Translation by Laura, please credit if used.
Star & Rebel
Interview from Los Angeles with one of the most audacious Hollywood actors, actually in ‘High Life’ by Claire Denis
Robert Pattinson is the lead male in Claire Denis ‘High Life’. Interview at the Chateau Marmont with a cinephile, brilliant and funny actor.
Rob: ‘Belmondo, by Godard, is the symbolism of cool’
4th, 5th & 6th pages
Rob: ‘I watched ‘White Material’ one morning in my hotel room in Louisiana while I was filming there and it just stunned me. The rythm, how the landscape was filmed, Isabelle Huppert’s performance…’
In a lush greenhouse, steamingly clouded or in complex decayed sheet steel corridors branching, the man with a buzzed head, hard stare, sharp body moves like a wildcat on the watch. Sometimes with a one or two years old baby he holds tightly against him or with who he holds hands to teach her how to walk like the old ancestors did once. Those are the first sequences from ‘High Life’, the meditative fable which takes place in Claire Denis’ space and as a mute convict trapped in a space ship, Robert Pattinson affirms physical power, a presence, really incredible.Six years after ‘The Twilight Saga’, who made him the young man the whole planet fantasized about, Pattinson continues exploring the most audacious projects in the worldwide cinema, maybe at he cost of his young Hollywoodian actor’s market value.
When we meet him, his hair are hidden under a backward cap, disheveled look, we just think he tries really hard to hide his convulsive beauty which comes back with a vengence when our photographer asks him to take off the cap and to go into the light. The vibes he sends in real life is, neverthless, really far from the brooding aura he portrayed in ‘Twilight’ as well as other movies (Cronenberg, Safdie, Denis…). The young man, on the contrary, is a bit of a clown, jokes all the time and has a child laughter. In a suite at the Chateau Marmont which he says ‘he knows all the rooms’ the two hours in his company were particularly happy.
Les inrocks: Where does your curiosity about international inde movies come from and which makes you travel with Werner Herzog or the Colombian Ciro Guerra and also Claire Denis?
Robert Pattinson: Actually, I think it comes from… Jean-Luc Godard! He is the one responsible for it! (laughs) You know I was not really a cinephile teen but one day, without agenda I discovered ‘Breathless’ (‘A bout de souffle’). And it became the source of everything: from my want to become an actor to the way I lead my life.
Les inrocks: What did you like so much in ‘Breathless’ (‘A bout de souffle’)?
Robert Pattinson: First Belmondo. I think that when I was a teen I did not really have anyone around me that I could considered as cool, someone I could have wanted to look alike. And then Belmondo in ‘Breathless’ appeared and he became, for me, the symbolism of cool. As many before me, I just thought ‘I want to be him!’.
Les inrocks: Because of his insolence?
Robert Pattinson: Yeah. Or maybe more because of his confidence which makes him light and casual. But Belmondo is not the only thing I love about the movie. I did not realize at the time but the magic behind the movie is also because of the production/staging. I have never seen before a cinema so alive and astonishing. I watched ‘Pierrot le fou’ (Godard, 1965) right after which provoked the same emotions in me. And I became this nerd who could not stop watching movies.
Les inrocks: Did you know Claire Denis’ cinema before working with her?
Robert Pattinson: Yes. I discovered her when I was 24 or 25. I watched ‘White Material’ one morning in my hotel room in Louisiana while I was filming there and it just stunned me. The rythm, how the landscape was filmed, Isabelle Huppert’s performance… I did not know who was Claire Denis, I did not know if ‘White Material’ was her last movie. So I called my agent and told him ‘I want to work with her!’ It took three years for me to be able to get in touch with her! Meanwhile I watched all of her movies.
Les inrocks: Did it help for ‘High Life’?
Robert Pattinson: Ah yes. The script Claire gave us was like, only 20 pages. And it was not like the story was really clear! (laughs) It is not easy to define what it is about. We moved slowly forward, like it was an enigma. So yeah, I had some images from her other movies in mind, their climate, her unusual way to film the bodies. I kept my focus on how I could belong in her world.
Les inrocks: What did she tell you about your character and how to be him?
Robert Pattinson: She told me he was a Middle-Age knight. That when I was not wearing my astronaut costume it was like leaving behind my knight costume. It helped me. She also talked a lot about Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s singer, his way to hold himself and to walk. Nevertheless some things were left foggy about this guy’s story, what he did to be sentenced. Claire conveys more emotions than informations.
Les inrocks: Do you like Joy Division, do you have a rock culture?
Robert Pattinson: I love Joy Division, yeah. And I really love ‘Control’ by Anton Corbijn about Ian Curtis. That’s why I was in another Anton Corbijn’s movie ‘Life’ (2015) in which I was a photographer reporter writing about James Dean.
Les inrocks: Visual artist Olafur Eliassion helped on the movie. What did he do exactly?
Robert Pattinson: He’s never been on set. I’ve never met him. HE always works on several projects at the same time. I think he worked with Claire on the movie’s light and the representation of the black hole, before the filming started… I really like his work. I remember of the huge sun he placed in the hall of the Tate Modern in London when I was 16 or 17. I went there several times and like everyone else I spent hours basking under this fake sun.
Les inrocks: After ‘Cosmopolis’ (Cronenberg 2012) it is the second time you work with Juliette Binoche. And once again you have kinda rude sex scenes with her.
Robert Pattinson: Juliette, she is the best. She is so funny and kinda savage. When I discovered the movie and saw what she did in the fuck room, I just was like ‘Wow!’ (he laughs as if he was consterned) She has no complex, she can do everything with the same intensity. For ‘Cosmopolis’ I have to admit I was impatient to be on the day of our hot scene in the limo. And I am really proud to have done that with Juliette. It’s something I could show my children (laughs).
Les inrocks: Do you have some?
Robert Pattinson: Oh no! No way! (laughs)
Les inrocks: Before ‘High Life’ you had another project with another French inde movie director Olivier Assayas. What happened?
Robert Pattinson: I met Olivier when I was 23, during ‘Twilight’. He was one of the first artistic directors I met and who had an interest in my work. We met from time to time. And then a few years later he told me about ‘Idol’s eye’ a story about robbers and mafia in Chicago at the end of the 70s. The script is magnificient. It created a dark movie universe, few action scenes but a real stylisation like ‘Thief’ by Michael Mann. But the movie had lots of production problems. I should have filmed with Robert De Niro, then Sylvester Stallone. And finally, a few weeks before the start of shooting it was cancelled. It was sad. I regularly receive emails from Olivier or his producer to tell me the project could still stand. We’ll see…
Les inrocks: Do you still fight with your Hollywood entourage, agent, publicist about your choices mostly turned towards sharp indy movies?
Robert Pattinson: Oh là là! It has been a while since my agent tells me what to do! (laughs) She knows I am not really into romantic comedies. It has become a sort of games between us, to know what king of character I am going to be: ‘John, 30, psycopath’. (laughs) But youknow, even ‘Twilight’, at least the first, Catherine Hardwicke’s, was a weird project, a small genre movie which we did not think would earn any money.
Les inrocks: Are you happy about your status in the worldwide cinema industry today?
Robert Pattinson: Yes, it is who I am. All the movies I did the last few years, it would have been impossible not to do them. It’s vital for me. I wish it could stay that way my whole life. The only downside to it is that just a few people see those movies.
Les inrocks: Does it make you sad that ‘The Lost City of Z’ by James Gray or ‘Good Time’ by the Safdie Brothers did not bring as much entries in the US?
Robert Pattinson: Yes of course, it makes me sad. I know people from Los Angeles who work in the industry and did not see these movies. Sometimes I really think no one saw ‘Good Time’, except for my friends… And French critics of course! (laughs) The other day I was watching ‘Killing Joe’ on the cable. This movie by Roger Avary, with a script from Tarantino, was a real success at the box office in 1994, like ‘Pulp Fiction’. Nowadays it seems crazy! 60% of the movie is in French with subtitles, the story is mad, hyper violent and totally hysterical. And back then, there was still a large audienceto discover unusual things. But now, I think movies have several lives, more than before, thanks to streaming sites. For example, not long ago, a man from Amazon told me ‘The Lost City of Z’ which did not work well in theatres did good on Amazon Video.
Les inrocks: With ‘The Lost City of Z’ you tend to go toward a more comical register. We saw you more in grave situations, tortured roles, but in real life, you seem to be willing to have fun at all times.
Robert Pattinson: When I was younger I really wanted to be taken seriously.Maybe because I started in ‘Harry Potter’ and then ‘Twilight’, I wanted people to see me in something deep and complex. But surely I love laughing. I would love to be in a comedy. Alas comedie scripts I receive are not usually that good.
Les inrocks: What makes you laugh as an audience?
Robert Pattinson: If only you knew! I am a real child! The more regressive, childish, the more it makes me laugh. It’s really embarassing but I must admit that nothing amuses me more than an animal making a face on Instagram, and I can type in the search bar ‘animals doing funny things’ and laugh for hours watching dogs doing faces, cats falling down… In real, I am 8.
Les inrocks: Meeting the Safdies was a significant one for you.
Robert Pattinson: I had seen their previous movies – ‘The pleasure of being robbed’, ‘Daddy Longlegs’, ‘Heaven Knows What’. I really wanted to belong to their world. It was really amazing to be a part of ‘Good Time’ playing a bad guy, violent but with no awareness of the gravity of the things he does. I see something similar in the Safdies and Claire Denis, even if ‘Good Time’ and ‘High Life’ seem really different. When you work with them it is like you less in a movie than in a world they create. The universe of someone.
Les inrocks: Did you think about directing your own movie?
Robert Pattinson: Thought about it yeah but I am not sure I will do it. I am so insecure that if I would play in my own movie, I would ask every time to my partners ‘Is this okay? Was I good?’ or I would apologize all the time. (laughs) Although when I was younger I told myself I would stop being an actor and become a director when I grow up. But when I see Claire or the Safdies, they’re real dynamos! They have so much energy, they have to answer to hundreds of questions a day to people who ask them what color they prefer between two, which light, which decor, which costume… I think I would say quickly ‘I don’t know, I don’t care, do whatever you want…’ (laughs)
Les inrocks: One of your friends is Brady Corbet, who became a filmmaker (he introduced, during the last Venice festival, Vox Lux his second movie with Natalie Portman as the popstar). Is he a model for you?
Robert Pattinson: I met Brady when he was 16. I was 18 and was really impressed by this teen who seemed to possess the history of cinema on his fingertips. He had seen all the movies, had theories about everything. He already knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. Better than that, he said he wanted to be an ‘auteur’ (he says he French). (laughs) His extreme erudition intimidated me. With him I understood that y work was to watch as many films as I could, most importantly international movies. You know, in Los Angeles you can easily impress people by being a cinephile.
Les inrocks: By simply saying you love Jean-Luc Godard for example?
Robert Pattinson: (laughs) EXACTLY! Everyone thinks ‘Wow this guy is genuis!’ When I came to LA, I went every weekend to a video store to by Criterion DVDs. I would watch three to four during the weekend. I loved meeting people who watched what I was buying , or would give me advice and would turn me towards unknown movies. Nothing is more attracting than someone wanting to teach things, to make me discover things I did not know.
Les inrocks: The first ‘Twilight’ was released 10 years ago. Do you feel far away from the 20 year old actor who would become a star because of the film? What were his expectations?
Robert Pattinson: I am exactly the same! I did not have any idea of what would happen, but I had hope. The ‘Twilight’ success made me a few euphoric years where my life was a continuous party. I keep trying not to be worried for what is coming next, to believe in luck, it keeps a kind of psychologic health.
Les inrocks: So the fact you became the daily erotical obsession of millions of people was not a taumatizing experience?
Robert Pattinson: It was clear for me that it had nothing to do with me per say. It is something which built near me and finally I was not really concerned by it. I remember a day while wandering in the streets and someone just jumped on me in a sort of ecstasy ‘You are so handsome!’ I stayed calm and told her ‘You’re not talking to the guy in front of you. You’re doing some projection here. What you fixate on only exists on a screen or maybe in your head, but not in front of you’ She was a bit stunned and let me go. (laughs)
Les inrocks: Was it ever a burden for you?
Robert Pattinson: Er, not really. Sometimes it was a bit too much when people waited in front of my home, or tracked me when I was going out… And sometimes promo tours were a bit annoying. I remember saying in an interview that I did not wash my hair. After that and for the six months following, all the journalists were asking me ‘So is it true you never wash your hair?’ This, this made me crazy! I am actually quite happy now that journalists don’t ask about my hair. Well, but we can talk about it if you want. (laughs)
Les inrocks: There is a troubling parallel between your career and Kristen Stewart’s. She is also in indy and arty movies. She filmed with Olivier Assayas before you almost did. It is so strange that ‘Twilight’ kinda made two of the most cinephile Hollywood actors.
Robert Pattinson: I taught everything I knew to Kristen. (laughs) Sorry, joking. She was already making cool movies before ‘Twilight’. She was more accomplished in her career than I was at the time. But it is true that we kinda have the same view on cinema as well as many other things. Kristen is really clever and has sure tastes. If the most interesting filmmakers come to her she sure does not let them go.
Les inrocks: Are you sensitive about the revendications in the cinema industry about Men/Women parity?
Robert Pattinson: Of course I am. I filmed my first movie because I was chosen by a woman, director Mira Nair (‘Vanity Fair’). Then I became popular thanks to Catherine Hardwicke’s movie (‘Twilight’). I just filmed with Claire Denis. And from a bigger perspective, my professional entourage is mostly women. My agent and my publicist are women. It is really the most natural thing for me to work in an equal relationship between man and woman. But I remember at the Toronto press conference a journalist asked Claire a question which started like ‘As a woman filmmaker…’ and Claire stoped him by saying ‘Don’t consider me like a woman filmmaker, I am just a filmmaker’. In an ideal world, the director’s sex should not matter.
Les inrocks: Do you think the cinema industry is kinda sexist?
Robert Pattinson: I may be blind but I never witnessed sexism in the industry. Not superior to what happens in the entire society nowadays. I have seen some male being sexually aggressive towards lady colleagues. But I have also seen this dick obsessed guys being put back in their place by women or men on set like ‘what’s wrong with you man?’ I don’t think there are more whack jobs or more stupids or more violent people in the cinema industry than in any other industry. In every way we have to fuight against this kind of behaviour.
Les inrocks: Do you watch TV series?
Robert Pattinson: Yes, like everyone else. But not compulsively. I like documentaries,. I am passionate about ‘Making a murderer’, for example. But I also watch all the episodes from ‘Game of Thrones’
Les inrocks: Who is your favorite ‘Game of Thrones’ character?
Robert Pattinson: Oops, that’s now that I realize I watched it during 70 hours and I won’t be able to tell the name of my favorite character! (laughs) er… Hodor! My favorite character is Hodor!
Les inrocks: Do you feel American? Or do you feel like a British man in Los Angeles?
Robert Pattinson: I kinda feel American I think. Even if I am an Englishman in the States. But, it’s true that even if we share the same language, there are two different identities, two different cultures, and I feel like floating between the two.
Les inrocks: Do you have an interest for American politics? Do the Midterms elections represent something of an important issue to you?
Robert Pattinson: I don’t vote in the states but I am fully aware of what is going on. You know I was really stunned by the Brexit. Also by the violence and the futility of the political debate during the England’s referendum. Each party would discredit its adversary with insults and lies. It was a very violent climate and it was hard to comprehend it all. Today again we feel like we are cut from the truth while watching the US news channels. Contradictions on one or the other. So the political climate here is really heavy. But from all aspects, I feel more at ease with liberals than conservatives.