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In 'Good Time,' Robert Pattinson transforms into a tough-talking bank robber from Queens

by Michelle Lanz and Paola Mardo | The Frame

Actor Robert Pattinson in "Good Time." A24

These days, Robert Pattinson tends to approach his job as an actor more like an A&R agent — scouting for new artists to work with. It's a great way to meet talented future colleagues like the directors of his new film "Good Time" — Josh and Benny Safdie.

"I want to be in my own lane," Pattinson said. "I love finding people when no one else knows their kind of true talent."

Though the Safdie brothers were already making a name for themselves in the New York indie film scene, Pattinson learned about them from their 2014 film "Heaven Knows What."

"Initially, I'd just seen a photograph. It was one still from their movie and I loved the still so much, and I met them afterward and I was just like, I just know," Pattinson said. "I know they've got an amazing energy. And their level of confidence and how they saw their career going, you could just tell."

Robert Pattinson and John Horn stand outside the NPR West studios on Aug. 3, 2017. Pattinson spoke with The Frame about his new film "Good Time."
Robert Pattinson and John Horn stand outside the NPR West studios on Aug. 3, 2017. Pattinson spoke with The Frame about his new film "Good Time." Michelle Lanz/KPCC

In "Good Time," Pattinson stars as Constantine “Connie” Nikas, a small-town criminal who goes on a dangerous mission to get his mentally impaired brother out of jail after a bank robbery goes wrong. The cast includes one of the directors Benny Safdie as brother Nick Nikas, along with Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

When Pattinson stopped by The Frame, he talked about what it was like working with the Safdies and transforming himself into the role of a bank robber from Queens.

Trailer

Interview Highlights

On meeting the Safdies and the idea for "Good Time":

There wasn't even an idea. We just talked about it. And they were doing another movie, which they're going to do next, in the Diamond District. ... They didn't see me as being right for that, but then they kind of had these interests in "The Executioner's Song," the Norman Mailer book, and this other book called "In the Belly of the Beast." And some kind of thing in the kind of low-level criminal world.

And also basically in that first meeting, me and Josh just kind of realized we were both obsessed with this show "Cops." ... He basically described the movie as saying it's basically from the early seasons of "Cops" when there used to be just sort of four segments, four sequences, instead of like banging from thing to thing to thing. And just really, really expanding it. Or just finding one of those two-paragraph crime stories in the crime blotter and just really expanding it.

On working with real people for character study:

There were two guys. One who was ... a mechanic in Yonkers. ... His brother was very, very similar to the character of Connie. ... He dug a hole next to someone's house on a hill. And he lived in a hole. And the guy who had the mechanic gave him a bunch of car batteries and [he] had power in the hole.

The other guy... he was actually in the director's last movie. And I remember he played a drug dealer in the last movie and I loved his accent. And I just talked him a lot for the accent. And his body language and everything... I studied him. I didn't realize it was a character study. I just kind of... I was to get a Queens accent.

Heaven Knows What Trailer

On working with the Safdie brothers:

I loved the Safdies' style in the previous movie ["Heaven Can Wait"]. I just loved how the performances were and I loved the seamlessness between the world of the movie and just the real world. They're shooting on really long lenses in the middle of the street. And I really wanted to do that. The last time I shot in New York, it was just like total theater. I did this movie called "Remember Me" and ... it was at the peak of "Twilight" stuff and there was one scene, there's like 3,500 people watching this scene. It's just ridiculous.

Also, every time I'd gone to New York there's paparazzi and stuff. And I just thought I'm not only going to ruin my performance, I'm going to ruin the movie if I let this happen. And so a lot of the preparation was basically thinking how I couldn't get recognized by one person, because as soon as you get recognized by one, it's done.

Actor Robert Pattinson and actor/co-director Benny Safdie in "Good Time."
Actor Robert Pattinson and actor/co-director Benny Safdie in "Good Time." A24

On working with actor and co-director Benny Safdie:

I actually learned a lot about disguise technique with ... Benny, who plays my brother Nick. We spent a few days just fully in character, which I've never really done before, and then going into a Dunkin' Donuts or whatever and just seeing how these characters play out. But Benny's a spectacular improviser, I'm not really.

I don't know anything about Queens as well. So I'd have to develop this character where, you know, if someone says they recognize you, it became part of the character saying like, You don't recognize me. And kind of being quite aggressive back to them and just kind of holding your face differently and a ton of different things.

On working with actor Buddy Duress, a former Rikers Island inmate:

I hung out with Buddy a lot. The ideas were based on-- he wrote some journals from prison and stuff and talked to Josh a lot about developing a story. And it is fascinating. I only know people who went to prison in England and it's very, very, very different. The whole mentality's completely different.

But I just remember... I remember talking to someone who is locked up, was a young bank robber, and I was just approaching it as actor. So it was like, What was he thinking? What's going on? Why did he want to do it? ... Why? What's the secret? And he's like, Well he wants money. [He] just wanted to get money.

And when you simplify a character where ... you take away so much of the fat around your decisions and it's like it's this weirdly spiritual thing when you just have one goal and that's it. There is nothing else to it. It's just that. I just want the money. I find that really, really deep in a strange sort of way.

Actors Robert Pattinson and Taliah Webster in "Good Time."
Actors Robert Pattinson and Taliah Webster in "Good Time." A24

On using a Queens accent for the role:

I've always just loved accents. ... When I first started acting, I think's that's one of the first things... if you find a voice... that it's not just from the area which you're from, there's a reason why people from that area speak in a certain way. It's to do with the whole mood, the whole body language, you can tell a lot from that.

It's like being able to read microexpressions. And as you're trying to shape your mouth into an accent ... it drags your whole body. You're like puppeteering the rest of your body with it. And yeah, it was very important. Especially on this. Especially because everyone in the movie is from Queens. [laughs] You can get called out very easily.

To hear John Horn's full interview with Robert Pattinson, click on the player above.

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