Most movie junket interviews do not have hordes of paparazzi and two burly security guards standing outside them. Then again, most junket interviews do not feature a subject who is currently in the midst of a tabloid scandal. Unfortunately, this is where Robert Pattinson finds himself right now, as he attempts to promote his new movie, “Cosmopolis.”
Thankfully, if anyone can handle the pressure, Pattinson can. Case in point: when I sat down with him and “Cosmopolis” director David Cronenberg, the 26-year-old “Twilight” star was relaxed, as he discussed his new film and its decidedly more adult tone. The movie, based on the Don DeLillo book of the same name, follows Eric (Pattinson), a billionaire asset manager who takes a ride across town in a limousine to get a haircut. Along the way, he deals with financial loss, random sexual encounters and an angry anti-capitalist, Occupy-esque crowd.
Here, Pattinson and Cronenberg talk about the fandom surrounding “Cosmopolis,” the movie’s stance against one-percenters and what it’s like filming an extended prostate exam in front of the camera.
Considering the anti-capitalist bent in this film, I thought it was ironic that you two were ringing the bell of the NYSE this morning.
David Cronenberg: It was a much more surreal experience than I thought it was going to be. I thought, Yeah, we’re visiting the scene of the crime now, and it’s going to be kind of cathartic to ring the alarm bell.
Robert Pattinson: I am curious to know if anyone had actually seen the movie or had any idea what it was about.
DC: Yeah! And [people there] seemed so excited about the movie and so excited about us and were very sweet and friendly. Yet it’s such a completely different world. It’s so familiar to them. I think they think everybody knows all about what they do. And I think the infamy and fame of stock traders and fraud only enhances the idea for them, that everybody knows what’s going on. But once you’re there you realize “Oh my god. I don’t understand anything at all.” But it was a very interesting, and I would say ironic [opportunity]. To use that moment, ringing the bell to open the Stock Exchange, for “Cosmopolis,” it was very strange. Were we selling out? I don’t know [laughs]. They gave us little medals!
Rob, you mentioned on “The Daily Show” about how “Cosmopolis” is almost physically impossible to explain to people. So how do you explain it to yourself? Can you even explain it?
RP: The last interview [I did], I just started projecting things. I literally just used that as therapy sessions [laughs]. I didn’t really know what I was talking about.
DC: I was in shock! I never heard him say those things.
RP: [Laughs] I just [realized] that the movie was about things that I’ve said it’s not about. So I have no idea what I am talking about. It’s funny, my initial thought about [the film] was that the script was funny. It’s kind of a sad comedy. The first time I watched the movie, I was shocked by how sad it was. And then you start promoting [the film], and everyone else is saying it’s about capitalism [and] has all these deeper meanings, so then you start following that road. Then I [say to myself] “Interesting, that’s interesting. I should talk about it in an interesting way.” I mean, I always knew it was interesting but you kind of…It’s like looking at a rock. It can be anything.
It is a bit of a sad comedy. There’s a lot of a dark humor in this. For instance, let’s talk about that prostate scene. Obviously you didn’t actually get one, but…
RP: [They used] Three fingers!
[Laughs] I respect your method acting approach.
RP: See, for this film I didn’t learn anything about [stock] traders. I didn’t have a single thought about it the entire time. I didn’t even really know anything about Occupy Wall St. When we were doing the riot scene [where protesters crowd the car and start shaking it] I wasn’t thinking it had anything to do with capitalism.
DC: Well really, in a way, Rob is approaching the character the way the character thinks of himself. The character thinks, rather than the actors think. That is, he’s just living his life, doing the thing that he does. It’s like the way most people live their live: they don’t think of themselves as a character who has meaning in a plot.
Yeah, so Eric would be completely oblivious of the Occupy movement going on outside.
DC: Yes, he is. As he says, “Two hours ago, an international movement. Now, what? Forgotten.”
RP: That was one of the scariest things as well, when we were shooting that scene. It was kind of frightening on the first take. There were like two hundred actors really pushing the car around. But [inside the car] you realize how easy it is for Eric to ignore it. We were literally playing a scene inside [the car during a riot]. If you’re in an armoured car, you could just totally ignore the madness and mayhem outside. It doesn’t make any difference to you. It was kind of frightening to think about afterwards … how [the protesters] think they’re doing something impactful and significant, but they’re really not.
DC: Well, you know, you go to the New York Stock Exchange, and there are checkpoints. You can’t just drive your car there anymore. They said before 9/11, there were tours. Anybody could go into the Stock Exchange and see every part of it, but not anymore. But there they are, trading away, happy and smiling nonetheless. It’s very similar to Eric and his limo.
Other than the anti-capitalist bent, one of the other things I took away from this film is Paul Giamatti is still unbelievably talented.
RP: I was kind of terrified about every single [scene], because I would shoot with everyone for about three days, and me and Paul’s stuff was the last bit. But having these independent chunks, you kind of stay in a state of perpetual nervousness right up until the end, when I had this huge scene with [him]. Paul was luckily just as terrified as I was. Basically, I had no idea what was going to happen. But it’s really funny, that scene, we were playing it for laughs. It’s weird. The bit, where [Paul] is doing the thing about the women’s shoes and stuff, I’ve never really been in a scene where I literally started watching it, like I was watching a movie. It was so great. I didn’t even see the camera. I was literally just watching him, completely out of the scene. I kept forgetting to say my line. I mean, I think it’s one of the best things he’s ever done. I couldn’t even talk to him about it when we were doing it, because I knew if I started kissing his ass about doing it, I wouldn’t be able to come to work the next day. I thought he was amazing.
Let’s talk about that scene where you’re getting your hair cut and you leave halfway through. For the rest of the film, you have sort of a sawed-off look on your head. How long did you have that for outside the movie?
RP: I had it for ages! I liked it. The scary thing was, to get it shown on film, you needed to show scalp, and so [the actor] was cutting so close.
DC: And he is an actor, not a barber. And he was cutting the hair.
Rob, now that you have been in a David Cronenberg movie, do you have a better understanding of his films? Like, could you now fully explain to me what “Videodrome” is about?
RP: It’s funny that you say “Videodrome.” Because I’ve read a lot of ["Cosmopolis"] reviews, and they’re like “It’s a return to form, [like] “eXistenZ.” And I am like, “No, it isn’t.” Obviously it’s much closer to “Videodrome.” This is going to sound ridiculous now, but I found “Videodrome” to be more a sort of mystical understanding. “eXistenZ” had a much more basis in reality, and “Videodrome” is kind of like Describe a dream,. Most people don’t find other people’s dreams interesting. But sometimes, if you know the person, it’s kind of interesting. I find listening to people’s [dreams] interesting, even if I don’t know them. I also like reading their diaries [laughs].
But yeah, in terms of understanding it, I don’t know. I mean, I get weird things. I am an expert at reading things wrong. I will take the opposite interpretation, even when something is blatantly obvious, especially with scripts. The amount of times I’ve gone into an audition for something, I will be like, “The guy’s the bad guy, right?” And they’re like, no, it’s “The Notebook” [laughs].
Was Rob wrong about “Videodrome” or did he get it right?
DC: I have no idea what he was saying [laughs].
DC: So I guess that’s pretty accurate.
I can sort of see the comparison between those movies, although “Cosmopolis” doesn’t necessarily have that TV-is-taking-over-real-life feel.
DC: Well there are screens in the limo — more sophisticated screens. But also, in the limo, the City becomes a screen. Through the windows of the limo, the city is a virtual city. It might as well be a CG — in fact, as it turns out, it was — generated city. And for Eric, he creates that, and “Videodrome” is touching on that stuff.
Is it a bit odd having all the fanfare surrounding this movie? Have you ever had that with past films?
DC: Well, I have had it [in the past]. I had Jude Law, and he was pretty hot at the time; he was up and coming. He hadn’t had sort of a “Twilight”-type success, but he had a lot of fans. So I’ve worked with some pretty high profiles. Viggo after “Lord of the Rings,” he had a pretty big fanbase. All it has to do with is getting your movie financed, so it’s very pragmatic to me. You need an actor who has enough star power to get your movie financed. And the more expensive the movie, the more the star power is required. But after that, it’s irrelevant. Do I know if Aragorn fans will want to see “A History of Violence”? Aragorn is not in it. Viggo’s in it, and if you’re a Viggo fan, you will want to see it. It’s the same with this. It’s not Edward Cullen, so if that’s who you are a fan of, then this is not your movie. But if you’re interested in Rob, then this is a must-see. And to me, that’s all it is. Because once we’re on a set making a movie, we’re in our own bubble, we’re in our own limo, and we love it. Nobody us around, just the crew, the actors. We’re making a movie, and it’s a wonderful moment.