Robert Pattinson has made a generation of girls swoon, and brought in millions of dollars for the producers of the Twilight phenomenon, where his portrayal of Edward Cullen means he needn’t get out of bed again if he doesn’t feel like it.
So, it would be understandable if such adulation had gone to his pretty tousle-haired head, and made him a bit difficult to work with. How did the directors of his new film Bel Ami deal with such an idol on this, their very first film?
“He was delightful,” insists Nick Ormerod, one half of the directing duo along with Declan Donnellan – established theatre directors with a body of stage, ballet and opera work more than three decades in the making, but novices when it came to film.
“He did insist on rehearsing for a whole month before we did our first shoot, which is apparently unheard of in Hollywood, but he was passionately attached to the project.”
“He wasn’t that famous when we offered him the part,” remembers Donnellan. “He’d done Harry Potter, Twilight was just starting, and I remember seeing his face on the side of a bus.
“Our film took so long to get going because it was art house, that he went off and did Twilight, so we were watching this phenomenon take place.”
Bel Ami was filmed two years ago, which meant the Twi-hards were out with a vengeance by then – remember the tales of Pattinson bunkered down in America trying to film Like Water For Elephants in a small mid-western town? Donnellan and Ormerod look surprised by such unseemly tales:
“We had a relatively serene experience,” smiles Donnellan. “Only a tiny bit of that in Budapest. We shot in Twickenham, and there was literally no one there.
“But then, we hit the red carpet in Berlin, and it was like being in Bladerunner, an incredible experience being in the middle of this phenomenon. It was astonishing and hilarious, particularly for our first film.”
Ormerod and Donnellan were steering their golden boy through the French period drama, Bel Ami, based on the short story by Guy De Maupassant, detailing the climb of a young man Georges Duroy (Pattinson) through the ranks of Parisian society, thanks to his success with the ladies who succumb to his pale, cheek-boned charm.
“Rob kept saying, ‘this character has no redeeming features, he’s so venal’,” laughs Donnellan. “It’s thrilling to see somebody like that, and Rob agreed. If he sees something he gets it, it’s that base level of envy, which he can only cure by getting what the other guy has. There’s no lesson in the film, our purpose is only to make you come out asking questions.”
As well as Pattinson, the directors were able to tap into the talent pool of Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci, which could have been intimidating for novices behind the camera.
“Uma is a great personality, she is fantastic, and she does make her opinion known, but that was absolutely fine,” laughs Donnellan.
“We’ve done a ballet with the Bolshoi before, and operas with Bryn Terfel, so we have done some scary things before.
“Kristin we knew well from our work in Paris, but Uma and Christina and Rob all came from our casting director. They all come from very different backgrounds, the one thing we all shared was not having done anything like this before.
“You go in hyper-prepared, and then when you get on the floor, you realise you actually don’t need all that, and get rid of it – the storyboard is really just to reassure other people as well as yourself. Ultimately, the whole thing is improvised. Whatever you planned, you always saw something better on the day.”
Having set such a high bar, are Ormerod and Donnellan now claimed by the film world?
“We’re already back on stage, but we are definitely bitten with the bug,” explains Dormerod.
“We would have done more projects in the past,” muses Donnellan. “But we can’t bear to leave the theatre for that long – six months of lunches in Soho House is as much as we can take.”