His darker ma­te­ri­als


Robert Pattinson re­mains ded­i­cated to re­defin­ing him­self as an ex­pres­sive ac­tor be­yond the teen-hero hys­te­ria. In the gritty heist thriller Good Time, he finds re­demp­tion as a cold-hearted crim­i­nal. San­jiv Bhat­tacharya walks him out of the sun­set.

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-hearted crim­i­nal and achieves the al­most su­per­nat­u­rally im­pos­si­ble—walk­ing around New York un­recog­nised.

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 Bourne-ism, 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 per­cent 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 look 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 retro-fit 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 su­per-ki­netic. 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 ’90s 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 kept to him­self,” says Josh Safdie. They met peo­ple that Con­nie might be friends with. “My friends at Lucky’s Au­to­mo­tive Re­pair in Yonkers, ba­si­cally. We started bring­ing Benny in as Nick then.” And from there, Rob and Benny took their char­ac­ters out into the world, go­ing to Dunkin’ Donuts, even work­ing at a car wash to­gether for a week.

“We had Nick drive the cars off af­ter they went through,” says Benny. “But Nick has is­sues. He can’t do what Con­nie wants him to, so there was ten­sion be­tween them, it al­most got vi­o­lent. And that’s what we wanted. We wanted to give Rob a his­tory of the emo­tions he would feel in cer­tain mo­ments.”

Crit­i­cally, though, no one clocked Pattinson through all this. The car wash man­ager knew who he was, but no one else did, and they didn’t ask. It was a rev­e­la­tion. As Con­nie—with the cloth­ing, hair and makeup—pattinson could go un­recog­nised to such a de­gree that when they shot a scene to­ward the end in an apart­ment block, lo­cal res­i­dents didn’t even see him as an ac­tor. They knew a movie star was in their midst but had heard it was Bradley Cooper.

“So, I was in this packed el­e­va­tor and peo­ple were like, ‘Yo, you like Bradley Cooper’s se­cu­rity guard?’ It was amaz­ing,” Pattinson says.

ONE OF THE JOYS of Good Time is re­mem­ber­ing just how dif­fer­ent Robert and his char­ac­ter Con­nie ac­tu­ally are. Pattinson is from south-west Lon­don, where he went to The Har­ro­dian, a nice public school in Barnes. The son of a vin­tage-car sales­man fa­ther and a model-booker mother, he grew up mid­dle class and com­fort­able, an artis­tic type who set out af­ter a mu­sic ca­reer (his band’s name: Bad Girls) be­fore act­ing won out. He never came across char­ac­ters like Con­nie Nikas in real life, so he imag­ined them; they were “fan­tasy fig­ures”, as he calls them. And as such, no less in­flu­en­tial.

“Grow­ing up, you see Pa­cino and you want to be that,” he says, and then laughs. “I sound like a dick al­ready, com­par­ing my­self to Pa­cino!”

But the point is sound; to Pattinson, Con­nie falls into the tra­di­tion of Pa­cino’s Sonny in Dog Day Af­ter­noon, or Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, the very char­ac­ters who in­spire peo­ple like Pattinson to be­come ac­tors in the first place. Like all mid­dle-class kids, he craved Con­nie’s au­then­tic­ity.

“Ev­ery­one wants to say, ‘I’ve gone through hard­ships’ or what­ever. And some kids at school got so ob­sessed with look­ing tough that even­tu­ally they just were. They were mug­ging peo­ple. It’s like, ‘Why are you mug­ging peo­ple? You live in Wim­ble­don!’ But you could see the pro­gres­sion,” he says. “It was born out of de­sire, not ne­ces­sity. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing.” As for Pattinson, he just lied. “I de­cided the best way to be real is to fake it! I used to lie all the time when I was younger. Like even though I had a Lon­don ac­cent, I’d tell peo­ple I grew up on a farm in York­shire. That was about as gritty as I could pull off.”

His own life of crime was lim­ited to steal­ing porn mags, aged 11, a story he told US shock jock Howard Stern. Even­tu­ally, he was caught, of course, the mo­ment of hu­mil­i­a­tion seared into his mem­ory as, in front of a line of old ladies col­lect­ing their pen­sions, the shop owner reached into his bag and pulled out one jazz mag af­ter an­other.

“I turned on the tears and ev­ery­thing. I was des­per­ate!” he says. “And when my mum heard, I to­tally threw one of my friends un­der the bus: ‘Dan did it!’ It’s pretty ter­ri­fy­ing when you’re backed against the wall. When peo­ple ask how would you be­have in an emer­gency, now I know. I’m a wimp! I guess that’s pretty ob­vi­ous!”

He says wimp, but there’s a quiet strength behind that self-ef­fac­ing, af­fa­ble front. Not ev­ery­one would con­fess to be­ing a cow­ardly kid, or ly­ing about their back­ground, as in­se­cure peo­ple don’t ad­mit their flaws so freely. One of the rea­sons he was so drawn to the role of Con­nie, for in­stance, was the char­ac­ter’s lack of fear or shame. “I’m the op­po­site. Shame is the most crip­pling thing. I don’t even know what it is; it’s not con­nected to any other emo­tion. So I choose work to di­rectly com­bat el­e­ments of my own per­son­al­ity.”

Josh Safdie spot­ted Pattinson’s am­bi­tion early on. “There’s a ma­nia to him,” he says. “A manic de­sire to con­quer the world. I was very happy to see it.”

And for all his self-dep­re­ca­tion, there’s a pride there in what he’s achieved post-twi­light. None of his sub­se­quent film choices are ob­vi­ously com­mer­cial, which suits him per­fectly: low-bud­get indies, he says, have a lower bar to break even and with his in­ter­na­tional star­dom, cour­tesy of Twi­light in no small part, he can usu­ally rest easy. Some­times, his in­volve­ment is what makes these projects ac­tu­ally hap­pen.

But ar­tis­ti­cally—and this is where he’s def­i­nitely not a wimp—ev­ery project is a risk, a test, a leap, yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to fail and land very pub­licly on his arse. But that’s just how he likes it. The nerves, the threat of fail­ure keep him in­ter­ested.

“I like a big moun­tain to climb,” he says. “Some parts no one would think of me for, and I don’t blame them.”

Why go for those roles though, if they’re so against type? He shrugs.

“Prob­a­bly just to prove I can, re­ally.”

AS THE BILL AR­RIVES FOR OUR MEAL, Pattinson chomps mer­rily through an­other round of tooth­picks. It seems he’s been en­tirely sen­si­ble this time around. Not even one beer. “If I drink I’ll sound like a cock,” he says. “Ac­tu­ally, I prob­a­bly sound like a cock al­ready!” Any­way, he’s sav­ing room for a co­gnac tast­ing later tonight with the Good Time pro­duc­ers. Not the kind of thing he does that of­ten but these are heady times, what with the ex­cite­ment around the movie, the crit­i­cal ac­claim. It’s such a buzz that even the press tour isn’t so painful. There’s room for some mis­chief at any rate.

On Jimmy Kim­mel Live!, he tried to make fun of Josh Safdie but it came out wrong. He told Kim­mel that Safdie had asked him to jerk off a dog. “It got [an­i­mal char­ity] Peta an­gry… ev­ery­one. It was like a whole Amer­i­can up­roar for a day-and-a-half,” Josh says. “He’s a lit­tle shit, I prom­ise you. But I love that about him.”

For the most part, though, Pattinson leads a fairly quiet life. It’s just him, Twigs and Solo kick­ing around

at home. When he’s not work­ing, he says, he’s look­ing for work.

“I’m ba­si­cally flick­ing through the pages of Loot ev­ery day. I live the life of an un­em­ployed per­son.” And for him that means watch­ing art house movies, trawl­ing film-geek web­sites and—so long as Game of Thrones isn’t on—cold-call­ing di­rec­tors.

In a cou­ple of weeks, he’s off to Ger­many for cos­mo­naut train­ing for the movie he’s mak­ing with Claire De­nis. It’s about an­other ex-con, this time in space as part of a hu­man re­pro­duc­tion ex­per­i­ment. He men­tioned it in a Q&A ses­sion in LA af­ter a screen­ing of Good Time, and no one in the au­di­ence had heard of De­nis. Such is Pattinson’s par­tic­u­lar taste.

“I don’t think Claire has made a bad movie in, like, 20, but I don’t know if any have been com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful!” he laughs. “That’s what it’s like in France. There’s a mar­ket there for less con­ven­tion­ally com­mer­cial movies, and that’s the world I want to be a part of. I just want to do stuff that peo­ple are only mak­ing for them­selves, be­cause it ends up be­ing, by def­i­ni­tion, more sin­gu­lar.”

The project that has him ex­cited comes at the end of the year: The Devil All the Time, by An­to­nio Cam­pos, who made Chris­tine last year, a bril­liant drama about a de­pres­sive ’70s news an­chor in Florida. (For the record, Pattinson cold-called him too.) “There’s this line in it—and some­times that’s all you need. And it’s like, ‘Ooh... that’s scary to say’. Be­cause it’ll go down in pos­ter­ity and I’ll be the one say­ing it. You lit­er­ally can­not get darker. It’s fuck­ing dark. This char­ac­ter is an evan­gel­i­cal preacher in the South in the ’50s, but he’s glee­fully bad and kind of funny and charis­matic too. I know, it’s ir­re­sistible.” Like, sex­u­ally re­pul­sive, vi­o­lent? “Mmm... yes, all that. But you know when ac­tors say, ‘I refuse to play some­one who does some­thing bad.’ I’m, like, why? That’s fuck­ing crazy. You can’t do any­thing bad in your real life. I think if some­one needs to play a hero all the time, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause they’re do­ing re­ally gross stuff in their real life.”

So you’re telling me, this is the only chance you get to be bad?

He laughs, and gets up to put on his La­coste jacket, his cam­ou­flage, and flips up the hoodie un­der­neath. Now he’s safe to leave our meet­ing without caus­ing an in­ci­dent. But it’s im­pos­si­ble now not to see shades of Con­nie, the so­ciopath bank rob­ber from Queens.

“Yeah,” he grins. “The rest of the time, I’m an an­gel!”

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...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.