Sometimes all it takes is a photo.
Robert Pattinson hadn't known much about the colorful New York street-auteurs Josh and Benny Safdie when he saw a promotional image ahead of the release of their 2014 drama "Heaven Knows What." But the image, focusing on desperate heroin addicts, spoke to the former Edward Cullen.
"I just had a really good feeling about the photo, strange as that sounds," Pattinson recalled in an interview. "I got in contact with them through a friend, and I left the meeting and it was, like, 'I think I'm going to do something with these guys.'"
That something would become "Good Time," a story of a street hustler named Connie trying to break his brother out of jail; the film opened Friday. The Safdies wrote the script specifically for Pattinson after that meeting, then worked with him on everything from a New York accent to body movement to shape the loose-limbed, hungry-eyed performance that has earned him raves from The Times and others.
What Pattinson was drawn to, and what "Good Time" exhibits," is an authentic and streetwise approach in which hardcore real-life experience blends seamlessly with filmmaker invention. The Safdies, for instance, cast Pattinson opposite real-life figures who have only recently become actors.
Among them is Buddy Duress, a former addict and convict who's mainly been in Safdie movies. Was that difficult for someone like Pattinson, who's worked opposite the likes of Guy Pearce and Kristen Stewart?
"Everybody is playing a part in their life," the star said. "It would seem hard, but if you find someone who's very vibrant and has a life that's very social and innately dramatic, like Buddy does, it actually can be easier. All you're looking for as an actor are impetuses, things to be inspired by, and someone like Buddy provides so many of that through their energy."
With "Good Time," Pattinson continues a professional reinvention that has also taken him to collaborations with the likes of David Cronenberg, David Michôd and, shortly, Claire Denis.
For all the paces they put him through, though, it's unlikely those filmmakers took him on prison visits.
Yes, the former "Twilight" pinup walked through New York jails to research his new role, talking to inmates and wardens to learn about the real-life experience of those people. He conducted these visits in character as Connie.
Josh Safdie said in an interview that Pattinson did this so as not be recognized for his signature vampire role. Asked if he really thought there were a lot of Twihards in the clink, Pattinson laughed and said, "Maybe!" Then he added, "I just wanted to look as inconspicuous as possible. I love the Safdies' style, and I knew that in order to get the most out of it I'd have to assimilate myself as much as possible."
It didn't necessarily work as well as he thought. Even as he went through jails wearing Connie's dark clothes, facial hair and a felon's wolfish expression, the prisoners weren't buying it.
"I thought I was convincing. And then one of the inmates said to me, 'What are doing in here? Is it for a scared-straight program?' I wasn't convincing anyone."
Still, Pattinson got so deep into his Connie research that at one point some of his "Good Time" collaborators had a better idea for him than simple prison tours.
"I wanted to stay in prison so much," he said. "Eventually it got to the point where one of the producers said, 'You know, there's a better way. Why don't you just get yourself arrested?'"