CANNES – Having ended his vampire duties, Robert Pattinson is working hard to establish himself as a leading man where his acting skills eclipse his heartthrob status. His new film, COSMOPOLIS, directed by David Cronenberg, is a bold step forward in that direction. Pattinson’s striking features are a perfect match for the film’s eerie plotting that owes just as much to Cronenberg’s macabre vision as it does to the original source material, Don DeLillo’s eponymous novel. Making its world premiere as part of the Cannes Film Festival’s official competition, COSMOPOLIS sees Pattinson play Eric Packer, a Wall Street billionaire whose life undergoes a strange sequence of events against the backdrop of his rapidly collapsing Manhattan universe. Is this how the 26-year-old Pattinson hopes to conquer new audiences?
“I didn’t expect to be able to find a project as brilliant as this even though I could spend my life working with directors like Cronenberg,” explains Pattinson. “I have led a charmed life so far as an actor but I’m trying to find as many different and complex roles as possible and being able to work on this film is another gift that I’ve been given. It’s up to me to show what I’m capable of now!”
Though his previous film, BEL AMI, failed to catch on at the box office, Pattinson has high hopes that COSMOPOLIS will be the film that redefines his screen persona. Pattinson was joined at Cannes by his equally famous girlfriend and TWILIGHT co-star, Kristen Stewart, although they typically avoided appearing together even though Stewart has repeatedly “outed” their relationship and Pattinson has similarly admitted their love affair and commitment to each other.
In conversation, Pattinson is exceedingly polite and responsive and utterly indifferent to his celebrity status. One gets the impression he would be just as happy if COSMOPOLIS was his first film and audiences would get to know him afresh.
Q: Rob, your role in Cosmopolis is very different from anything we’ve seen you in before. How would you describe your character, Eric Packer?
PATTINSON: He exists in his own, separate reality in a way and in the course of the film he’s trying to discover something about the world he’s really living in and how he can adapt to it. Packer lives in this complex financial universe which is guided by trading algorithms and he plays the game which is dictated by those laws which are their own distinct reality. That’s his central dilemma. He’s dealing with financial data that is constantly projecting him into the future and he doesn’t know what it’s like to live in the present. Packer has become so disconnected from the world that it’s made it difficult for him to understand what the world is really like. I’m sorry if that sounds very metaphysical but that’s how the story unfolds.
Q: How difficult was it for you to play this kind of unworldly financial speculator?
PATTINSON: This character is far more demanding than anything else I’ve done before. David (Cronenberg, the director) wanted me to work in a very abstract way in the sense that he didn’t want me to play the character as if I had a logical explanation for my character’s behaviour. That was an interesting challenge for me and I had to let myself be guided almost entirely by emotion and instinct rather than thinking about how one scene or one line of dialogue connected to the next moment or scene. David really wanted to create an alternate kind of reality for the film.
Q: You have some fairly explicit sex scenes in the film. Are they difficult to do?
PATTINSON: I don’t really have a problem with those scenes or nudity in general. I think it’s more complicated for actresses who are worried about how those scenes can be exploited by the media and how naked photos are constantly getting posted on the internet.In Cosmopolis, the sex scenes with Patricia McKenzie (she plays his character’s bodyguard in the film – ED) were more difficuilt. It was kind of strange but in the script we were supposed to climax at the beginning of the scene and then have this discussion afterwards but David had the brilliant and inspired idea to have us talk while we were having sex. (Laughs)
Q: Are you pleased that a role in a film like Cosmopolis will go a long way to changing your Twilight image?
PATTINSON: I hope it’s going to have that effect because when you’re part of an immensely popular film franchise like Twilight it tends to overwhelm anything else you’re doing while those films are still part of the public consciousness. Now at least a film like Hunger Games is gaining a lot of attention and that’s a good thing for me because I can break free more of a certain perception that’s been formed about me through my character in Twilight. It’s ironic but I was offered the part in Cosmopolis on the last day of shooting on Breaking Dawn. It was an incredible feeling to be getting a call from David Cronenberg at that particular moment in time. It also reminds me that I should be very grateful for what the Twilight films have done for me.
Q: Had you heard about the project before?
PATTINSON: Yes, my agent sent me the script to read a year earlier but at the time Colin Farrell was attached to the project and I was bitching to myself about what I wasn’t being offered roles like that. I can still remember complaining to my agent about why I was reading a script for a fantastic film when the role wasn’t available. Then a year later David calls me and offers me the role.
Q: Did you accept the role right away?
PATTINSON: No. Strange as it may seem, I was elated and terrified at the same time and I spent a week thinking about it before I finally called David back and told him I would do it.
Q: What made you hesitate?
PATTINSON: Fear! (Laughs) I told David that the character confused and he actually appreciated that. He said that he didn’t necessarily understand the character either and that we would figure out who he is while we were shooting the film. That’s something I liked about David in that he didn’t try to give me answers about everything and that gave me more freedom to play the character according to my own instincts. Of course, that kind of freedom also presupposes you are able to find what you need in order to create a compelling performance and in a way I felt that I reached a new level as an actor while making this movie. I kind of manned up and stopped worrying so much.
Q: Did Cronenberg push you to reach a different level as an actor?
PATTINSON: David helped a lot, but it was also a matter of dealing with the material and trying to throw myself into the character. This was the first time in any film that I was figuring out the character while we were shooting the film. It was very unsettling in the first few weeks while we were filming, but then I began to feel more confident about my work and that has given me a different perspective on my work in general. It’s a very satisfying feeling when you feel you faced up to your fears and accomplished something, especially when acting can leave you very insecure and unsure of yourself by the nature of the profession. You’re often occupying your own little world and you need to work harder to find what’s real in your own life.
Q: Your career as an actor has been an incredible journey thus far. How surreal or real does it feel now?
PATTINSON: I’m very happy to be where I am now. I’m able to move on and make my mark and see how far I can go. As an actor, the Twilight films were serving as a safety net for me. I never had to worry if my other films failed because I knew that I always had another Twilight film to shoot in a few months. Now that sense of security doesn’t exist anymore and I’m in the same position as any other actor. I have to prove myself and find interesting films which I hope will have some level of success and build on that.
Q: Does it matter very much whether you’re making bigger studio films or independent films in the style of a Cosmopolis?
PATTINSON: I like the idea of playing in smaller films because at least if they don’t succeed at the box office, your career is not necessarily going to be damaged. That’s not the case if you’re carrying a major studio film and you have a few flops back to back. Under those circumstances, your career is going to suffer and you can disappear pretty quickly.My main goal is to find interesting films and great characters although of course you do need to reach an audience and your films do need to make some money if you want to keep getting hired. But you can’t reduce yourself as an actor to that. Your main focus should be on the work and see where that takes you.I also love the fact that on a film like Cosmopolis you’re basically only listening to what the director is telling you and there’s much less involvement of other people in the creative process. I think filmmaking is much more authentic when it’s basically the director and the actors working together in as creatively pure an environment as you can make it.
Q: How hard has it been for you to adapt to all the fame and attention that you have to deal with on a daily basis?
PATTINSON: (Laughs) You just learn to deal with everything and not be bothered by the attention. First of all, it’s flattering and as a performer you’re obviously seeking the approval of audiences. Secondly, it means that people appreciate your work. So it’s pointless to let that attention annoy you because it’s a contradiction and self-defeating.I live pretty much the way I want to and I simply have to be careful about where I go or how long I stay in one place. I have to be wary if people are tweeting my location at a café but usually I can find a quiet corner somewhere and not have a mob form outside the premises!
Q: What about getting followed?
PATTINSON: It’s not hard to escape being followed. You learn with practice to become fairly expert at disappearing when you need to and avoiding that. But even if people do stop you, it’s usually quite pleasant and you can sometimes have good conversations with your fans who really just want to know that you’re not an asshole or horrible character in real life! (Laughs)It all comes with the territory. It’s the nature of the job that if you’re films are successful for a time there’s going to be a certain amount of craziness attached to your life. The worst thing is trying to go to big events like a rock concert or a music festival. I went to the Coachella festival (in California) and it was a nightmare because of the paparazzi. I basically only got to see Radiohead and after that it was just too complicated.
Q: What’s the best thing about your life as a movie star?
PATTINSON: I love being able to travel all over the world. Going to festival like Cannes or promoting my films in other countries is an incredibly interesting experience. With the Twilight films, it’s more difficult because of the level of attention from the fans. But when you’re able to travel either to shoot a film in an interesting place or promote the film across Europe it opens up a different world for you.I love the experiences that come from travelling and even if I’m not working I enjoy being able to explore different cities and cultures. I thrive on that and it’s strangely comforting for me to feel that I’m not trapped in any one place even though I spend more time in L.A. rather than in London now.
Q: How do you think you’ve changed?
PATTINSON: I’ve grown up. I feel like I know a lot better where my life is heading and it’s wonderful to know that the world is so open to you and it’s up to you to make the most out of your life.