Paul Morrison, the director of "Little Ashes," a film about the strange, complex and forbidden love between Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and surrealist painter Salvador Dali, talks exclusively with The Dish Rag about casting "Twilight" hero Robert Pattinson in the period piece.
At the time, Pattinson was just another undiscovered young British actor (he'd done "Harry Potter"), and little did Morrison know that this young man would draw unparalleled attention to his small film, which opens May 8, without a US premiere.
Paul Morrison: I love the fact that an audience is going to be drawn to the film, partly through Rob, that wouldn't otherwise get to this kind of movie. We played the Belfast Film Festival last week and there were quite a few of Rob's fans there, not the majority by any means, and they loved it and they really took to it, so it's great that kids will be reached by the movie.
Dish Rag: Playing Salvador Dali is a daunting role for a young actor.
PM: Yeah, I don't think Rob realized what he was getting into when he agreed to do it, but he really worked hard at it, he really grappled with it, and I think he's done something very extraordinary. It's so difficult to do, because you have to tread light all the time between playing Dali as a young lovable young man, which he was, and suggesting the kind of pastiche of himself that he became in later life, that he presented to the public in later life, and that's a very tall order, and I think Rob pulled it off.
DR: The resemblance is actually quite amazing.
PM: The intensity was important, but I wasn't really looking for resemblance. And in the performance, I wasn't looking for mimicry either.
DR: How did you find Robert Pattinson?
PM: There are a lot of great young actors coming up in Britain, a couple years ago when I cast him, and I guess I saw all of them, all the ones that were available for me to see, and in Spain as well. We had to have a mix, because of, for reasons of the financial co-production, we had to have a mix of Spanish and UK actors. And originally, I was looking at Rob for Lorca, and thought we’d find our Dali in Spain, but he was so right for Dali that I switched it and we cast Dali in England and Lorca in Spain.
DR: So you had no notion of all this "Twilight" stuff, and you just watched all this happen as your film gets ready to be released.
PM: Yeah, it's just extraordinary, jaw dropping. And great for us. For a little film like this you need a bit of luck.
DR: It's wonderful to see a young actor like this, who despite the fame and the adulation is choosing a path and taking some extremely challenging and provocative roles. Do you think he will continue on that path?
PM: He is serious about acting and I am sure that, yeah, he will want to do roles that challenge him. I can't tell you how hard he worked on the role of Dali. I was encouraging him to just play the script, but he was for himself hunting down every day bits of film or tape or interviews or a biography of Dali. He worked really hard at it, both intellectually and emotionally. I think that's in his blood now, I think. I don't think he'll be satisfied with playing less than interesting roles.
DR: Well, he'll certainly want to do more than climb up pine trees and fly around.
PM: Yeah, I'm sure he's not complaining about that.
DR: Those gay sex scenes and the nude scenes, were those difficult for young actors Rob and Javier Beltran?
PM: I think they were difficult, but I think all sex scenes are difficult, and for all actors of all ages. And I find them difficult, certainly, to direct, and ... you have to get very intense about them, and as a director be clear as to what you're looking for so they know that they're acting and they're not doing it, and I think Rob probably found it harder than Javier, to draw the line between performance and, ah, but that was also in the nature of the part, that Dali's sexuality was so complicated, complex and mysterious, I think even to himself, and his fear of sexuality, and if you're playing that role, that kind of rubs off on you, so I think sex and pain were so closely entwined with Dali that to play those scenes is also hard, and the triangle sex scene is an unbelievably difficult scene. One of those scenes in everybody's life when you're doing something and you know it's really really wrong, it really, it goes against the grain, but you're doing it, so playing that scene is hard, it's always hard.
We also asked why Rob Pattinson and Javier Beltran appear in a blue-lighted, erotically charged water scene, once with underwear on and later, in Dali's recollection, without clothing.
PM: Yeah, what happens is that Dali recalls that scene later on, after Lorca's death, and in his memory they're not wearing underwear. So there is a nude scene, tastefully shot, of course."
Darn it — we mean, of course.