In The Rover’s bleak universe, there is virtually no backstory — illustrative of a world in which nothing really matters — and we know little about Robert Pattinson’s Rey other than that he and his older brother (Scoot McNairy) are in a small band of thugs who were violently thwarted during a criminal act we don’t see. An injured Rey has been abandoned for expedience’s sake, which is how he becomes a hostage to Eric (Guy Pearce), whose car has been stolen by Rey’s former friends. (Eric really wants that car back, for a reason that is revealed only in the movie’s final moments.) As Rey, Pattinson plays a “half-wit,” as Eric calls him, a far cry from Twilight’s Edward Cullen, the emo vampire who served as a tweenage fantasy.
The Rover is David Michôd’s second feature as a director, following up on 2010’s lauded, provocative Animal Kingdom. And though it takes place in Australia, where Michôd is from, Rey and his brother inexplicably have American Southern accents. It’s good for Pattinson to sound nothing like Edward, the character that made him famous. Rey starts out fearful — in one scene he folds himself into a fetal position. But he also changes as the movie goes on (to describe would be to spoil). In Variety, Scott Foundas called it a “career-redefining performance” for Pattinson.
In an interview with BuzzFeed this week in Beverly Hills, Pattinson discussed The Rover (which premiered at Cannes last month and comes out in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and will be released nationally next Friday), and his post-Twilight career. And he has been working a lot: In addition to David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, which also premiered at Cannes, he will soon appear in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, Anton Corbijn’s Life, and Olivier Assayas’ Idol’s Eye with Robert De Niro, which has not yet begun filming. As someone who tripped into huge stardom after he was cast in Twilight, and then fell into a viper’s nest of paparazzi as one-half of a tabloid couple while he dated his co-star Kristen Stewart, Pattinson, now 28, described life after Edward as a “process.”
He has now lived a good portion of his life hunted, both by paps and fans, but in person, he is neither brooding nor tortured. Actually, he was quick to laugh. And he seems to have figured out how to live a sane life, if not a normal one.
You do a Southern accent for this movie, as well as a number of vocal and facial tics. Were those as written or did you develop them with David Michôd?
Robert Pattinson: It said he was from the South, but not a specific place. I guess all those sorts of tics and things — it was just quite jerkily written? So when you start saying it out loud, it just ends up coming out in your body.
The Rover seems like it was grueling to make. It looks hot, and there are all those flies. Was it? And was that helpful for the role?
RP: I thought it was really easy. I think the most stressful thing in movies is when the weather is really random. Then everyone is just panicking all the time. But it was just sort of hot all the time. If you were trying to play someone who was clean, then it would be incredibly stressful. To have someone coming in and touching up your makeup every 10 seconds — but you were just sitting in a pile of mud, it doesn’t really make a difference. You could just play in the dirt.
You were wearing the same thing the entire time.
RP: I don’t even think they had doubles of the clothes. It took a long time. We went through hundreds of pairs of jeans. It was mainly about the feel — the way the costume department distressed them. We literally put glue in it to make them sit a certain way. They were, like, thick. But I just kind of knew how I wanted to feel. Also, the T-shirt, I knew from the audition exactly what T-shirt I wanted to wear. The colors and everything.
I want to ask about the scene when you sing along with “Pretty Girl Rock.” It’s out of nowhere, and lovely.
RP: When I got to that part in the script, that was one of the main turning points: Wow, this is completely on another level to most things I’m reading. And so brave as well — doing something that could be completely baffling to people. I thought it was going to be a tiny insert, and when I walked in to do the scene, David’s got this massive push-in on a track that’s like a 100-foot-long track. And just pushing in for almost the entire song. It was kind of great.
It was a sweet moment — you really feel for the character who’s never lived a different kind of life.
RP: He’s never really learned how to think like a normal person. He has no concept of what his decisions will affect, because no decision he’s ever made has ever affected anything before.
Twilight made you a rich movie star and paparazzi target. Now that it’s been almost two years since Breaking Dawn Part 2 came out, how do you look back on the experience?
RP: I knew when I signed up after the first one came out, I knew it was going to be about a 10-year process to really — I’m not sure what! To get to the next plateau. I’ve been extremely lucky as well, but it kind of does seem like there’s little gradations — every year, every job, something happens, and people’s perception changes a little bit. I don’t look back on it being a different part of my life. It’s all one road, really.
A lot of are actors go back and forth between big studio movies and smaller indies. But since Twilight, you seem like you’ve avoided studio films. Is that deliberate?
RP: It hasn’t really come up. Maybe there was a little period after the first Twilight where just because you’re the new thing, you get offered a bunch of big budget things. And nothing really connected with me. But I think my energy and also how people perceive me — I don’t fit too many roles like that. I never played team sports in school, and I think people can tell! As I get older, the parts become a little bit more open. But the young guy parts in big budget movies, you can always tell the guy has played team sports. I hated them.
I was going to ask you whether you feel Twilight has held you back, but now I think I should ask whether or not playing team sports has.
RP: It’s just weird. I think I just gravitate toward loner parts. I feel my emotional reactions to things are quite off a little bit. I remember doing Twilight and Catherine Hardwicke just being, like, “Why are you looking at her like that? You look like you want to kill her.” I’m, like, “I do? That’s, like, a love look!” I try to do things with Cosmopolis and this — it’s an emotional spectrum that’s slightly off. I feel like I can commit to that a little bit more than hit the traditional beats.
You seem very director-focused in your choices.
RP: You try and limit the margin for error as much as you can. Even if you end up doing a shitty movie, but you’ve been working with Herzog or something, you’re not doing a superhero movie that’s supposed to be something completely different. And then if you make a shitty superhero movie, it’s like, what do you expect?
Did you just say that the Werner Herzog movie you’re in, playing T.E. Lawrence, is shitty?
RP: No, not at all! I’m hardly in it anyway.
Oh, is that right? I couldn’t tell.
RP: I was only there for like 10 days. No, I think it’s going to be cool. I saw some of the stuff with Franco and Nicole Kidman that looked really good. It’s insurance. With Michôd, I wanted to work with him for ages. I thought Animal Kingdom was one of the best debuts in the last 10 years.
You have a bunch of movies coming up, but one that jumped out at me was Life, the story of James Dean and Dennis Stock, the photographer. A lot of the parts you’ve taken since Twilight seem to have nothing to do with your life experience — but the idea of photography and a young star does intersect.
RP: It’s funny, I didn’t think about that. What I liked about it was that it was about professional jealousy. It was before James Dean was famous, but obviously he loved having his photo taken. Both of them were super arrogant, and they both think they’re the artist. Dennis was so filled with neuroses and jealous of everything. I didn’t really think about the celebrity aspect of it. I don’t think Dennis ever thought about it. Also, I think afterward, he was pissed that that was his legacy.
I read an interview with you recently in which you said you weren’t sure whether you’ve found your feet yet as an actor. Do you think you ever will?
RP: I don’t know. In some ways, hopefully not. The only thing I deal with every single job is trying to overcome confidence issues. I think in some ways, it’s helped me just having fallen into it, and not really being, like, I need this. That’s when you go crazy and you lose control of your personal life. In some ways, it is very frustrating when I’ll know how to do something in my head, and something inhibits it. It just drives me nuts. I think it’s good when there’s no expectations of the character. And then I’m fine.
What do you do when you find you can’t do something?
RP: It’s just, like, horrible. There was one moment when I was doing Life. I knew exactly how to do this scene. I’d been planning the whole scene for the whole movie. And it just, for whatever reason, it was just not happening. And no one else knows. I’m just, like, losing my mind on the set. Everyone’s so uncomfortable. Also, with a little bit of experience you realize, OK, I’m just going to not let anyone else speak, and deliver each line in about 10 different ways. And hopefully they’ll fix it in the edit! Can you just make my performance for me?
Is it frustrating?
RP: It’s the most horrible thing ever. Especially because most of the time, especially in big emotional scenes, it’s just because you feel like you’re faking it. And you know how not to fake it, but it’s not happening in your body. And there’s nothing you can do. At the end of the day, people watching it half the time can’t tell at all. Or 90% of the time, you can watch a scene you think is the worst scene ever and you’re completely faking it — and no one knows.
I recently reread that Vanity Fair cover story about you from 2011 during which your life seemed pretty unlivable because of the paparazzi. Have things improved at all?
RP: I remember doing that interview, and I thought I was, like, telling jokes. Then the interview comes out and it sounds like I’m about to kill myself.
Oh! Part of it was her commenting on what she observed about what your life was like.
RP: I was, like, How have you observed this? We just sat in someone’s house. Whatever. I guess from an outside perspective, there’s a period of contraction in your life where you have to get used to what feels like your life becoming impossibly smaller. But that was about four years ago. I felt a little funny then. But you realize what you like doing, and suddenly it becomes easier. Some people get OK getting photographed doing their groceries or going out of whatever. I realized I cannot handle that at all. And so, I just don’t go to places where I get photographed. And as soon as I made that decision — don’t worry about it, stop complaining about it — it was a massive weight taken off.
So, there are ways to live your life not being photographed?
RP: Yeah. 100%.
Even here in L.A.?
RP: There are a very limited amount of places you can go. If you go to The Grove, you’ve got to accept something is going to happen.
You can’t go to the Apple Store at The Grove.
RP: I miss that place. Watching the fountains!
So, you like living in Los Angeles? I mean, you could live wherever you want.
RP: I always thought I was going to move back to London, but London’s changed so much since I left. A lot of my friends have left and stuff, or they have families. It’s different. Also, my main interest in my life at the moment is film, and this is the best place to be for film. Also, I like the kind of levity of living here as well. People want to get stuff done — they’re not downers all the time. In a lot of big cities, most people are just, like, Oh, god, it’s impossible. People aren’t like that in L.A. And I really like it.
In that Vanity Fair interview, you said you admired Charlie Sheen —
RP: I did?
I’m sure it was very of the moment! You said you liked that he was a crazy person who doesn’t give a fuck. And in The Hollywood Reporter recently, you talked about being a fan of Harmony Korine’s for what I imagine are the same reasons. Could you not give a fuck if you tried?
RP: I do, in a way. But I don’t want people to hate me. I basically do whatever I want. But one of the aspects of what I want is, I want people to like me!
This interview has been edited and condensed.