The five blockbuster “Twilight” films aren’t fondly remembered as an actor’s showcase, but since saying goodbye to the franchise that made them into overnight superstars, both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart have proved their worth as performers by taking on challenging fare not tailored for the Twihards of the world.
This was especially obvious at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where the duo were both on hand in support of what many deemed the best performances of their respective careers. For Stewart, that was as an assistant to an actress in Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria.” For Pattinson, it was as Rey, a socially awkward American struggling to stay alive in the Australian outback in David Michôd’s grim follow-up to “Animal Kingdom.”
With “The Rover” opening in select theaters on June 13, Indiewire spoke with Pattinson about this challenging post-apocalyptic role.
David said he put you through the “wringer” during your three hour audition for the part. What did he make you do?
I mean, he did it at his house in LA. I don’t know, it was kind of, it was slightly nerve-wracking. I always get incredible anxiety attacks when I audition. I try to avoid them at all costs. But I loved the script so much. I had an idea of how to do it as soon as I read it.
[The audition] was just long. Normally you do two takes in an audition and that’s that. I think that’s why I’ve always messed them up over the years… I also had a really good actor reading with me as well, which helps. But yeah, I mean, it wasn’t like it was grueling or anything. It was quite exhilarating. You could tell that David was great even in the audition. I would have almost been happy not getting it. It was a great experience just doing the audition.
You obviously sold him on your interpretation of the character. What specifically was it about Rey that clicked with you?
I really like the structure of the character. There’s basically only two long dialogue scenes where he reveals anything about himself, when he’s not under total duress. But I really like having these incredibly dense dialogue scenes that are filled with subtext. Even the rhythm and the cadence of his speech reveals a lot, and it’s put in the context of a sort of stark story, where people don’t really speak in any other scene. It just allowed you to do tons with the character. It was so loose. That really appealed to me.
Rey speaks in a really specific halting manner. Was that all in the script, or was that something you brought to the character?
Sort of [laughs]. I remember reading it the first few times… It didn’t even say which state he was from. It just said the South in America. I kept saying to David, “I think there are some Australian accents in the Southern.” Australian speech is very staccato and clipped. And Southern is kind of lilting and wistful traditionally. I think that’s what created the halting thing. But that’s just how it read in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of repetition in the script — just to make repetition engaging, you have to figure out something weird to do with it instead of just repeating yourself.
My favorite scene in the film is also its most unexpected, when you break out into song, singing along to Keri Hilson’s feel-good “Pretty Girl Rock.” Did you have any say in the choice of song?
I think it was originally the Pussycat Dolls song, “Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?” I remember reading that in the script and thinking, “That’s incredible.” Then they found the Keri Hilson thing and it was the absolute perfect choice of song for it. I sing basically the whole song. I thought it was kind of genius.
You sing the track with complete conviction, which I found oddly touching in a way.
I liked the idea of this guy who’s just about to make probably the biggest decision of his life, as a normal film moment. He’s deep in concentration but there’s nothing going on. I kept thinking about that moment in “The Simpsons,” where you see what’s going on inside Homer’s head — the organ grinding monkey [laughs]. I kept thinking it was kind of that moment.
The film is so bleak and unforgiving. It looks like it must have been hell to shoot. Was it?
Oh, no! It was literally one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever done. That always seems to happen when you’re doing something that’s incredibly depressing. It was one of the most fun characters to play as well. You’re so free to do almost anything that you don’t even know what you’re doing to do when you turn up to work. It was quite exciting. Also I hadn’t done a movie in a long time where the whole crew is there with you. It’s such a different environment when you’re working like that. It’s like camping. I thought it was really fun.
You’ve worked with David Cronenberg twice now, and have upcoming projects with Werner Herzog and Oliver Assayas. Are you drawn more to the director rather than the character you’ll be playing?
It’s a bit of both. It also kind of depends on the size of the part. Most of the parts I’m playing in the last few things are supporting roles. In the Herzog movie I was just working for ten days or something. When you’re doing a lead in something, you obviously have to think about if you can do it, for one thing, or if you can add something to it. But I think it was just that after working with Cronenberg, it’s working with really ambitious, confident filmmakers. I’ve got a checklist of directors I want to work with and a lot of the time I’ll do anything in their movies. But it’s not just kind of willy-nilly, I’ll do any movie. I do think about it a little bit. [Laughs]