Robert Pattinson is gleaming just as surely as his odd little golden splodge of hair at the front. Today that blond bit is made especially visible by a close crew cut. He's in strikingly chipper form. I'm not sure I was expecting chipper.
Having worked with Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, Anton Corbijn and, as we meet, Claire Denis, Pattinson has blossomed into the one of the most interesting actors of his generation. Still, he has never been the kind of performer you'd confuse with such great, boozy, storytelling carousers as Peter O'Toole.
"How did those guys do it?" Pattinson says. "It's the most amazing thing. How can you operate at that level while simultaneously sabotaging yourself? Have you read that Andre Agassi biography? I can't get over it. So he was still seeded. Around 30th in the world, I think. And he was addicted to crystal meth. And he's also gluing his wig to his head with polymer cement. So he's playing a five-set tennis match. On meth. With a wig cemented to his head. How crazy is that?" He laughs. "I mean, I can't do anything if I'm slightly tired. Or if I've drunk two cups of coffee. After two cups of coffee I'm literally incapacitated."
The best thing about Ireland was seeing Van Morrison play in Cypress Avenue. I've seen him seven times, and twice he has really, really killed it
When we last caught up the artist formerly known as R-Patz was shooting The Lost City of Z in Belfast and had just been declared a total ledge by the media after dropping in on a Co Down wedding reception. He had a great time, he says.
"But the best thing about Ireland was seeing Van Morrison play in Cypress Avenue," Pattison says. "It was my birthday, and he was incredible. I'm a bit obsessed with Van Morrison. I've seen him seven times, and twice he has really, really killed it. But that was really something. Just amazing."
The same production would bring Pattinson to the caiman- and viper-infested waters of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where, in a fit of method madness, he ate live maggots from his beard. “I can’t believe they deleted that scene,” he says.
Did they? Did they really? This isn't one of those patented Pattinson tall tales, is it? Like the time he claimed to have extraordinarily heavy saliva? Or the time he told the Today show that he saw a clown's car explode at his first circus? Or how about last summer, when he told Jimmy Kimmel that he refused to masturbate a dog for his new thriller, Good Time? "Robert Pattinson is our kind of guy (and everyone's who has a heart) for refusing to masturbate a dog," said Lisa Lange of the animal-welfare group Peta, in a laudatory statement.
Except, no. The dog masturbation was also a fib.
“No, there were real live maggots,” he says, grinning.
We’ll leave it at that.
At 31, Pattinson has been through the wringer: fending off hordes of Twi-hards – geddit? – a highly publicised break-up with Kristen Stewart and, if "sources" are to be believed, a second break-up (or possibly a relationship break) with the singer FKA Twigs, his fiancee of three years.
In recent interviews he has spoken about going to therapy, about his mental health and about the years when, to avoid paparazzi, he lived as a recluse in a gated community on Mulholland Drive, in Los Angeles. The Death Row Records founder Suge Knight was his neighbour. Every visit to a shop or restaurant required careful co-ordination of friends, taxis and clothes-swapping in bathrooms. He constantly fantasised about taking off in a camper van. Or so the story goes.
“It’s funny, because I guess there’s this narrative that people want to push,” he says. “There was a period in my life when things were kind of like that. And it’s weird, because things aren’t really like that any more. But because they once were I still think that way. Like I’m still hiding. When I don’t really have to. That’s really embarrassing, isn’t it? I have to check it: ‘Why are you acting crazy? Nobody even knows who you are!’ ”
This is the same Robert Pattinson who, in 2014, had an asteroid named in his honour by the Russian astronomer Timur Kryachko. The same Pattinson who, as Twitter records, earned a notably fan boy back in 2012, when Stewart, his then Twilight costar and girlfriend of four years, was photographed with the director Rupert Sanders. An angered Donald Trump – well before the reality-TV star eyed up the White House – was keen to weigh in. "Robert Pattinson should not take back Kristen Stewart," he tweeted in October 2012. "She cheated on him like a dog & will do it again--just watch. He can do much better!" And five days later: "Everyone knows I am right that Robert Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart. In a couple of years, he will thank me. Be smart, Robert." And three days after that: "Miss Universe 2012 Pageant will be airing live on @nbc & @Telemundo december 19th. Open invite stands for Robert Pattinson."
Pattinson never did take up the offer. Instead of hobnobbing with the future 45th at a beauty pageant, the actor relocated to the relative anonymity of Hackney Downs, in London. “It’s only ever tourists that recognise me,” he says. “Which is weird. It makes you feel like some kind of novelty.”
It's a testament to Pattinson's acting chops that while he was shooting Good Time the actor took a job in a New York car wash, ate at Dunkin' Donuts and took the subway to work. And nobody spotted him.
“We couldn’t have shot the movie the way we did otherwise,” Pattinson says of the frenzied guerrilla production. “It just wouldn’t have been possible. But you know when you see crackheads on the street, and they have that very specific, determined walk? If you are always walking around like that people don’t recognise you. They don’t even want to look at you. I think a lot of the crew were moving like that anyway. We were all operating on two hours a night sleep. Everybody stayed out of our way. And there’s something about fake-diamond earrings. People want to avoid fake-diamond earrings.”
In Good Time Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, a strung-out two-bit Queens-based hoodlum – with fake-diamond earrings – who dreams of robbing a bank with his intellectually disabled younger brother, Nick (played by Benny Safdie), so that they might start a new life together in Virginia.
“He cares, but he doesn’t know how to care,” Pattinson explains. “It’s theoretical for him. He knows he’s supposed to look after his brother. We shot this whole dream sequence when he has made it happen and is looking after his brother on a farm in Virginia. And as I’m describing it you see this disgusting shack and us eating White Castle burgers and Nick throwing up. He wants to be able to love. And he wants to be able to take care of his brother. But, really, he’s a romantic fantasist, and his dreams are other people’s nightmares.”
Inevitably, while taking off in the getaway vehicle, a red-dye pack that has been slipped into the cash bag explodes. The car crashes, the pair leg it, and Nick gets caught, leaving Connie to race around New York in an effort to make the bail money.
I like the parts that have no self-sensor. The ones where you strip everything away and are left with something a bit more primal
Connie doesn't quite stoop to bestiality during the madcap After Hours misadventures that ensue, but he does batter a security guard, snatch from a hospital, and take liberties with both his intellectually disabled girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a 16-year-old girl (Taliah Webster).
“You just let your id do all the work,” Pattinson says, laughing. “It’s funny. I wish I had thought of this earlier as something to say in interviews. But I think that’s what attracts me to parts. I like the parts that have no self-sensor. The ones where you strip everything away and are left with something a bit more primal.”
Even those with a passing interest in cinema can name Werner Herzog or David Cronenberg. And a movieverse hipster would likely be front row and centre for new releases from such recent Pattinson collaborators as David Michôd, with whom he made The Rover, and Brady Corbet, in whose The Childhood of a Leader he appears.
The actor who once adorned bedroom walls as dreamy Cedric Diggory, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has lately wrapped on much darker material with David Zellner, the director of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, and Antonio Campos, who made Simon Killer.
Still, it would require a particularly dedicated film-festival junkie to recognise Benny Safdie and his brother, Josh, the siblings behind Good Time. The independent film-makers have twice taken a bow at the Director's Fortnight sidebar at the Cannes Festival, with The Pleasure of Being Robbed, in 2008, and Daddy Longlegs, in 2009, but had yet to receive any kind of mainstream theatrical distribution when Pattinson happened upon the brothers.
I always end up playing the job that I prepared for last. I've just got my head around a job by the time I've moved on to the next one. Literally, without fail
"I saw a still photo of the actor Arielle Holmes on the banner of Indiewire and I just loved it," Pattinson says, shrugging. "It was from the movie Heaven Knows What, and it was before the trailer came out or anything. I hadn't seen any of the Safdies' work. I just immediately wanted to do something with them. So I got their email. And then, when the trailer for Heaven Knows What did come out, I said: 'I knew it! My instincts were right.' I met them the next day, and they didn't really know what to make of me. They were scratching their heads. 'But you haven't even seen the movie yet?' "
Even before the shoot Pattinson was fully committed to the Safdies' crazed world. He read In the Belly of the Beast – a book of letters from a prisoner, Jack Henry Abbott, to Norman Mailer about the American prison system – wrote letters in character, and watched countless episodes of Cops. It was useful for the next job, he says with a laugh.
“I’ve been thinking about this. I always end up playing the job that I prepared for last. I’ve just got my head around a job by the time I’ve moved on to the next one. Literally, without fail. Maybe I need to make the same film twice.”
Maybe so. But his career plan – write fan letters to favourite artists – seems to be working out in other respects.
“When you start out you have this idea about what acting and movies are supposed to be, and it’s a little box that you’re supposed to fit into,” he says. “Once you refine your tastes, and start working with people who are better at articulating your tastes than you are, you realise that there are no rules whatsoever to this. And you realise that you can do anything. And that’s when it becomes much more fun. I’m not quite there yet. But I occasionally get a glimpse of what it would be like if I can get out of my own way, and get over myself.”
I was shooting for two weeks with a baby before any other actor turned up. I loved that: I got to watch them all arrive and see their brains trying to cope with what's happening
In this spirit the young man who, in an effort to persuade producers to make the films darker, once highlighted all of the moments in the Twilight books when Edward frowned, has just finished shooting High Life with Claire Denis. The film, which features the expertise of the French physicist and black-hole expert Aurélien Barrau, involves criminals on a spaceship, an alternative energy source, and sperm theft. We think.
“I’m not sure if it’s psychosexual or silly sexy,” Pattinson says with a laugh. “A few years ago I would have been really struggling with certain things in the script, because it doesn’t make sense to me. With this that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to make sense to me: it makes sense to somebody else. I just need to trust them and find the music in my piece. I was shooting for two weeks with a baby before any other actor turned up. I loved that. Because I got to watch all the other actors arrive and see their brains trying to cope with what’s happening.” He smiles. “I’ve really started to enjoy acting.”
- Good Time is at cinemas now