July 4th, 2015 / 2 Comments

Total Film’s James Mottram talks with Rob about portraying Dennis Stock in the soon-to-be released film, ‘Life’, and the difficulties of ascending Hollywood’s “A List”.

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Transcript below thanks to the lovely @nicole2dogs

The TOTAL FILM Interview

James Mottram

From Potter and Twilight to Cronenberg and Corbijn, Robert Pattinson’s whirlwind career has been as weird as it’s been wild. Now, playing James Dean chronicler Dennis Stock in LIFE, the british star reflects on the difficulties of ascending the A-list. “There’s definitely moments,” he says, “where you feel very separate from everything.”

Robert Pattinson screws up his face. “I hate having my photo taken,” he groans. Which for one of the world’s most photographed men, an actor who has spent the past seven or so years being hounded by prying paparazzi lenses and lurking camera-phones, must be something of an issue. Twilight turned the boy from Barnes into a global sensation; playing the twinkly vampire Edward Cullen boosting him from a little-known up-and-comer to one of Britain’s richest actors under 30 (net worth £65m, according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List). A decade ago he was unknown; just the well-mannered son of Richard, a vintage car importer, and Clare, a modeling agency employee. Left on the cutting room floor of Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair and fired days before the opening night of a 2005 production of The Woman Before at London’s Royal Court Theatre, things only began to turn when he won the role of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. Dubbed ‘the next Jude Law’, even then, it would take three more years before Twilight saw those cameras clicking.

Enjoying the sort of stratospheric rise that could derail most youngsters, there’s a stiff-upper-lip resilience to the 29-year-old Pattinson. Even the revelations that his Twilight co-star squeeze Kristen Stewart had been seeing director Rupert Sanders failed to phase him, publically at least (not many stars would’ve happily gone on Jon Stewart’s chat-show, bonding with the host over Ben and Jerry’s). While `Robsten’ is no more, Pattinson is now engaged to British singer FKA twigs – adding further fuel to the R-Pattz enigma.

Whatever he says, he arrives today camera-ready: black trousers, grey T-shirt and a forest-green bomber jacket, with the collar turned up. His brown hair is its usual bed-head self -tousled to within an inch of its life. The eyebrows are thick and the beard bushy, grown for his mini-appearance in Brady Corbet’s forthcoming indie The Childhood OR Leader (“and I forgot my razor,” he jokes). All puppyish hipster chic then – the face Dior paid £8m to front a fragrance campaign (via a steamy Led Zeppelin-scored ad).

Pattinson, however, is far more than just model-looks; he’s used his Twilight fame to the max. A billionaire banker marooned in a limo in David Cronenberg’s warped Cosmopolis. A slow-witted survivor in a post-apocalyptic Australia in The Rover. And an aspiring screenwriter in Cronenberg’s tasty Hollywood satire Maps To The Stars. These aren’t the choices of an A-Lister scheming his next move on the Hollywood chess-board; rather of an actor who wants a credible legacy.

His latest step away from ‘tween heaven is Life, the new film from Anton Corbijn (Control). A fascinating study of male bonding, it tells of the relationship between photographer Dennis Stock (played by Pattinson) and James Dean (Dane DeHaan). Set shortly after Dean made East Of Eden, Stock undertakes an assignment to shoot the rising star for a Life magazine spread. In the wake of Dean’s tragic death in 1955, those photos – not least, him walking through a rain-soaked Times Square, cigarette in lips – became iconic.

While Life gives Pattinson the chance to look at fame through the other side of the camera lens, it’s more than just that. A portrait of dysfunction seasoned with sadness and desperation, it’s his most mature work yet. But it’s also a signifier of wider ambitions. In a career that’s now seeing him seeking out directors like Werner Herzog, Harmony Korine and James Gray, Pattinson is ready for the next phase. Post-Edward, those cameras will be whirring, it seems, for altogether different reasons.

What made you want to play Dennis Stock?

With this, I knew that feeling: someone so inhibited that they feel like they’re separate from the entire world. They’re not actually having the same experience in life as an average person. It’s quite a tragic feeling. Also, playing a quite unsympathetic person. The thing that appealed to me most – and first – in this; it’s a young guy who has a child and he doesn’t love his kid. Who can you ask what to do? Everyone’s going to say you’re as asshole! What are you supposed to do? Shoot yourself afterwards? I thought it was an interesting predicament… I met his real son, and he was an awful father. There was no happy ending. I thought the interesting thing is he finds some kind of solace in his art.

So is Dennis really emotionally needy?

It sounds really cheesy but he kind of needs to love someone before being able to love himself. He watches East Of Eden, and he’s so massively moved by it, and he respects James Dean so much, but can’t just be a massive fan. But when he takes the photos and then James comes up and says, “These are really good” – it’s all you need. He suddenly feels, “I am an artist now!” You need to respect someone before you can respect yourself. I look at those photos and you can see he’s elevating him.

Anton Corbijn gave you an old Leica to practice with. Were you any good?

It’s almost impossible to shoot bad photos if you have a nice lens and there is nice light. You just have it wide open – but that’s about the only thing I can do. I was actually taking the photos and everything’s lit in those scenes and I did a bunch of photos but I don’t know where they are. They must be pretty awful or I’d have thought that would be a big part of the publicity!

What did Dean have that made him charismatic?

Sometimes when you point a camera at someone, it intensifies everything about them. Even within themselves. It’s not just filming someone doing a documentary. If someone is performing, you can figure stuff out. I don’t know how to describe it. You can see he’s always so aware of the camera. It’s not like he’s just doing it all the time.

Could you relate to the fame he went through?

In the movie, anyway, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted his life to be, and was disillusioned before it had even started happening. All my experience… I had no idea what was going on when Twilight first started taking off. When we were doing interviews, I’d never done a press junket. I was like, “What?” You just sit in a room and talk shit for eight hours! I was telling jokes. And every day my manager was getting calls from the studio going, “You have to tell him to shut up!” Also, I had nothing to lose.

Dean was a Method actor. Is it something you’ve explored?

I’m not entirely sure what Method acting is. If you look at some of Dean’s early stuff -especially the TV shows he was doing before East Of Eden – you can see that he’s definitely in some avant-garde theatre company and he’s completely out of place! He’s making really obscure decisions, and committing whole-heartedly. He’s not behaving like a normal human at all. He’s like a crazy person. But it’s interesting to watch. You don’t know what he’s up to. It’s unpredictable and fascinating.

When you started acting, is it true that your father encouraged you as it was a way to get girls?

That was true, but that was only because he saw a bunch of pretty girls who were going to it, and said, “Hey Rob, you’ve got to go to that.” That’s the reason I still do it! [laughs]

You scored big early on, landing the role of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. Was that an arduous process?

I went to the audition. I didn’t have a phone, and on the day I got back, I had to call back, and then about two weeks later, my agent called and said I got it. I never saw anybody else who was auditioning, so I never knew what my competition was.

Shortly after, you made Little Ashes, playing surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Was that an important step?

It was the first time I heavily researched something, I guess. I’m not sure it shows in my performance but he wrote a lot about himself as well. A phenomenal amount of writing -he’s an incredible writer as well. I read a lot about him. Being able to study someone, I hadn’t known how to do that before.

Then came Twilight. Do you see it now as a disadvantage or an advantage for your career?

It’s neither. It’s just like a job you’ve done. Sometimes, you have baggage that people… if you have a neutral expression on your face, people will say, “Oh, you’re doing Edward!” But I guess it’s kind of cool. It challenges you to really come up with a different character. And the jobs I’ve done in the past few years, I’m really trying to think about [taking on a] totally different physicality.

Did you deliberately avoid franchises after Twilight?

Maybe after the first Twilight, I had offers, but I’ve never really been part of that group, that gets offered that stuff. I don’t know. You get quite defined by Twilight in terms of big franchise stuff. Whereas I’m not defined by it in this [more arthouse] environment at all. Or they just don’t care, the people I’m working with. It’s weird. I haven’t really been part of the studio system, other than Water For Elephants, and that wasn’t a proper studio thing… it was $35-$40m budget. And it wasn’t a series. I never really had to make a decision. I’ve just done what I wanted to do.

You made Remember Me then. Wasn’t that a crazy shoot? Screaming girls and photographers on the streets of Manhattan. How was that?

You just zone out. I remember the Second Assistant Director got punched in the face by paparazzi. Some days, it just went completely mad but you can’t do anything.

You played a young man affected by his brother’s suicide. What appealed about that story?

I think in a lot of ways I like things dealing with loss and the later stages of grief, and how it affects you. That’s what I found interesting. I knew a lot of people who had some kinds of trauma in their early lives and it becomes their identity. And in order to heal yourself, you have to let go of that.

Do you like to push yourself out of your comfort zone?

I don’t really know what my comfort zone is! I don’t really have a comfort zone! Generally, I feel uncomfortable all the time [laughs]. I think probably The Rover, just in kind of movement and stuff, was probably the most comfortable I’ve felt. And this – which has quite a few similarities to me. I felt really uncomfortable the whole time. I’m playing someone who is filled with anxiety.

You shot in the Australian outback for The Rover. What are your overriding memories?

Living on barbecue sauce for two-and-a-half months! I did feel quite sorry for the catering company; the bus kept overheating, so all the refrigerators broke. But it did astonish me what film crews will eat. You’d have a buffet at lunch, 10 hours into the desert, and there’d be bowls of prawns covered in flies. People were just shovelling them down and I’d be like, “Do you want to get food poisoning’?” So I just ate bread and barbecue sauce; there were so many flies there, there are flies on every aspect of the food… and I just didn’t want to eat fly shit.

How did you feel when David Cronenberg contacted you for Cosmopolis?

The potential for failure was quite high in my head! I spent a week waiting to do it. I said I’d call him back the next day, and I kept putting it off, trying to think how I could say “No!” And then I realised when it got to the weekend that I’m going to have to call Cronenberg up and say, “I don’t think I’m good enough to do it and I’m too much of a pussy.” And I didn’t want to make that phone call. So I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” Then on the second phone call he was like, “I don’t understand what it’s about either, but it’s juicy, right?”

You reunited with him for Hollywood satire Maps To The Stars. Did that ring true to you, a world where everyone seemed to be an aspiring actor?

It’s changed a little bit now Since I’ve become an actor, most people don’t want to admit it. When I was just auditioning, absolutely everyone was. It’s crazy. But when you get to a certain point, no-one really wants to admit it anymore. People just want to say they’re a waiter! That’s way cooler! I’m not trying to be an actor, I just want to be a waiter for the rest of my life!

How were you at auditioning?

Not very good at it! But I liked auditioning. It’s such an isolated existence, especially when you’re living in a different country, in a hotel, and so auditions were how you met people. It was fun, though. When I was 17 to 21, I’d go to LA for three months a year; go on pilot season and stuff.

That’s when you got Twilight, right?

Yeah. I’d gone to LA for three years and not got a job, ever. That was my first job with my American agent. Endeavour, who I’d signed with, had a six-month turnover rate with clients. If you hadn’t got a job in six months, you were kicked out of the agency, and my agent really stuck out for me. It’s funny – whenever you see people who switch agents, if they haven’t got a job, they always fire their agents and it’s a terrible idea. Generally, you’ll just get worse and worse agents.

Is life a bit calmer for you now Twilight is over?

Yeah, definitely. In London, it’s a lot easier. I didn’t realise that for years. I remember going back – like I’d go back for Christmas and because I was only there for a few days, there’d be paparazzi outside my house. So I just wanted to leave again. And figuring out how to live… I’ve been in London for two months, and it’s fine. I never get photographed. It’s just a lot easier.

How does that feel?

It’s amazing. I would not be able to maintain this thing when people want that level of intensity to stay up there. Some people, it fuels them and makes them feel bigger and bigger and bigger. It just makes me feel small and feel like things are being taken away from me.

Did it ever get too much at any point?

Not really. When you’re feeling bad, then everything feels awful and insurmountable. But if you’re feeling good, it doesn’t matter. It’s just people asking for a photo.

What are you up to in The Childhood Of A Leader?

I’ve just got a small part in it. I literally just finished my bit. My friend Brady Corbet wrote it. He’s basically been trying to get it made for 10 years. It’s amazing, I think. I think it could be quite a special movie, set in 1918. The child – a seven year old – is the lead part who becomes a bit of a monster.

You’re also playing T.E. Lawrence in Werner Herzog’s Queen Of The Desert. That’s very brave, taking on the role made famous by Peter O’Toole…

I was just there for eight days – I never would’ve played T.E. Lawrence in a bigger part. Everyone sees it as a hallowed movie, but David Lean’s version [Lawrence Of Arabia] is so different to the real guy, as is Herzog’s version. It’s a very specific take on it. The real guy, there’s definitely room for a whole other movie. But it’s great to just play the part, get to work with Herzog, which is basically what I wanted to do. It’s not on you if it’s a success or failure, really.

How did you find Herzog?

I remember doing the meeting with him. I thought it was an audition. It was years ago. I turned up at his house and we had this really long conversation, really open and I was sitting there, listening to him tell stories about getting bitten by snakes and getting shot by bow and arrows, and I was like, “What is going on? I thought this was supposed to be an audition!” And my 16-year-old self is going insane. And by the end he was like, “Do you want to do the job?” I was like, “I don’t even know what the part is!” That was mind-blowing.

Do you often get starstruck?

Eric Cantona. I was really starstruck by him. I sat next to him on a talk show in France. I didn’t know he was on it. And then later on the same show R Kelly was performing – mind blown from every different direction!

You’re finding some really strong directors to work with. You’re also attached to films by Harmony Korine and James Gray…

Yeah. I’ve just been really lucky with those. I was quite specifically selecting people, like Harmony and James Gray. They just changed the cast [on Gray’s Amazon explorer story The Lost City Of Z] but it’s cool. A cool cast. You never know. But even if the cast changes, I just wanted to work with James. I haven’t even seen the new script. I haven’t read that script in ages.

What can you say about the Korine film, The Trap?

They keep going in and out of different casts too. I’ve known Harmony for ages and ages. It’s an incredibly strange part.

Do you ever worry about your films’ financial success?

You’re not looked after if you try and go down that road. There’s every chance you’ll just get abandoned by them anyway, and then you’ll have done movies you didn’t want to do. You’re just stuck with nothing. The more arthouse a film, they’re generally financed by people who are not expecting any return! It won’t matter for them and they’re more loyal. They’re making them for different reasons. Of course you’d like at least one person to see it! That’s kind of the point!

You’re very loyal, too, often supporting your movies. Have you ever felt like running away from a junket?

People don’t tolerate it any more. It’s ridiculous. It’s really sad that people don’t celebrate someone who is a little bit wild. Like Colin Farrell – I remember him seven or eight years ago. You wouldn’t even be allowed to do that anymore! If you say, “Whatever – I’m going to do my own thing”, then you just don’t get employed. Ever.

Life opens on September 25.

  • Carmel
    Posted on July 04, 2015

    That was a nice little piece that touched on a lot of Rob’s work. Thanks Suze 🙂

  • sue
    Posted on July 05, 2015

    Thanks Suze. Slowly trying to catch up on all these goodies!

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