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“Twilight” star Robert Pattinson may seem like nothing more than a teen heartthrob to his critics. But his detractors may change their minds after watching his risky performance in the new David Cronenberg film, “Cosmopolis.”
In Canadian theatres on Friday, Pattinson headlines this masterful and, at times, chilling adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel, “Cosmopolis.”
True to DeLillo’s satirical work, the British actor plays billionaire Eric Packer, a young fund manager who experiences a meltdown one day as he cruises through Manhattan in the back of a stretch limo. As Packer’s trip to the hairdresser unfolds, he glides in and out of the lives of strangers, businesses associates and his wife Elise (played by Sarah Gadon).
Inside this strange world on wheels, Packer can access everything he needs: food, data about the stock market, sex, booze and a toilet. He even gets a check-up in the back of the limo from his doctor, who tells Packer, “You have an asymmetrical prostate.”
Above these fantastical occurrences, however, Packer’s journey forces him to have an epiphany of sorts when his fortunes turn to ashes and his personal life goes up in smoke thanks to forces he failed to anticipate.
Since the film’s premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Pattinson has confessed to reporters that he felt confused by DeLillo’s novel, and was also unsure how to bring the complicated character to life on screen.
“I sent [the book] to my best friend and I sent it to my parents,” Pattinson recently told CTV’s Canada AM.
“My parents completely misunderstood it,” he said, with a grin.
Pattinson’s best friend was also perplexed, especially in terms of how Cronenberg would ever translate DeLillo’s challenging book to the big screen.
“This is completely impossible,” were the man’s words to Pattinson.
Despite these uncertainties, 26-year-old Pattinson accepted the role that Irish actor Colin Farrell had reportedly been lined up to play.
Pattinson’s career move was risky, but his taking a chance to work with Cronenberg could prove to be the smartest move of his career.
“I thought the script read a little bit differently than the book,” Pattinson told Canada AM.
“The book is quite short, but not that easy a read. The script read really fast and had a much higher energy to it. I kind of thought I should go for the higher-energy version of the character,” Pattinson said with director Cronenberg by his side.
The taped interview was done earlier in June, when Pattinson and Cronenberg made a stop in Toronto to promote their new film. During that time, the pair talked candidly about translating DeLillo’s book to the screen.
It would have been easy, they said, to portray Eric Packer as a chilling, demented version of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. But the key, according to Pattinson, was finding the right unique voice.
“I tried to look at hedge fund managers, but this part was a totally different thing,” Pattinson said.
“It’s not about money or greed for him. He doesn’t have to prove himself. A lot of these hedge fund guys are so insecure. That’s where that unbelievable energy comes from.”
In contrast, Pattinson internalized his efforts to command moviegoers’ attentions.
“I mainly just thought about the voice. That was the most important thing. The rhythm was very specific in the book and the script.”
Pattinson also studied the vocal patterns of American politician Howard Dean and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer to perfect his delivery and find the right edge this new role.
Cronenberg, however, found his crucial key to shooting “Cosmopolis” in Pattinson’s own uneasiness with DeLillo’s work.
“I try not to think about casting. I don’t want my understanding of an actor and what he’s done to shape the character. I want the character to come first,” said Cronenberg.
He nevertheless kept certain basics in mind when he chose Pattinson to portray his lead.
“You have to think about how old the character is. Can he do a New York accent? Even a lot of American actors can’t do a convincing New York accent,” said Cronenberg.
These simple basics, and others, also applied as Cronenberg cast co-stars Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Duran, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Sarah Gadon and Mathieu Amalric
With Packer present in almost every scene of “Cosmopolis,” Cronenberg knew that any actor who played him would have to be “pretty watchable,” as the director said.
Pattinson met that challenge and did so without relying on his pretty face, according to Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse.
“I thought Pattinson did a bang up job in this movie,” Crouse told CTVNews.ca.
“I don’t think any of us could say that ‘Cosmopolis’ would have been better or worse with Colin Farrell starring in it. But moviegoers know so much about Farrell’s life off screen,” said Crouse.
“They see him as this decadent figure. I think that would have influenced the way audiences perceived Packer’s character in this movie,” he said.
Pattinson’s subtle, complex performance is on par with David Bowie’s commanding turn in the 1976 film, “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” said Crouse.
Much like Bowie’s character, Thomas Jerome Newton, Pattinson creates an otherworldly figure who lives out his days in an equally rarefied and bizarre environment.
Pattinson’s complex and mature performance in “Cosmopolis” will surprise his fans and his critics.
“‘Cosmopolis’ is a fascinating film from a filmmaker working at the top of his game,” said Crouse.
“It may not be the easiest film to watch and it demands a lot from the audience. They really have to pay attention and that’s not what audiences are used to today. Even so, I don’t think ‘Twilight’ fans will be daunted by that,” he said.
“They’ll come out to see Pattinson. But they’ll be in for quite a surprise.”