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“I like things where the moral compass of a character is quite vague,” Robert Pattinson told me when we sat down at the Savannah Film Festival earlier this month for a public conversation about his life and career. The British actor had come to the fest to collect its Maverick Award in recognition of his breakthrough performance in Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie‘s drama Good Time (which screened before our conversation), and Pattinson was describing what drew him to the part of Connie Nikas, a desperate New York hustler who gets himself and his mentally challenged brother into a heap of trouble and then struggles to get them out of it. For his performance in the film, which he acknowledged was “in a lot of ways against-type” — and, he added with a chuckle, certainly “the opposite of being an English person” — Pattinson has received the best reviews of his career, reportedly came close to winning the best actor prize at May’s Cannes Film Festival and now is in the running for a best actor Oscar nomination.
Good Time marks the latest development in a remarkable reinvention by the 31-year-old, who first came to prominence in five Twilight films, none of which suggested he was a particularly serious or capable actor. In hindsight, though, it’s worth noting that the first Twilight — the one he signed up to do before he became an international sex symbol locked into a multi-film franchise — was directed by indie standout Catherine Hardwicke, made on an indie-size budget and possessed an indie feel. Additionally, between each Twilight installment, he continued to make other films, most of them indies, and since the release of the last Twilight film in 2012, he has worked exclusively on indies, landing jobs with many of the best auteurs out there, including David Cronenberg (twice), Werner Herzog, James Gray, Anton Corbijn, David Michod and now the brothers Safdie — “directors who have a very singular approach, who have a very strict identity,” he says.
Pattinson admitted that he signed on to do the Safdies‘ film without having seen any of their prior films or even a script. The Safdies had made only micro-budget films with non-actors prior to Good Time, but they were gung-ho to make their first “movie movie” when Pattinson reached out to them about collaborating after seeing a still from their 2014 film Heaven Knows What, about which, he said, “There was just something about it that I really loved.” In the end, Benny Safdie decided to play Connie’s mentally challenged brother, and he and Pattinson prepared for the film by corresponding in-character via email. By the time they got on set to shoot the movie, Pattinson was able to improv more freely than ever before, including in scenes that were shot out in public, where he went unrecognized under shabby clothes and heaps of flopsweat. The experience of making Good Time, he says, was a career highlight — not that he is opposed to ever being a part of another film franchise; it’s all about the director, he says, cracking, “If Claire Denis is doing Spider-Man, I’m 100 percent down!”
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