Robert Pattinson. There were plenty of people who were a little surprised when you picked him for the role, but I have to say he gives a really sublime performance. You knew what you were doing, clearly — so what was it that drew you to Robert?
Cronenberg: Well, casting always starts in a very pragmatic way. It’s, “Is this guy the right age for the character?” “Does he have the right sort of physique, the right screen presence?” “Is he available, and if so, can you afford him? Does he want to do it?” You know, all of those things. But then you do your homework as a director, more specifically, and you watch stuff. I watched Little Ashes, in which Rob plays a young Salvador Dali; I watched Remember Me; I watched the first Twilight movie. And I watched — interestingly enough, I suppose, because people wouldn’t expect it — but you watch interviews with the guy on YouTube, you know. I want to get an idea of his sense of humor, his sense of himself, the way he handles himself, his intelligence — all of those things you can’t really tell from watching an actor play a role in a movie. I suppose in the old days you meet the guy and hang out, and go to a bar or whatever — [laughs] — but these days nobody has time for that, or the money, and so you do it some other way. And once I’d done all that stuff, I thought, This is the guy I want. I thought, He’d be terrific and I actually think he’s a very underrated actor — and it would be my pleasure to prove that by casting him.
I think a lot of people will share that opinion after seeing the film. Was he difficult to get? I mean, he’s clearly up for it, based on his performance, but how do you go about getting Robert Pattinson?
Cronenberg: Basically, I wrote the script before I went into production on A Dangerous Method, so Rob got the script about a year before we were really shooting. He’s a very down to earth guy, and he was surprised that anybody would want him. [Laughs] It sounds odd, I know. Of course, he knows that his name adds value because of his star power, but he knew my movies, and he knew I was a serious director, and I think he was nervous, you know — I think he was afraid, because he knew it was good. He immediately loved the script, especially because he thought it was very funny — and the movie is funny; a lot of people maybe don’t see that the first time around — and the script was funny as well. But also he had seen enough of the now conventional stuff that he gets offered to see how different this was, and how it stood out — and the quality of Don’s writing, because the dialogue is really 100 per cent from the novel.
So I really had to convince him that I knew he was the right guy and that he could do it. And you’d be very surprised that a lot of actors, and very experienced ones, too — not just young ones — they worry that they don’t want to wreck your movie. They don’t want to be the bad thing in your movie that brings it down. They need to be convinced that they’re good enough, especially if they know it’s good. He said — and I know this ’cause of interviews that we’ve done together, and I hear him saying these things — that usually the dialogue is so bad that you, the actor, figure that you are responsible for trying to make it interesting, just by the way you spin it. But in this case the dialogue was great, and it’s a completely reversed worry: “Am I good enough to get the best out of this?” So it took me about 10 days, and Rob said he was afraid to call me back because he’s used to bullshitting directors, like all actors do — but because I’d written the script he couldn’t do that with me. [Laughs] You know, actors can really tie themselves in knots, when really he just should’ve said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”
Was there a point during shooting where he realized, “Hey, I am good enough for this,” or did you have to encourage him constantly?
Cronenberg: No, it’s not like he’s so insecure or anything like that. I never saw any of that on the set. I know he was constantly checking himself out and wondering if it was good, but I didn’t feel that he needed an inordinate amount of that kind of encouragement, really. We just did it. He could tell. The best way for an actor to tell, ultimately, is that it wasn’t long before we were just doing one or two takes of everything — and that means the actor knows it’s working.
Well it appears that you’ve started something of a trend now David, because Werner Herzog has just cast him in his next film.
Cronenberg: Well that pleases me no end, and I think that obviously this is what Rob needs. They just need to see that he’s really, really good and really, really subtle; and that he can do a lot of different stuff. Once you break through that barrier then I think there’ll be no turning back.
He only seems to connect with people on a very primal, and often violent, level — be it sex, murder… or getting a haircut. That seems to be the only way in which he can cut through all the other stuff. Is that him devolving, his desire for self-destruction?
Cronenberg: Yeah, well I think that during the course of this day… and he does say, at the end, to the Paul Giamatti character [Benno Levin], “I think my life has changed during the course of this day” — and it really has. He’s going to get a haircut, but he’s really also going to get a haircut from the barber who first cut his hair when he was a little kid, and used to cut his father’s hair, and I think the suggestion is that he is trying to deconstruct his present life so that he can go back to his origins and perhaps reassemble it in a different way. But that doesn’t quite work. It doesn’t quite gel. I think when he’s sitting in the barber’s chair, certainly at the beginning, he is like a child. That’s the lovely thing about Rob’s performance, you really see the vulnerability; underneath it all there’s this kind of childlike sweetness there for a moment or two. It’s a very beautifully layered performance. But that’s not working — and the current Eric Packer takes over. He has to do extreme things to be able to feel anything and to be able to feel excitement and to feel alive. So that’s what leads him to the end scene with Paul Giamatti.
There’s a really magic shot in the film — perhaps my favorite moment in his performance, also — when he’s stumbling down the alley with the gun, and he’s looking for Paul Giamatti, and there’s this particular look that comes over his face in that one moment and you can see his derangement. It was really wonderfully played.
Cronenberg: Yeah, it was beautiful. It was the only take that Rob did exactly that on, and I thought, Well that’s the take. It was unexpected. I mean, Rob was constantly surprising me, I have to tell you, with things like that. Lovely, lovely things that were spontaneous but dead-on.