about themselves. We want to convince ourselves we can be someone else, to confront the reality better.
You modestly do that too. In James Gray’s movie you have a secondary role, as in ‘Maps To The Stars’. It’s remarquable.
I have played small roles in lots of movies. It made no difference to me. I think of myself as an apprentice. I don’t really know how to do what I am doing, I am always training. So every work occasion is like a new lesson to me. And I literally have nothing to loose. Otherwise, there are just a small few good lead roles. Most of the time, those are roles immediately linked with commercial promotion. Lots more of people are worries if you give a weird interpretation, but you are freer in a secondary role, you can almost do whatever you want!
As you talked about lessons: what did you learn with David Cronenberg?
‘Cosmopolis’ was very important to me. There’s Don DeLillo… Younger, I wanted to be a musician and the writing process for ‘Cosmopolis’ script was really musical. Before this movie, I always thought about a role from its character’s motivations. It was a cerebral process. But in ‘Cosmopolis’, because of its surrealistic aspect, the writing rhythm were more important than the psychological motivations. That’s when I learned I could say an entire monologue without thinking strictly about psychology, but be in the writing music of the script. David was in total agreement with that, I could not just say my lines in a way that sounded good. It was more instinctual, and very nice. And I have also learned a lot seeing someone making a movie which seemed impossible on paper.
And with James Gray?
I understood seeing the movie how much the interpretation is linked to the camera’s place. And from that, the actor does not have to feel responsible to tell the story alone… Most of the time, on set, I just had the impression to be an extra. Though I had worked a lot on my character’ background. I was always asking James Gray if it was okay, and he would say ‘yeah it’s okay’. But I would just answered ‘but if I did not do anything’ And him ‘You did not do nothing, don’t worry’ I always thought I could do more. But the character just arises, and for that you need to trust your director. James Gray has good taste, we could trust him.
‘Cosmopolis’ is a minimalist role, you are mostly seated in a car.
True. I am more of a quiet person, and with ‘Cosmopolis’ I was indeed in my comfort zone. Each movie is a progression, and after ‘Cosmopolis’ I told myself I stayed too immobile. I became more at ease physically from ‘The Rover’ for which I really wanted to do something with my body. Connie too, in ‘Good Time’ is at ease with his body. Really at ease even!
Do you have a method?
Not really. I have never followed lessons. I react a lot from the writing. If someone writes good dialogues everything else just follows. Generally, I try to be the character long before the filming. But I don’t have any other method as the one acknowledging my biggest default, stress. It prevents me to do anything. Drone experience, I just understood I just need to go in advance on set, wherever it is, and to stay there alone for a while so my brain can just relax… For ‘Good Time’ I rented a tiny flat for about two months not far from Josh’s. You just need to be there to naturally think about the movie most of the time and to just eliminate the tension.
You often said you took several months to prepare for a role. What is this preparation?
Just to understand how to believe in yourself. Like when you loose your keys: the moment you find them back brings a familiar feeling. ‘Ah yeah of course I let them there!’ However we looked in the whole house, we searched on drawers never used or absurd places. And when we find them back there a moment of reconnaissance. Trying to create a character is the same thing: we look for something everywhere until we find the familiar feeling. It’s a lot of experiments. We never have the time for only one scene, so you have to do it before in order to be ready. And we always forget what had been prepared. The other rule is to be interested in what we do, to not bother yourself. Other way it’s useless.
This is on the inside. You never watch the scenes you filmed during the day for example?
Sometimes, not systematically. You know, I am terrible and really annoying in work. Every scene is the worst I have done in my entire life for me. I just reject myself. I remember during ‘The Rover’, David Michôd told me ‘you’re so bad I’ll begin to believe you’ (laughs) Yup, that’s my work process.
But what gives you the sentiment to have found a character, and to be able to play it?
it could be a costume. I am someone very shy but sometimes it just suffice to instinctively say something in a good way to discover we are not that embarrassed. And that I could work. We started the ‘Good Time’ filming with the first scene I am in. I was incredibly nervous. The complete opposite of Benny who could switch on his character at any time and do it all day long! So I as in this extreme state, there were blackouts all the time delaying the filming for this scene. I was boiling, full of adrenaline (he imitates his state, tight muscles and hyperventilating) and I just told myself, that’s it! I am going to do this during the whole movie! No thoughts, just wow! Even for the scene where I am kissing Taliah (Webster who plays a teenager Connie seduces at her home) where I should have been relaxed, simply seated on a couch, I put myself in this state. I scared her!
What is going to be your character in Claire Denis’ ‘High Life’?
It will take place I the future, the character is an astronaut. He is a criminal who volunteered for a mission towards a black hole but he realizes when he is on his way there that a doctor wants to do sexual experiments on humans in space… (laughs) It a really weird movie. I did not think about it for a long time but Claire talked to me about it here in Cannes and she showed me space images tries which were completely crazy. I love Claire, I cannot believe I am going to work with her, and on a sci-fi project. It will be beautiful.