A little over 10 years ago, I met Robert Pattinson on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., on the set of the first “Twilight” movie. He was barely a celebrity then, just a low-key British actor seemingly happy to shoot the breeze with a random journalist visiting the set during an exceedingly long smoke break.
At the time, he was slightly recognizable for a smallish role in a “Harry Potter” movie, but like everyone else involved with the production, he had no idea “Twilight,” the young adult horror-romance flick he was currently filming, would catapult him to superstardom. Over the years, our paths crossed again for one movie or another, but he never seemed that comfortable discussing his work. That Pattinson may be long gone.
The Robert Pattinson who sat down to talk about his acclaimed performance in Joshua and Benny Safdie’s “Good Time” is full of laughter and wears a constant, genuine smile on his face throughout most of our interview. When I mention his seemingly new demeanor Pattinson insists it’s due to his genuine love of the gritty crime thriller and it’s “nice when other people like it as well to sort of talk about it.”
Pattinson notes, “and also because it kind of feels so different for me. I know how to talk about it more. Also I’m very close to the directors as well. I was much more invested in the entire journey of the movie itself.”
Sitting down to chat in Savannah, Ga., where he later accepted an honor from the Savannah Film Festival, Pattinson recalls how the Safdie brothers would send him character ideas for the film while he was overseas shooting James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z.”
“Every draft of the script was an entirely different movie,” Pattinson says. “The first one was me and [actor] Buddy Duress were brothers and I was getting out of prison. He was part of an acting class and I joined the class and there was prosthetics and that’s how we end up robbing banks. It was completely different and much more of a comedy. But even that was great when I first saw it. So, when the second draft came in and there was like a body switch and all this stuff I was like, ‘What?’ It felt entirely different.”
“Good Time” eventually centered on Connie (Pattinson), a not-so smart, low-level criminal who recruits his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) to hold up a New York City bank. When things go terribly wrong and Nick gets arrested, Connie becomes obsessed with doing everything in his power to get Nick out on bail.
The Safdie brothers’ style and tone have been compared with early Martin Scorsese and Pattinson transformed himself to fit their vision. Before arriving on set, the now 31-year-old actor lost 40 pounds while shooting “Lost City” to give Connie a physique that suggested he might be a former drug addict.
“I wanted to be really skinny for this and when you’re in the jungle it’s really easy to starve yourself and you get to New York and all you want to do is eat pizza all the time,” Pattinson says. “I remember getting to New York and all I ate was tuna, a little sack of tuna out of bag, tuna and porridge. “
He adds, “Everything you try and figure out allows you to commit more. To me parts like this are fantasy parts. I think of Connie as sort of a cool guy and it’s sort of fun to do it. I think it’s harder especially if you look like yourself.”
Unlike other roles he’s had over his career, Pattinson also attempted to “vaguely” stay in character as many of his co-stars were playing versions of themselves on screen. (“It’s just weird to be called out like, ‘Oh, you’re playing a part. You’re actually from England.’”) That meant heading straight home right after filming and crashing corner delis unrecognized to avoid familiar restaurants in the city.
“There were some scenes where I wanted to really look like I was street cast,” Pattinson says. “After a while people would kind of forget I’m actually not from there. [The Safdie brothers would say,] ‘Hey, just do your thing.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t have a thing!’”
Pattinson has earned substantial praise prior to “Good Time” with roles in “The Rover” and the aforementioned “Lost City,” but has never found himself in such an enviable position during Oscar season.
“It’s kind of crazy that when something is perceived well it just opens up all these crazy doors,” Pattinson says. “Even after doing this. I just finished this job with Claire Denis. It’s different going into the job when people perceive you a different way. It might even be real. It might be in your head. ‘I’m more legit now.’ You can’t tell whether it has to do with age or what. It’s nice. Whether it’s good reviews, whether it makes money, you just want to find something else so you can get better.”