Of course everybody wants to ask you about your star, who unfortunately has decided not to join us today. I guess he has his reasons. How and why did you wind up casting Robert Pattinson?
Well, it begins in a very pragmatic way. You get a list of 10 people from various producers and agents, and you start with the basics. How old is this character, and how old is the actor? This character is young, his age is given as 28. So that’s where you start. Does he feel like the right guy? Eric talks about working out a lot and is very physical, so you’re not going to cast someone who’s overweight. It’s simple stuff like that to begin with. And then you get to the pragmatics: How big is your budget and what kind of star power do you need to get the movie financed?
And here’s something people don’t think about, which is the passport of the actor. This is a Canada-France co-production, so you’re really restricted in the number of Americans you can use. There’s only one American in this movie, even though it’s set in New York, and that’s Paul. So the fact that Rob is British helps, because he can fit into the co-production thing. So that’s the long way round, and ultimately you get to: Does the guy have the chops and charisma to hold the movie together? Because this character is in every scene of the movie, without exception, and that’s very unusual, even for a star.
So I looked at everything I could find that Rob had done, including “Little Ashes,” where he plays the young Salvador Dali, and I thought, yeah, he could really do this. And I think he’s actually extraordinary. It’s ultimately intuition on my part, and casting is a huge part of directing that’s very invisible. Making-of documentaries don’t usually cover the casting process, but for a director it’s a hugely important part of your art. Juggling all those other balls that I was just talking about, and still coming up with the right guy.
I realize I’d be better off asking him that question, but do you think Rob is eager to change his image after “Twilight,” and push into doing different kinds of characters? After this role, and playing a sadistic sociopath in “Bel Ami,” it certainly looks that way.
Well, I know from doing interviews with him in Europe that he’s not really thinking in terms of his career. He gets offered a lot of stuff, and it’s usually very conventional, boring stuff. He’s always been interested in doing unusual stuff. He’ll tell you that when they started with “Twilight,” he thought it was kind of an indie film. Which it sort of was, you know! It had Catherine Hardwicke as the original director, and it was an unusual, off-kilter vampire story. Nobody knew that it would be the kind of mainstream success that it became.
In a way, “Cosmopolis” is a lot closer to his heart than “Twilight,” you know. When he read it, he told me that he was also struck by the dialogue. He thought it was incredibly fresh and new and surprising and engaging, and he immediately wanted to do it. He was afraid, because I think he still hasn’t come to terms with the fact that he’s actually an actor! He didn’t grow up thinking he wanted to be an actor. As with many actors, and not just young, inexperienced ones, he wasn’t sure he was good enough! He wasn’t sure he was the right guy, and he didn’t want to be the guy who would bring down this terrific project. So my job, at that point, was to convince him that he was indeed the right guy. That took me about 10 days, I suppose.
Are you telling me that you have actually watched the “Twilight” movies? That’s a bit hard to imagine.
Yeah — or no, I watched about one and a half of them. I’m interested in everything, frankly. I’m not a snob, you know. I really am curious about everything. If something’s hugely popular, it doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to look at it, but sometimes I’m curious as to why something is really popular, let’s say. In the case of “Twilight,” I was watching it for Rob, that was the thing. It’s not like – I mean, I hadn’t seen them before that.