After making his name with “Twilight,” Robert Pattinson now capitalizes on his global bankability by chasing distinctive character roles and indie auteurs. This time it’s Josh and Benny Safdie’s Cannes Competition entry “Good Time” (A24, August 11) as he takes on the canny older brother who looks out for his impulsive, hulking sibling (Benny Safdie).
Pattinson has his picks of indie projects. He’s set to star in “Parrots of Summer,” the upcoming film from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ciro Guerra (“Embrace of the Serpent”) as well as another film with David Michôd, with whom he worked on “The Rover.” In the can is “Damsel,” a Zellner brothers western with Mia Wasikowska, which is seeking distribution; coming up are movies with French filmmaker Claire Denis (father-daughter space drama “High Life”) and “Christine” director Antonio Campos.
After discovering a photo for the Safdies’ Venice Film Festival premiere “Heaven Knows What” on IndieWire, Pattinson told the Cannes press corps, he checked out the trailer and the movie. When he liked what he saw, he let the directors know he wanted to work with them.
The brothers, who debuted their first film “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” at the Directors’ Fortnight, showed Pattinson the script for “Good Time,” their first stab at an existential genre movie. The actor signed on to play a revved-up New York bank robber trying to raise bail to release his slow-minded brother from Rikers, knowing that he won’t last long there.
The directors were amazed by Pattinson’s worth ethic and “openness,” said Benny, who auditioned for the brother role. “He said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want,’ and he met that.”
Pattinson said he spent a year preparing for this amoral role, recognizing when he arrived in New York two months early that he was an outsider among a cast and crew of New Yorkers, including real-life ex-con Buddy Duress (“Heaven Knows What”), who joins him on his intense overnight quest.
“I felt so separate,” Pattinson said. His bank robber “doesn’t care about anything, but when he’s pushed up against the wall and forced to care about someone, the character is a conduit for a lot of different people’s energies.”
Unlike Duress, “Rob couldn’t pull from the entire life of his character,” said Josh Safdie. So the filmmakers and Pattinson created an organic process for creating “detailed biographies from minute one of birth to minute one of the film. When you become that obsessive… these things end up bleeding into the film.” They thoroughly researched New York area prisons, hospitals and psychiatric clinics.
“A lot of their casting seems to be street casting,” said Pattinson. “I always wanted to be street cast!”
As they shot 18-hour days running and gunning the 35 mm movie guerilla-style on New York locations, Pattinson was worried about being spotted by paparazzi. “I was trying to disappear and be a ghost in the crowd,” he said. “Not a single person saw me, even when we shot during rush hour on the subway.”