Robert Pat­tin­son

Three years since he last met Esquire, Robert Pat­tin­son re­mains ded­i­cated to re­defin­ing him­self as an ex­pres­sive ac­tor be­yond the teen-hero hys­te­ria of his early ca­reer. In his new film, gritty heist thriller Good Time, he finds re­demp­tion as a cold-heart

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

The star en­thuses about stealth vans, hang­ing out in Hack­ney and go­ing incog­nito in New York for his new film, Good Time

When he was shoot­ing his lat­est movie, Good Time, in Queens last year, Robert Pat­tin­son would start the day with a run. And he’d be recog­nised, as al­ways. Such is life for the 31-year-old ac­tor for­merly known as Ed­ward Cullen, the broody vam­pire in the Twi­light movies. Over five years and five films, he in­spired such a vast and hys­ter­i­cal fol­low­ing that more than any star of his gen­er­a­tion he be­came a pris­oner of his own celebrity. He was forced to sell his home in Grif­fith Park, Los An­ge­les, be­cause of pa­parazzi at the gates. They trailed him ev­ery­where, en­tail­ing all kinds of Ja­son Bourneism, like swap­ping clothes with friends and as­sis­tants in restau­rant bath­rooms, send­ing them off in de­coy cars, up to five at a time. And if he failed, if just one tweet went out with his lo­ca­tion, then armies of paps and Twi-hards, crazed and shriek­ing, would come gal­lop­ing over the horizon like the Dothraki hordes.

But af­ter each run, some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary hap­pened. He got into cos­tume as his char­ac­ter in Good Time, Con­nie Nikas, a Greek-Amer­i­can crim­i­nal from Queens, and just like that, the star­ing stopped. He could walk down the street un­mo­lested. This lat­est film is his best per­for­mance by some dis­tance, an elec­tric, adrenalin shot of a movie that will es­tab­lish him as one of the most vi­tal ac­tors of the day, so there’s that. But this gift of anonymity may be equally pre­cious. Good Time will put Pat­tin­son’s name in lights while si­mul­ta­ne­ously help­ing him blend into the back­ground. Shoot­ing it gave him his life back. It’s handed the pris­oner a set of keys, be­cause as Nikas, Pat­tin­son could move through the world again. He was free.

“It was amaz­ing. In­vis­i­bil­ity cloak,” he says. “I’ve al­ways won­dered what can you do, just a sim­ple thing to your face so you can just… ex­ist in the world. And now I know. Darken your beard and put on th­ese acne scar things and peo­ple will look di­rectly into your face, and not even a glim­mer. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing. Also ear­rings, there’s some­thing about fake di­a­mond ear­rings.”

He looks a bit Con­nie Nikas to­day, ac­tu­ally. We’re in a booth at a pri­vate mem­ber’s club in West Hol­ly­wood, and he’s wear­ing a sports jacket on top of a hoodie, never mind that this is the height of sum­mer. The jacket’s La­coste; very hip­ster I tell him. And he laughs.

“Is any­one not a hip­ster now? I think it’s just nor­mal cul­ture,” he says. “Any­way, I found this on eBay so, you know... I’d be cool if I had it from school, like, ‘I’ve had this for aaages. I still dress ex­actly like I did when I was 12.’ Ha ha ha!”

He looks happy, en­er­gised, gar­ru­lous. The hands move around, the La­coste rus­tles, he’s chew­ing on a tooth­pick and tip­ping his head back to laugh and laugh. He looks like a guy who made a bet on him­self and won, which he did. And this is what he’s here to tell us: chase what you want in life, take the risk, who cares what peo­ple think in the end. This is your life, not theirs.

The last time I saw Pat­tin­son for Esquire, three years ago, he’d only just made that bet. He came over to my house for lunch, and we got the bar­be­cue go­ing, there were beers — things celebri­ties never do — and we talked about The Rover, a film he made with di­rec­tor David Michôd (An­i­mal King­dom). It was his first ma­jor step on the route away from Twi­light and to­wards Good Time, a life that he ac­tu­ally wanted. He’d made a pact with him­self to only pick roles that were un­like any­thing he’d done be­fore, that would broaden him as an ac­tor and hu­man be­ing, and to work only with film-mak­ers he loved, with no com­pro­mise. So post-Twi­light, his CV is just one au­teur af­ter the next, in a string of movies that don’t make money but are al­ways com­pelling. Be­sides The Rover, there’s his sec­ond film with David Cro­nen­berg, 2014’s Maps to the Stars; The Child­hood of a Leader di­rected by his friend Brady Cor­bet; The Lost City of Z with the film-maker’s film-maker, James Gray, not to men­tion the Safdie broth­ers, Josh and Benny, who made Good Time.

Back in 2014, he was liv­ing next to rap im­pre­sario Suge Knight in a gated com­mu­nity on Mul­hol­land Drive, still in hid­ing from Twi­light fans. It was a se­cluded life, with just an in­flat­able boat and an as­sis­tant for com­pany. “Aww, I miss my as­sis­tant,” he says. “He’s now a real es­tate agent in Phoenix. Couldn’t take it any more. ‘All you do is play video games!’” Most of Pat­tin­son’s time was spent in one room, watch­ing films and read­ing books, much as it is to­day.

“Prob­a­bly my fond­est mem­ory from that house is watch­ing the first three sea­sons of Game of Thrones over four days.” He laughs. “So lame that’s my fond­est mem­ory!”

He dreamed of es­cape. #Van­life on In­sta­gram be­came an ob­ses­sion, posts cel­e­brat­ing the nou­veau hippy world of at­trac­tive young surfer types liv­ing the free-spirit life in camper vans, free of all ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions be­yond a ham­mock, a book of po­etry and a mo­bile phone to upload self­ies to mad­den peo­ple in cu­bi­cle of­fices.

“I nearly did it,” Pat­tin­son says. “I was 100 per cent go­ing to live in a van, but not just any van — a stealth van! It’s a spe­cial niche, not like liv­ing in a trailer. Stealth vans looks like a nor­mal Tran­sit van, so you can park on the street, put signs on say­ing you’re a plumber or what­ever and no one would no­tice.”

Van life promised anonymity, free­dom, mo­bil­ity: all the things he missed and wanted.

“It’s that thing, where you can just leave in the mid­dle of the night and, like, drive to Ne­braska,” he says. “And with so­lar power, you’re to­tally off the grid. I’d love that so much. And I was like, I’m still young, this is my chance...”

So he looked into it. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter looked tidy; it had a toi­let and shower in the back. But no.

“The Sprinter’s too fancy. It draws at­ten­tion. So I vis­ited dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies to retrofit Tran­sit vans but it’s com­pli­cated,” he says. “Once you build [in] a toi­let and shower your­self, you can’t get it in­sured and blah blah blah.”

Still, he hasn’t ruled it out. One day, maybe. For now, though, in­stead of Ne­braska, he moved five min­utes down the road, to an­other se­cluded man­sion in the hills. Only this time it’s not quite such a Spar­tan ex­is­tence. He lives with “Twigs”, aka FKA Twigs, the Bri­tish singer, and their lit­tle dog Solo. He won’t talk about her, though they may be en­gaged af­ter three years to­gether. And one can’t blame him; the Twi-hard fan­base has al­ready sub­jected her to a tor­rent of racist abuse. Which is partly why they spend half their time in Lon­don, out east near Hack­ney Downs (hip­ster level: high).

Pat­tin­son gets has­sled much less back home. “I go around on my bike,” he says, “so I’m ba­si­cally a ghost.”

He was deep into #van­life when he saw a still from the Safdie broth­ers’ movie of 2014, Heaven Knows What. It was just a close-up of the ac­tress Arielle Holmes in a pink/blue light, her eyes sunken and strung out as if on heroin; she was play­ing a home­less junkie, a life she’d led un­til Josh Safdie ap­proached her in a Man­hat­tan sub­way and asked to make a film about her. The re­al­ism was pal­pa­ble. And Pat­tin­son was hooked at once: he had to work with th­ese peo­ple.

“It was so cool, this photo, it had an amaz­ing vibe, but also they’re Amer­i­can. Nor­mally with an im­age like that, the di­rec­tor turns out to be Czech or some­thing,” he says. “And my agents hadn’t heard of them ei­ther, so I knew I’d found some­thing be­fore any­body else.” This is what Pat­tin­son loves more than any­thing — mak­ing dis­cov­er­ies.

With­out even see­ing the movie, he wrote the Safdies an email rich with com­pli­ments, a tried and tested ploy. “I ba­si­cally say, ‘Look, I’m not play­ing. I like very lit­tle and I like this thing you did, I think you’re good, and I just... know!’ And af­ter that I call re­peat­edly.”

He’s done this with James Gray, with ac­claimed French film di­rec­tor Claire De­nis (who’s writ­ing and di­rect­ing his next film High Life). It’s a win­ning strat­egy. “I re­alised about four years ago, this is the best way to do it. I don’t even tell my agents.”

At first, Josh Safdie was hes­i­tant. He was work­ing on a movie about New York’s di­a­mond dis­trict and Pat­tin­son just wasn’t right for it. But they clicked, and once they met up, Josh saw some­thing: “He has a wounded war vet­eran vibe to him, like there’s a ma­jor trauma in his life and he’s con­stantly try­ing to hover, try­ing not to be seen. I thought that was per­fect for a guy on the run.” So the Safdies cre­ated a project for Pat­tin­son, es­sen­tially writ­ing him a movie.

“The thing about Josh and Benny,” Pat­tin­son says, “is their en­ergy and drive. It’s as­ton­ish­ing. And that’s how their movies feel, like there’s too much fuel in the car! I wanted that en­ergy, some­thing su­perki­netic. A lot of the stuff I’d done be­fore was re­ac­tive, so I wanted to be forced into a sit­u­a­tion. That’s their tone: run­away train. Their genre is lit­er­ally panic. And that’s kind of who I am as well. So I said, ‘Just push push push, be as au­da­cious as pos­si­ble.’”

The story cen­tres around Con­nie, a so­cio­pathic street crim­i­nal who can’t stand the thought of his men­tally chal­lenged brother Nick — played bril­liantly by Benny Safdie — be­ing in­sti­tu­tion­alised. So Con­nie takes him on a bank rob­bery, the first of sev­eral ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions, each one cas­cad­ing chaot­i­cally into the next. It’s a film that seizes you by the lapels and doesn’t let go for 100 min­utes.

Un­like any­thing else he’s done, Pat­tin­son was in­volved through­out the writ­ing process. He was in the jun­gle in Colombia at the time, mak­ing The Lost City of Z, a gnarly ex­pe­ri­ence by all ac­counts: he has sto­ries of pick­ing mag­gots out of his beard, and crew mem­bers be­ing bit­ten by snakes. But at the day’s end, he’d find a vol­ley of emails (there’s wi-fi in the Ama­zon, ap­par­ently) from the Safdies about Con­nie Nikas, about crim­i­nals, about the world of their movie.

They worked to­gether painstak­ingly on Con­nie’s back­story, and Robert read all the books the broth­ers were in­spired by, The Ex­e­cu­tioner’s Song by Nor­man Mailer and In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Ab­bott. He watched the doc­u­men­taries they sent over, no­tably One Year in a Life of Crime (1989) by John Alpert, and episodes of Cops, the Nineties re­al­ity TV that fea­tured po­lice chas­ing down and ar­rest­ing a whole me­nagerie of street crim­i­nals. Josh calls it “Amer­ica’s great­est TV series”. There would of­ten be di­a­logue or be­hav­iour that would be use­ful in build­ing Con­nie Nikas. By the time Pat­tin­son was ready to move to Queens, he was al­ready half­way there.

Pat­tin­son doesn’t do method; he’s more or less un­trained, apart from a short stint in the Barnes The­atre Com­pany aged 15. The Safdies in­tro­duced him to a new level of im­pro­vi­sa­tion and re­search. They had Robert as Con­nie writ­ing Nick let­ters as though from prison. Then they went on a tour of the Man­hat­tan De­ten­tion Com­plex.

“Rob came as Con­nie, but he didn’t have the ac­cent yet so he just looked around and

Esquire

Be­low, from top: Robert Pat­tin­son as teen heart­throb Ed­ward Cullen in The Twi­light Saga: Break­ing

Dawn — Part 1 (2011), with co-star Kris­ten Ste­wart; Pat­tin­son in David Michôd’s dystopian drama The Rover (2014); play­ing the aspir­ing ac­tor/ writer Jerome Fon­tana in Maps to the Stars (2014); in James Gray’s The Lost City of Z (2016), Pat­tin­son plays Ama­zon ex­plorer Henry

Costin; Pat­tin­son as Con­nie Nikas in the Safdie broth­ers’ Good Time

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