How Twilight star Robert Pattinson went undercover for Good Time to shoot his grittiest role yet
Exchanging fake prison correspondence and scuffling with one of the directors wasn’t enough for Pattinson, who also befriended ex-convicts and spoke to Manhattan prison guards for new film directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Blonds don’t always have more fun.
Robert Pattinson learned that the hard way when he bleached his famously coiffed mop to play the amoral Connie Nikas, a greasy New York thug who haphazardly robs a bank and tries to spring his brother out of prison in Good Time.
“It was pretty gross. I thought I was going to look a lot trendier than I did,” Pattinson laments. After months of alternating between a dyed black perm and a hydrogen peroxide-lightened hairdo, he says “your hair is no longer hair. It’s just strands of chemicals.”
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Pattinson now has his messy locks tucked inside a backward baseball cap as he picks at a salad (“Too much lemon!”) in the courtyard of Manhattan’s Bowery Hotel. Quaffing water and coffee (“I’m a compulsive sipper”), he’s soft-spoken yet waggish when talking about Good Time, which earned him career-best reviews when the pulpy crime thriller premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this summer. It will be released today in cinemas in New York and Los Angeles, opening in Hong Kong in September.
Pattinson, 31, became an international heartthrob playing vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight franchise. He veered into more ambitious fare when the series wrapped in 2012, working with auteurs James Gray (The Lost City of Z), David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis) and Werner Herzog (Queen of the Desert).
He emailed sibling filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie, the directors of Good Time, after seeing an image of their 2014 drama Heaven Knows What online and met with them in Los Angeles months before the script for Good Time was even written.
“We had seen [how Pattinson was] picking really interesting people to work with and it was kind of an honour that he was even looking at us amongst that group,” Josh says.
Benny, who co-stars as Connie’s intellectually challenged brother, Nick, adds: “You could just tell that when he said he wanted to be involved and go deep, he wasn’t messing around.”
Pattinson was drawn to Connie’s brashness, but never overanalysed his motivations. He considers the character an “innately narcissistic” and “fundamentally deluded” criminal, who wrings money and resources from his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a smitten teen (Taliah Webster), and doesn’t blink an eye about throwing them under the bus.
“I don’t ever watch a movie and think, ‘Oh, I can really sympathise with that guy.’ I don’t give a s***,” Pattinson laughs. “If someone’s not interesting, I just don’t care.”
Pattinson came to Queens, New York, two months before shooting started last year to get a feel for Connie’s world. He befriended ex-convicts and spoke to corrections officers in Manhattan prisons, where he would arrive in character and try to blend in.
He also method acted with Benny, exchanging fake prison correspondence and improvising scuffles at a local car wash and Dunkin’ Donuts. To his relief, no one recognised him.
“If someone sees two grown adults having a strange interaction with each other, people avoid it,” Pattinson says. The paparazzi and his rabid fans (known as “Twihards”) also were MIA: “There wasn’t a single cellphone picture of me the whole time. I was so concerned about that happening, because I loved [the idea] of the film world being blurred with reality and having people on the street react to you.”
Pattinson is continually unpredictable in his upcoming projects, starring in new films from foreign directors Claire Denis and Joanna Hogg. He splits his time between London, where he was born, and Los Angeles with partner FKA Twigs, an experimental musician. He says that much of the unwanted attention from Twilight has subsided, thanks in part to his own crafty methods of flying under the radar.
“If you’re in London in the middle of winter, just wear shorts, Oakley sunglasses and a backwards baseball cap, and then everyone’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just some Australian guy,’” Pattinson says. “I’ve learned different things in different cities.
“But maybe I’m just completely doing it for no reason and I’d be completely fine. The paranoia within myself has definitely died down a bit.”