Interview with a vampire
Robert Pattinson grew fangs after the Twilight saga. He's bringing them out to portray a greedy golden boy for Cronenberg. Charming and honest, he welcomed us in Los Angeles. By Jacky Goldberg.
The interview took place on the last floor of the Soho House that overlooks Sunset Strip. It was on the patio of the private club where cameras and telephones were forbidden. He was without his press agent. He wore a three days beard, a cap, brown chino cloth pants, and a plaid shirt.
The interview lasted one hour.
You live in LA now?
RP: Yes, for a little while now. At first I didn't know what to do there and now when I'm far away I miss it. Even more than London where I grew up but that all my friends left. My family still lives there but they want to come here, same for my friends. It's crazy, all you need is to spend a day in LA to want to move in. *laughs*
The movie breaks away from your image of the proper young man molded by Twilight and the few films that you filmed since then. Did you realise that as you were filming?
RP: Of course. I'm scared of being typecast *he thinks for a moment* ... like most actors who starts for that matter: it's important to branch out very early on. That's the whole point. In fact, I got offered the lead in Cosmopolis on my last day of filming Breaking Dawn. Right at the moment when I thought I was scared of repeating myself and bam! Cronenberg is calling me! It's better than anything I could ever dream of. Now I'm curious to see how the movie is received.
On the contrary, restrict yourself to only independent movies and not doing blockbusters anymore, doesn't that scare you?
RP: Honestly, if I could only play movies like Cosmopolis, it would be amazing. But they're hard to get. To tell you the truth, I'm not really interested by being at the head of big movies. First, it's harder to do: you have 20 people to answer to - in Cosmopolis: just one.
Then, in general, there's one two possible roles in those movies: you're either a teenager who becomes a man, or a teenager who's completely screwed up. when you're barely twenty, it's okay, you're having fun, you discover an incredible world, girls worship you. But it can't last forever.
What did David Cronenberg tell you when he called you?
RP: My agent sent me the script over a year ago but at that time it was Colin Farrell who was attached to the project. I told myself: "Fuuuuuuck, this script rocks! Why can't I be offered something like that? And why do you send me the script if the role is already taken *laughs*?" And one year later, out of nowhere, David calls me: "Hey do you want to do this movie?" I was terrified! The script looked so complex to me. A year before I was dreaming of it and then I felt unable to make a decision. It took me one week to find the courage to call David back.
Did he explain to you why he chose you?
RP: No, never. he didn't even make me audition. When I asked him about it, he told me he had a feeling ... when I told him that I wasn't sure what the movie was about, he replied: "Me neither, we're going to find out together." This is why I'm really curious to see people's reaction, even more so than usual.
Were you familiar with David's work before?
RP: Yes, I saw almost all his movies.
Which ones did you prefer?
RP: Probably Videodrome or Scanners. I like Crash a lot too. It did well in France, right? In England, I remember how people went nuts because of it. They even banned it! Of course, that made everyone wants to see it. When I watch it nowadays, it baffles me that it could have been banned. It's absurd.
Do you think it's your 'vampire' statut that attracted Cronenberg? In Cosmopolis, you play a trader, in a way, traders suck the blood of workers ...
RP: *dubious* Maybe, yes ... We can draw a parallel between capitalism and vampirism but the movie doesn't focus on a character that would want to destroy everything. This guy is looking for something. He saw everything already and wonders what else is there - there HAS to be something else. It's a pretty sad movie in the end. The trader tries to be better but his instincts and urges catch up to him.
Do you feel close to him?
RP: *swaying his head* Mmmyeah .. in a way. Insomuch as he sees something else than what's in front of him. He thinks that the world is not only the world, that there is a level of understanding far more elevated.
You said that the script was complex. The dialogue especially are very literary. Is this the firs time you face something like this?
RP: David was adamant over the respect of the text, down to the last word. I loved the rhythm of lines as soon as I read the script, it was out of the question to damage them. Usually, the script only represent a raw material that needs to sound real when you say it on camera. Here, it was different. To make it sound real wasn't enough for David. He's looking for a level of realism much deeper. It reminded me of theater, which I haven't done in a long time. To spend nights memorizing lines ... ultimately, it's nice and even cathartic: by repeating the words, they almost become mechanical.
Were you familiar with Don DeLillo's work?
RP: I only read Underworld forever ago. For the movie of course, I read Cosmopolis and since then all the others. I'm always asked this question and I don't want to sound stupid *laughs* But it's pretty difficult for me to talk about it. I love his style but I'm not sure I'm smart enough to understand all the range of his ideas.
Are you a big reader?
I read more a few years ago but it's more and more difficult for me now to find the time and concentration necessary to do so.
I heard that you like Michel Houellebecq ...
RP: Absolutely! You know we almost met in Paris? He must have read an interview where I talked about his novels and he called me while I was on a promo tour. But I was scared of meeting him *laughs* I regret it, it could have been nice to have had dinner with him. But I would love to work in an adaptation of one of his novels. What was the last one called?
La carte et le territoire. Did you read it?
RP: Not yet but I read the summary and it would make an amazing movie. All his movies would make great films.
Some were adaptated on the screen except for the last one and Plateforme ...
RP: Ah, I didn't know! Were the movies good?
Extension du domaine et de la lutte, yes, pretty well. I didn't see Les Particules élémentaires, directed by a german. And when it comes to La Possibilité d'une île, that he (Houellebecq) directed himself, it's a really stranger movie, with some beautiful bits and other that are completely failed ...
RP: I'm really curious to see all that. Especially Extension ... my favorite.
What is that attracts you about Houellebecq?
RP: He's described as a cynical novelist but they're completely wrong, just like for Cosmopolis: on the surface, these characters can seem like bad guys but they only try, desperately, to fufill their lives and to end up disappointed every time. This disappointment that animates them, and sometimes destroy them, is full of hope if you're willing to look at it. Martin Amis has a conception/view similar to that. But I'm probably talking nonsense right now, it's been years since I've read them. [he laughs and pour himself coffee again]. Did someone produce Whatever [note: the English title of Extension du domaine de la lutte.] in France? I can't believe it. This is the kind of movie that we can only see in your country. You have a funny view of what is commercial or not, you know that? Cosmopolis: only a French could produce it. [note: Paulo Branco.]
No doubt. It's like those big American filmmakers who have an audience onlmy or mostly in France: Coppola, Ferrera ...
RP: I did an audition for Ferrera one day but I didn't get the role. It was before Twilight. I felt like I accomplished my best performance, I almost broke my arm and he said: 'yeah, okay, not bad.' I left in tears, it was really embarrassing *laughs*! I want to be able to speak French so badly. A lot of things I want to are in French.
Oh really? Like what?
RP: I have a project with Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, who directed Johnny Mad Dog. It's called Mission: Blacklist, a movie about the search and capture of Saddam Hussein. And you know what? He wants to film in Iraq. F*** yeah! Nobody else would have the balls to do that! Everyone wants him to go to Tunisia but he insists: it's happening in Iraq, I'm filming in Iraq. He's right! At least, as long as we don't get kidnapped *laughs*.
Which other French directors would you like to work with?
[without hesitating] Audiard. He's one of my favorites. I'm gonna do everything I can to see his new movie in Cannes.
Is it the first time you're going?
RP: No but I only came to do promotion. You feel kind of like a jerk in those situations, like a living banner. I imagine that when you're in competition, it's a completely different feeling. When I think about it, I tell myself: There, you didn't screw up your life entirely. Cannes ... I can't ever thank David enough for that.
Did you go often to the movies when you were a kid?
RP: Not too much in theaters but I used to love to rent VHS. There were always tons of girls in the aisles of the video store *laughs*. I ended up becoming friends with the owner of the store, a real movie fanatic. I always tried to get R rated movies out of him. I wanted to see violent movies but he would give me movies that were pretty arty. That's how I saw some Cassavetes at 12, some Godard too ... [he pauses for a bit] I want to do a movie with Godard so badly. That's the kind of surreal things I dream about ... That's why I did Twilight *laughs then sighs*!
What kind of childhood did you have?
RP: Pretty boring to be honest. I wanted to be a musician. I did rehearsals, and tiny concerts. That's about it. Later on, I joined a drama club, lots of pretty girls hung there *laughs*. I wanted to stay backstage only, it didn't interest me to play. But one day, I just went for it ...
To impress a girl?
RP: Exactly. I ended up playing in a few plays, an agent saw me and contacted me. It's still her that takes care of me today. The week after, I did an audition to play in Troy with Brad Pitt. I told myself What the f***! At that time I didn't understand at all what I was doing, it took me 6 years to get there.
Does the over exposure surrounding Twilight piss you off? The fact that you're followed all the time by paparazzis?
RP: Your world shrinks all of the sudden and it's unpleasant, yes. But at the same time, you can turn this attention to your advantage. Even if people hate you, they're thinking about you. As a simple spectator, I would maybe tell myself: What the hell is Cronenberg doing with that guy? It only gives me one more reason to fight, to prove myself, to prove them wrong.
I mean that's enough, we're allowed to do shitty things from time to time! *laughs*
Not everything needs to be throwned away in Twilight. The first one was beautiful ...
RP: I agree. I saw it again recently. Catherine [note: Hardwicke, the director] is really talented. She directs and she's an audience member too, the kind that shivers when two characters kiss, and jolts when it's scary ... The first one was beautiful because it surprised: Catherine was in left in peace to film this little movie that no one cared about. the studio took less risks for the following movies. I find the mixture of erotism and prudery really strange. It's hard to do and sort of Cronenbergian. The characters don't have a happy and nice enough relation with bodies. It's really tortured.
What are you working on right now?
RP: I'm going to do a movie about The Band, the one that played with Dylan: a beautiful script about the nature of songwriting. I'm preparing a thriller too, with a beautifully written script too. It doesn't have a director yet. Tons of French diretors are in line to to do. A few years ago, Latin America was where it's happening, it seems it's France turn now ... I'm filming another movie with Cronenberg but i don't know when he wants to start filming. It's going to be his first one in France and he promises it's going to be very strange. The next two or three years are going to be crucial for me. It's now that that everything happens.
You're coming back from Coachella, we saw the pictures online. What did you listen to?
RP: Well, nothing or almost nothing because of the paparazzis. It's really frustrating. All you want is to see a concert peacefully, dance a little, and you all 20 guys taking photos after photos. You feel like a d*** in that case. I managed to see Radiohead ... Beirut, it was pretty good. And I saw a bit of the Justice set. I love their videos.
The one directed by Romain Gavras?
RP: Yes, Stress. Another French that rocks.
Apart from the bands you mentioned, what kind of music do you like?
RP: Not much lately, except for a hip-hop band. Death Grips, it's a mix of rap and techno music. It's pretty hardcore, not what I usually like but they have something, an undefinable genius. A few years back I had a big Van Morrison phase, a real obsession. I listen to Jazz and classical music a lot too. I must be getting old.
I read somewhere that you admired porn actors. Is that true?
I said that? *laughs* I don't remember that but why not. The subject interests me. I've always wanted do to something around this subject. It's one of the most interesting thing happening in our generation, don't you think? Everybody watches it but don't want to say it out loud. It's heavy kind of event and no one wants to write about it. I tried to two years ago but it lead to anything. Did you ever watch the AVN (note: Adult Video News) Awards? It's hilarious. There are so many of these people and they're so proud of what they do ... And when it comes to fighting for freedom of speech, they're the first in line. We can only admire them.
To portray Eric Packer, Cronenberg chose Robert Pattinson, a brilliant idea on both counts. The star actor transition from Twilight to Cosmopolis with an incredible ease, and portray with brilliance this mixture of youth and cruelty, of sex-appeal and decline/decay, of desire and death, and finally of portraying this sickness of 'winning' confined to the morbid pathology that shines out of the movie and symbolizes our time.