Robert Pattinson: Meeting with the hero of Life
Robert Pattinson, always twice (French joke, because Pattinson in English sounds like the word “ring” in French… So this joke is like ‘ringing twice’)
Since Twilight, the British man who received the Hollywood Rising Star award at the Deauville Festival has not stopped making his casual stance in movies by demanding authors. In the past, David Cronenberg, now, Anton Corbijn. The teen idol is, in LIFE, the photographer who will reveal the James Dean aura. This interview takes place at the dawn of his second career.
Robert Pattinson enjoys some days off in his London apartment before going on set for ‘The Lost City of Z’ under James Gray’s direction, first in Belfast and then in South America. As soon as the questions start, we can feel the actor is not comfortable with interviews. The phone makes the exchange colder. But, as time passes on this hot summer day, the ice breaks. We discover, under the young shy man, a funny and very cinephile actor.
Studio: Before filming LIFE, who was Anton Corbijn for you? The musician’s photographer or the director of A Most Wanted Man?
Rob: It is impossible not to know Anton Corbijn’s pictures. But I am first of all a big fan of Control (first movie by the director about Ian Curtis’ life as Joy Division’s leader). I saw it several times. I really wanted to work with him.
Studio: Do you choose your projects based on the Director?
Rob: A movie is always a gamble. When we sign, we never know if the result will be good or bad. I love having guaranties. By filming with a director I admire, the risks are limited. I have dreamt, for years, of filming a movie with James Gray, for example. Two Lovers is, for me, a masterpiece: the actors are perfect; the story’s architecture is very subtle. Few directors are capable of filming these kinds of movies.
James Gray makes a very particular cinema which possesses a classical breath. We had three projects together. Three years ago, I already told him yes for The Lost City of Z, the fascinating story of an explorer who disappeared in the Amazon. The script kept evolving. At first, brad Pitt (the movie’s producer) should have played the role Charlie Hunnam has now. But I would not have given up. I was ready to wait even longer.
Studio: Where does your love for movies come from?
Rob: My first thrill as a spectator, at age 15, was A Bout de Souffle, by Godard (Breathless, c. 1960). After the screening, I wanted to be Belmondo even if I did not want to be an actor yet. The movie style was still new… After that, I discovered Milos Forman, Bob Rafelson. And, a bit later, I trembled watching Scanners, by David Cronenberg.
Studio: The list of directors you worked with is really impressive: Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, James Gray, and Harmony Korine for next year. Do you only desire to have a career in independent movies?
Rob: The most roles evoking the most passion are found in independent movies. It’s impossible to have a blockbuster when you play a subversive role because they’re only made to entertain a large audience. I don’t want to have an artist’s pose; I’m not interested in a movie if it is only to act in it. I want roles that make me take risks every time (the kind that endangers me).
Studio: Endangering you in which way?
Rob: I don’t know. I’ve been acting for eleven years, and I have begun to know what I like and what I can and cannot act. Actually, I’m looking for complicated roles. I love the idea of taking on a role without knowing how to act it. The experience in a scientific sense seduces me. Not the experience as a skill.
Studio: Are you going towards this type of career because of what happened with the Twilight saga?
Rob: I started with strange roles, even before filming Twilight. There were small movies. And even Twilight, if we really think about it, is not really a conventional role. Indeed, I don’t even know how to be convincing playing a “normal” person.
Studio: Did you refuse a lot of franchise?
Rob: Impossible to answer to that. My agent knows what interests me and just sorts it out, I think. To make fun of me, she usually says, ‘what if a studio comes to you with a hero who had a wooden leg or something repulsive, would you accept it?’ I just follow my dreams: work with directors I admire.
Be reassured, the list is not that long, I’m coming to the end soon. I have 14 favorite directors and I already filmed with 6 of them. But I have the chance to discover new directors as well, like Josh and Ben Safdie with whom I’m going to film a dark comedy, Good Time, in which I will be almost the only professional actor.
Studio: What about the project you had with Olivier Assayas, Idol’s Eye?
Rob: Last autumn I went to Toronto for the movie and the day before filming, everything stopped. It happened three times. Horrible. I don’t know where we’re at.
Studio: Why did you want Romain Gavras as the director of the Dior ad?
Rob: I just fell in love with his movie, Notre Jour Viendra. And on Stress, his music clip for Justice. I like the frenetic energy which comes from it. I know that the video (which shows kids from suburbs being aggressive by breaking everything) has been considered subversive. Romain told me that the day it was released, the extreme left wing said he was a fascist and the extreme right wing said he was an anarchist.
Studio: Hard to link this to the luxury brand…
Rob: I was a bit anxious over filming an ad. I didn’t really like the idea of finding myself in a position where the ad would likely say, ‘Look at me, look at me!’ With Romain Gavras, I felt as if the movie would be more visceral and less aesthetic. Of course, it is still an ad. I’m pleased they added a girl, Camille Rowe-Pourcheresse. She draws the attention to herself (and away from me).
Studio: You must hate being photographed. It is a bit paradoxical you accepted a role as a photographer…
Rob: For me, LIFE is not a movie about photography. What really attracted me was the path a man chose to become an artist. Dennis Stock sees James Dean as a subject who will open the doors of his artistic career. And James Dean thinks he is the artist and that Dennis’ pictures will only be famous because of him.
I love this paradox. Dennis Stock was actually a bit bitter that the only thing we remembered of his career was the James Dean’s pictures. He said he photographed beautiful landscapes and a jazz photo essay. He hated the reason he was famous. I find it really interesting. It happens sometimes for actors.
Studio: Dennis Stock is a little unpleasant man. Does it bother you to portray this unpleasant image?
Rob: No, it is why I find the role interesting. After reading the script, I imagined the way Stock walked. I could almost feel his clumsiness, his frustration, his lack of confidence. I understood this man who became a father at 20 without knowing how to be one.
Studio: How did approach the role?
Rob: Anton Corbijn gave me a Leica. I walked around with it during four months. I wish I could have been born a photographer, but no miracle happened. My photos were nothing special. Nevertheless, those four months made me understand the photographer’s position. We feel at ease everywhere, as if we had a good excuse to be there.
Holding a camera in your hands is like having powers. It was particularly true in the 50’s because only the professionals walked around with a camera. Those for non professionals were just invented and few people could actually afford them. There is solitude as well – a theme cherished by Anton Corbijn – because photography is one of the only arts where you can hide your face. Dennis wanted to be a star too, but he could not break the window behind which he hid. This separation becomes stronger when you photograph famous people.
Studio: Did LIFE change you?
Rob: Yes, because I try finding roles which will help me to better understand who I am and to improve myself as well. For me, LIFE is a story about self confidence. I have since, accepted roles I would never have before. Extreme films, like with the Safdies. And then the next Claire Denis, whom I’ve been a fan of since I discovered White Material. It will be her first English language movie, and her first sci-fi movie!
Studio: LIFE questions the eternal youth myth. How do you imagine your thirties, being 29 today?
Rob: I find roles for older men more attractive, so I’m not afraid to change. On the contrary. When you’re in your twenties, it is difficult to find good characters. As a teen, I loved how James Dean moved. He had an incredible elegance. If we look into his interpretations, he does a lot of gestures which look like dance moves.
Studio: What is your relationship with your body?
Rob: I have always been ill at ease with my body. I am just beginning to get comfortable with it. But to take a dance class like James Dean did, would be a living hell for me! I don’t like body building either; I just think I should get on with it.
Studio: Do you feel pressed by the business to stay Young and handsome?
Rob: As soon as I would need it, I will run to the aesthetic surgeon and will replace everything that needs to be! It seems silicone super muscles have been invented… (He’s joking)
Studio: Leonardo Di Caprio’s career, whom you are often compared to, is it an example for you?
Rob: Yes, he had an incredible career… I would love to work with David Michöd once again, who directed me in The Rover, as Leo did with Scorsese. The truth is, I don’t really know where I want to go. And I don’t know what I’m capable of. I trust the destiny.
Scans Courtesy of Pattinson Art Work