It’s Day 3 of the Robert Pattinson publicity tour, an event marked by widespread curiosity about … well … you know.
Yesterday, he was given ice cream on “The Daily Show” as a setup for Jon Stewart’s humorous effort to dish with him about relationship breakups. This morning, it was George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” who offered him breakfast cereal.
Is the 26-year-old actor tired of getting media food bribes? “Food bribes,” he repeats rather quizzically. “Oh yeah, I got offered some Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal this morning. I don’t even know (why). I haven’t had Cinnamon Toast Crunch for about six years. I actually ate some french fries just before these interviews. I had a carbohydrate O.D.”
The pleasant British chap talking on the phone could be any hot young star promoting a movie. Except that he’s not just anyone. He’s RPattz, the hunk from the phenomenally successful “Twilight” films who’s making his first public forays since his long-rumored girlfriend and “Twilight” costar Kristen Stewart made their relationship official. With a public apology to him. After some photos surfaced of her dalliance with her “Snow White and the Huntsman” director. Which caused an online/celebrity media frenzy approaching the level of the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes split.
Awkward! Only Pattinson is handling it about as well as anyone could. He’s already made it clear on his TV appearances that he isn’t going to discuss such personal matters.
During this interview, he politely deflects a question about the comparisons between the movie’s strange world and the weird celebrity-driven culture that surrounds him. “I don’t know if our culture is celebrity-driven at all,” he says. “I think it just drives itself.”
He sounds quite levelheaded and likable as he talks about “Cosmopolis,” his new movie opening Friday in metro Detroit. The unusual film is loaded with metaphors and big statements on capitalism, technology, wealth, fear, paranoia, ambition and emotional isolation. But its leading man seems refreshingly uncomplicated.
“It’s a guy who’s having a strange day,” he says with a laugh in what could be the understatement of the month.
Directed by David Cronenberg, a modern master of weird cinematic think pieces, “Cosmopolis” explores where society is going — or the rather bleak place it already may have arrived. Drenched with elaborate, almost free-verse dialogue, it gives Pattinson an opportunity to veer as far as possible from the mainstream romantic melodrama of “Twilight.”
The action centers on Eric Packer, a young king of Wall Street whose billion-dollar empire is crumbling with the shifting sands of monetary exchange rates. As Eric spends most of the day riding around in a limousine, he meets with employees, watches angry protests erupting in the streets and, yes, has a medical checkup inside his limo that includes a prostate exam.
The screenplay by Cronenberg is based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo, an author who, like Cronenberg, is known for intellectually hefty, psychologically jarring material. Long before the Occupy Wall Street movement, DeLillo saw the growing divide between the 99% and the financial tycoons who make money by moving money around.
Although “Cosmopolis” has a chilly, otherworldly feel to it, Cronenberg, who is joining Pattinson for interviews, doesn’t think it’s that removed from the world we live in. “Don (DeLillo) really had his finger on the pulse of what was happening at the time and it’s just emerged more clearly now,” he says. “I don’t think it’s futuristic at all. I think it’s actually pretty strangely accurate.”
On this particular week, Pattinson has been generating megawatts of promotion for the sort of film that normally would have to compete mightily for attention.
Even without the current gossip frenzy, Pattinson’s “Twilight” fame — the final installment, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2″ opens Nov. 16 — has put him constantly in the public eye over the past few years. He’s been using that cachet to take challenging roles in smaller films and work with directors he admires. He’s reportedly set to star next in Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” as T.E. Lawrence — the British figure played by Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Pattinson has an easy explanation for why he wanted to work with Cronenberg. “My main thing is that David is consistently good,” he says. “There are very, very few people who have been good twice in a row, let alone for a long time, and very few people who have been good once.”
For Cronenberg, casting the role of Eric Packer was critical, “because this character is in absolutely every scene in the movie, without exception, so you’ve got to get the right guy. It is a case of even beyond the norm, that if you miscast it, you’ve killed your movie.”
To prepare for “Cosmopolis,” Pattinson concentrated on the screenplay. “When I first read it, I really, really just enjoyed the cadence and the rhythm in the writing. I wanted to read it out loud as soon as I started reading it.”
Cronenberg says he was surprised, “in a great way,” by his leading man every day, noting that Pattinson brought subtleties and nuances to the character and shifted from vulnerable and soft to hard, cold and crystalline at unexpected times.
“I loved the way that he was very attentive and very sensitive to what the other actors were doing, which meant that his performance would become very, very modulated and subtle and curvy and have many twists and turns to it.”
The bizarre world of “Cosmopolis” is familiar territory for Cronenberg, whose films include 1988′s “Dead Ringers,” a thriller about twin gynecologists played by Jeremy Irons, and 1986′s “The Fly,” the remake with Jeff Goldblum that spared no ickiness in showing how a man morphs into an insect. But Cronenberg speaks more like a wise professor than an eccentric artist.
“We had a lot of laughs,” the director says of making “Cosmopolis,” which was shot in about a month in Toronto. “It was a lot of fun. Making a movie, when it works, when you’ve got the right people, is a lot of fun. It’s like child’s play, literally, in the best sense.”
And Pattinson, far from being the brooding figure of his sparkly vampire alter ego Edward Cullen, or having the jaded, melancholy arrogance of Eric Packer, comes across as someone at a healthy remove from his own fame and the darker themes of “Cosmopolis.”
“I think the movie’s really funny. My initial thought about it was how funny it was. It was hilarious, the script. It was a really very light set. It wasn’t like making a — I can’t even think of a director who’s very somber — a Tarkovsky movie,” he says, citing the stark style of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
As Pattinson approaches life after “Twilight,” he sounds ready for new challenges. He has no problem distinguishing projects that want him on board as an actor from those that just want his marquee value. “It’s generally pretty obvious,” he says. “If it’s purely for financing, you can tell in two seconds. And really, only bad directors want that, or people who just don’t care about what they’re making.”
He’s clear about how he makes his career choices. “You pick things for a lot of different reasons,” he says. “But one thing I like doing is … things that are not really provided for in the film marketplace. I like the idea of trying to contribute in some way.”
So it helps if a project isn’t so marketable? Says Pattinson with a laugh, “Generally, the less marketable, the better for me.”