‘I often need to hear I am legitimate’
They’d end of the Twilight era, his independence desires in Hollywood, his directing desires, his French cinemas envies after the aborted project with Olivier Assayas and before his next film with Claire Denis: Robert Pattinson makes his career assessment.
May 2012: Robert Pattinson steps for the first time on the red stairs of the Cannes Festival, where he accompanied the presentation in official competition the movie COSMOSPOLIS by David Cronenberg. A decisive step in the star’s course, who was leading towards prestigious Indy movies and ended his teens idol image, marked by the unloved TWILIGHT franchise.
Three years later, the transformation seems almost complete: the media hysteria he was surrounded by seem to have calmed down a notch, he went from poster boy to hipster icon, as he follows his radical and sharpened filmography.
With David Cronenberg (Maps to the Stars, in an Australian thriller (THE ROVER, by David Michôd), or even in a small part with Werner Herzog (QUEEN OF THE DESERT), he definitely left the mainstream productions and asserted himself as an XXL actor, new embodiment of Indy movies with fire powers without equal in his generation. At a time where his last movie, LIFE by Anton Corbijn, charming but revisiting story about the friendship between the photographer Dennis Stock and James Dean, Robert Pattinson accepted to meet with us to assert his career and talk about his futur. He is the portray of an actor still in transformation, confident in his choices but nevertheless eaten away by doubts, a free electron who want to fall everywhere the cinema still pulses, from France at Claire Denis’ side to the vibrating Safdie brothers’ New York City. A man of the future.
Inrocks: How did you get involved with the LIFE project?
Rob: Reading the script, I felt like this movie would not be the ordinary biopic, a simple life story where we would tell by the menu James Dean and Dennis Stock’s story. There was something more singular, more intimate in the movie angle. And the fact Anton Corbijn was a part of the project just convinced me. I met him in Los Angeles a few years ago and we instantly got on. I really think he is one of the most talented director of our time.
Inrocks: What does interest you in his cinema?
Rob: his style. There is something within him which is really pictorial and gracious coming from his work in photography. Go from one domain to another is not easy; you often see photographers who crash trying to direct their first movie. But not Anton. He, for his first film, just proved he was a grand director. I have seen CONTROL on big screen at the time and it hit me hard. I was really impressed, to the extent that I could have become a Joy Division fan. An obsessional one at that…
Inrocks: In LIFE, you play the photographer Dennis Stock. What did you know about his and his career?
Rob: Not much, but I immediately had a good feeling about this character, something rang in me as soon as I read the script for the first time. I met his son, and then I documented myself about his career, I had access to intimate archives as well as photographs never published. What I was discovering made me passionate. Dennis stock was not a sympathetic guy in reality. He was secretive, opaque, always on his guards, he refused to show his feelings or any really and he could be very abrasive. (He thinks about it a few moments). It is quite exciting for an actor to play this type of ambiguous character, not instantly nice or even readable.
Inrocks: You play Dennis Stock at the beginning of his career, when he was still a young artist ‘groping’, looking for his style and own path. Is it a state you could have identified yourself to?
Rob: Of course. Dennis has zero confidence in his skills: he knows he can become famous for his art, that an artist is there inside of him. But at the same time he just denigrates himself all the time, he is doubting himself. What he needs, it is an approval for his work, he he tries to get it from James Dean. As soon as they meet, Dennis is obsessed by the actor, not as a fan, but because he needs his approval. He wants someone to tell him he can be a photographer, that he has the right to express his art. I can understand this feeling. I sometimes need to hear I am not making mistakes, that I am legitimate. The tiniest comments about my work still astonish me and makes me preserve myself.
Inrocks: Don’t you think your role in Cosmopolis was the approval you are talking about?
Rob: It was a turning point in my career, evidently. Even then, before I talk about it, it makes me shiver. I made pretty nice things since, but I never found back the sensations I had with COSMOPOLIS. It was the craziest scenario, the most powerful one I had in my hands. It was not just a simple job, you know, but a fricking revival: a new insight on myself. The movie freed me from some complexes I had, and made my image change in the business. Other prestigious directors called me, people I would have never imagined to work with.
Inrocks: I bet you are referring for example to Werner Herzog, who offered you a role in his last movie QUEEN OF THE DESERT (new in France). What memories do you keep of this filming?
Rob: First, I remember the strange audition, really bizarre, a long talk with Werner Herzog about everything but the role itself: his adventure stories, his setbacks with snakes and iguanas… I stayed only eight days on set, but it asserted my impressions he is a passionate guy and completely marginal, out of the frame. What I like about Werner Herzog or David Cronenberg, is that they have a warriors nature: they go on with their new movies like it was the biggest and the strongest of cinema history. (He laughs). They don’t only want to lead exciting or controversies projects. With them, nothing is trivialized. The act of making a film is full an adventure. It gives back faith to the movie by working with these people.
Inrocks: And then there is James Gray, the director you are going to work with for THE LOST CITY OF Z…
Rob: It is a period movie, which will tell the life of an explorer who went to look for a lost city in the Amazon. This movie deals with an obsession leading to madness. James is really good with that. TWO LOVERS, that I consider as one of the most beautiful film ever (in English in the interview), already was an obsession going wrong. I cannot wait to act for him, to see where he can lead me.
Inrocks: You have been ‘knighted’ by numerous prestigious authors since COSMOPOLIS, but something stuck with the large audience: your image is still marked by your beginning in the young adults cinema. Recently David Cronenberg confided in the press you were still underestimated because of the nullify and stupidness of TWILIGHT. What do you think about it?
Rob: (A bit bored by the topic) These are David Cronenberg’s words I cannot judge. Maybe time is needed for some to forget the TWILIGHT era. Waiting for that, I have to preserve myself without asking questions, and just continue choosing my movie with coherency, to just trust my tastes.
Inrocks: Precisely, what do your choices say about you? Do you think they design the frame of your masterpiece?
Rob: I am just starting to realize it. It will be more than ten years that I work in the business and I think things become clearer. I know now my sensitivity led me more towards convinced, asserted directors, who innovate, who have pointed views. But I am far too young to talk about masterpiece. I did not yet find my place in the industry.
Inrocks: Whispers about you wanting to be a director have been heard…
Rob: Really? They say that? (Laughs and pauses for a while). Yes, it is a project I have had in mind for quite a bit. These last few years, I have found roles and have worked with directors who gave me new inspirations, a new breath. The idea to direct my own movie just grew. Becoming a director is the last step to complete my independence, you are you own chief, you are taking your fate into your own hangs, you can finally express whatever you want, without obstacles. I am far from it, but I am working on it. At this point, I spend all my free time writing.
Inrocks: What are you writing about?
Rob: I always preferred writing things far away from my universe, from the roles I played.
Inrocks: What genre?
Rob: Big sci-fi movies! Really popular scripts, with lots of special effects, aliens in all scenes, enormous budget. I am also working on a play right now but for an unknown reason, and I am not a big fan as a spectator, the big movies with popcorn draw me in.
Inrocks: So you could go back to this system of big Hollywood franchises? Redo some blockbuster like TWILIGHT?
Rob: Pffff I almost did it last year. I was asked to be a part of a big project on which I was very well advanced, but I have it up last minute. I was scared, I think it is not me anymore. Nowadays, I much prefer filming 3 or 4 movies a year or even small parts for authors inspiring me than be stuck by a shitty blockbuster (in English in the article) filming for months.
Inrocks: A few of your projects have been aborted these last few years, including the most spectacular one IDOL’S EYE, which should have been directed by Olivier Assayas. What happened with this movie?
Rob: A shitty story. The filming has been canceled because of a financing issue, which kept us waiting until last minute. I went back and forth twice from Los Angeles to Toronto, where it should have been filmed and every time they told me it was suspended. It was tiring, but I was hyper excited by the project: I documented myself, I spent time in Chicago (the movie is based on a story in the 70’s about a conflict inside the Chicago mafia) to be able to meet the real gangsters who did the robbery inspiring the scenario. All of that for nothing…
Inrocks: How did you meet Olivier Assayas?
Rob: I don’t really know, by a friend who is a producer… I love his cinema, including Carlos. It is the most convenient in this abandoned movie: I felt like IDOL’S EYE could be an important movie, a special date in my career. The script was fantastic: about 190 pages which went beyond the gangsters’ movies, with non usual dialogues, and an incredible romantic density. But, who knows, maybe the movie will happen some day.
Inrocks: Are there any other French directors you would like to work with?
Rob: Right now, from January on, I should began filming a new movie with a French director, Claire Denis. I met her a while ago in Los Angeles, and she told me about this sci-fi movie project, she is working with plastic physician Olafur Eliasson who works on sublimes lights installations… I cannot believe I got the role.
Inrocks: We’re you familiar with Claire Denis’ works?
Rob: I am an absolute fan. I’ve been obsessed with her work for a few years, even if I would have a hard time precisely explaining why. I think it is a question of insight, something going beyond words. Thee is something hypnotic in her cinema. I have seen WHITE MATERIAL in the big screen at some time and I went out of the theater in a trance, complete disoriented. She is a fucking genius.
Inrocks: Let’s get back to the American cinema. What insight do you have in its evolution? Do you have a feeling a new generation of authors is emerging?
Rob: I am sure of it. In the U.S., like everywhere in the world, the movies with medium budget became impossible to finance. It is a major upheaval in the industry, which is now divided between big tent-pole movies and micro budgets. We can regret it, but I mostly see a revival. The fact we have ‘poor’ and Indy movies created a new wave of American authors who freed themselves from big studios. Turning towards the micro budgets, they are completely autonomous: they can do whatever they want, experiment new things and free themselves from the producers, agents, financing circuit who slow down considerably their creation…
Inrocks: … Like the Safdie brothers, with who you are going to film soon, GOOD TIME (story about a robbery gone wrong, co-written by a big figure in the New York Indy movies, Ronald Bronstein)
Rob: Yeah, typically, they have made their career in low cost cinema, completely independent where they are free to use their imagination and their fantasies. That is another project I am most excited about: the scenario is completely mad, mysterious and playing between reality and fiction.
Inrocks: The American Indy movies organize themselves as small clans: there is the ‘mumblecore’ family, the one with new directors from New York (Safdie brothers, Ronald Bronstein…), and the one from Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, … Do you feel like you belong to one clan?
Rob: (he ponders) No, I tried but I did not succeed. I have never succeeded. Maybe because I live between two cities, London and Los Angeles, or that I do not stay long at the same place. Or maybe, as simple as that it is not in my nature. I think I am more the solitary type.
Scans courtesy of Robert Pattinson Australia
Translation Courtesy of the lovely Laura at Pattinson Worldwide