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Robert Pattinson reinvents himself in Good Time

Vanity Fair interview by Nicole Sperling

Brooding and aloof, two adjectives often associated with actor Robert Pattinson, are two that do little to currently describe the 31-year old former heartthrob. Rather the face of the Dior Homme fragrance, with the sharp-edged jawline and the intense glare, is an easy laugh and a genuinely good time. It could be because he’s getting the best reviews of his career for his role as a petty thief sporting a hearty batch of grandiose delusions in Josh and Benny Safdie’s aptly titled grind-house actioner Good Time. It could be because the paparazzi have finally left him alone and he’s starring in the films he’s long wanted to do. Or it could be that his life is, quite simply, great. Apparently, even the spirits agree.

A few years ago, Pattinson received a psychic reading from a waitress/medium at a London restaurant who told him that his soul had lived many previous lives and the one he’s currently in was something of a reward for all his past lives’ hardships. “She was like, ‘This life is your soul just having a ride, having fun, just a roller coaster,” said Pattinson during a recent interview at his favorite Los Angeles restaurant that he asked me to keep secret.

“That’s generally how I feel,” he added. “It’s been fucking incredible. I really haven’t had any bad times. I’ve had a cruise from beginning to end.”

Most of that cruising has been done on movie sets. Since he first appeared opposite Reese Witherspoon in Vanity Fair when he was 16 (his scenes were eventually cut from the film) to today, Pattinson has worked consistently, jumping from set to set, including the four years he spent brooding as Edward, the tortured vampire with the sparkly skin and a desperate passion for the forbidden human Bella in Twilight, the series that sent his star power into the stratosphere. We all know how that fairy tale ended. What’s remarkable is that it did little to quell Pattinson’s own passion for the game. Rather, it taught him the importance of having good directors and solidified his quest to seek them out at all costs.

“That’s what film is to me,” Pattinson said of his single-mindedness about filmmakers. “It shows respect for the art form and the lineage of movie-making if you go after the people who influence everyone else.”

Back in 2015, he sent a cold e-mail to the Safdie brothers based on a film still from a yet-to-be-released movie. According to Josh, it read in part: “I’ve seen this still for your film Heaven Knows What, and I feel some type of innate connection toward it. It somehow feels tied to my purpose, and I feel like now you’re tied to my purpose.”

From that note, the brothers met with Pattinson, curious about this insanely famous millennial with no social-media presence who was “being pillaged by the press,” as Josh put it. “He was like a pop martyr, in a weird way.” Josh pitched his idea for Good Time during that first meeting and explained to the actor the brothers’ renegade approach to filmmaking: No trailers for talent. Few rules. We will write this script and get it made in the next eight months. Pattinson was in and thus was born his character, Connie Nikas, a Bronx-born criminal with dreams of springing his special-needs brother, Nick (played by Benny), out of an institution and fleeing to a broken-down farm in Virginia. While Josh and his writing partner Ronald Brownstein wrote the script, Pattinson prepped for the part.

According to Josh, that involved reading the 1,100-page Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, constructing a detailed biography of Connie, and traipsing around New York in character with brother Nick in tow. Pattinson learned how people treated those with special needs, hung out with recently released prisoners, and started writing letters, in character, to his brother. Josh asked him to live in an apartment in Harlem for the entirety of the shoot, a basement pad he described as a “Connie den.” “All he did there was eat tuna (to drop some weight), keep the shades down all the time, and sleep in the outfits Connie wore,” said Josh. “Robert never talks about any of this stuff.”

Pattinson does say that he connected to Connie intuitively, understanding the character’s illogical choices at a base level and never judging what is clearly a mentally unwell person.

“He thinks he’s magical. He thinks he has superpowers,” said Pattinson. “Actually, he’s mentally ill. And really just a bad person in almost every sense.”

Josh agrees that Pattinson’s connection to the material felt cellular. “I think the same person who thinks he can go in and remove his brother from police custody in a hospital is the same person who contacts small independent filmmakers after seeing a still in a movie,” Josh said. “I mean, that is the same person.”

Pattinson’s biggest challenge now seems to be managing the time between film roles, and toggling between homes in London and Los Angeles. The actor has shed much of his belongings in search of a simpler, more open existence. He used to travel with both a security guard and an assistant. Now he flies solo, doesn’t bring much with him as a result, and has become much more open to those around him.

“I just realized it stopped me from talking to everyone. You just end up talking to the people you came with,” Pattinson said, adding with a laugh, “I realized I didn’t need it.”

What he wants now is to maximize the nomadic lifestyle he’s perfected. The problem is he won’t sign on to just any old film anymore. He spent four years cultivating his relationship with famed French filmmaker Claire Denis for the upcoming movie High Life, where he plays a death-row prisoner forced to travel on an exploratory mission in space. He traveled to Morocco for nine days to seek out Werner Herzog on the 2015 Nicole Kidman-starrer Queen of the Desert. Next, he will star opposite Mark Rylance in Columbian filmmaker Ciro Guerra’s (Embrace of the Serpent) movie Waiting for the Barbarians.

“I think you have to have a reason to commit. I don’t just want to be filming stuff if I don’t understand the point,” Pattionson said. “It just makes me kind of sad.”

This new strategy has paid off. Pattinson admits he was surprised by the headlines out of Cannes this spring when Good Time debuted. Most included the word “reinvention” to refer to his career, a feat he thought he’d accomplished back in 2012 when he commanded the back seat of a limousine in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis shortly after completing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. But he’s not opposed to the characterization. “I thought I already did [the reinvention],” he said. “But that’s cool. If I can get a reinvention headline every couple of years, that’s kind of what I’m trying to do.”

Vanity Fair interview 11.17.17