David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis takes Robert Pattinson to the fringe
Robert Pattinson has landed from Cannes, half-exhaustedly and half-anxiously chewing on a toothpick in a sterile, squared-off, half-futuristic Toronto hotel suite walled with artfully lit supplies of Irish and Scottish whiskies.
He is folded in, somewhat, elbows shielding himself on an equally artful and spare black table, where he is flanked by his Cosmopolis director, David Cronenberg, to his left, and three reporters—all visitors are being ushered in for 20-minute seating in groups of three—stretching off to his right. The mayhem of glittering fashion vampires, Native werewolves, and the girl at the centre of the tug-of-war of the Twilight films is on brief hiatus, broken between now and the teen-series finale of this coming November by the much more sterile and futuristic (as in the near-tomorrow) adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel.
Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 20-something billionaire visionary of information technology and the hermetic centre of Cosmopolis. His fortunes and those of others ooze away on the screens of charts and figures and readouts that surround him in his Manhattan limousine cocoon. For Packer, the limo is a place of refuge, of plotting, of security, of sex and trade and urination. But this leathered pod navigating through a lower New York island of economic upheaval and rising street protest is one in which everyone is looking for saviours, may they arise through a reshuffling of the economic order, by symbols as pop significant as the death of a prominent Sufi rapper (K’Naan, in repose), or, in the case of a rambling, resentful and overloaded former worker-genius named Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), in the form of Packer himself.
And, in this noticeable clean-quiet of the closed-off 10th floor, Pattinson is unsure where he fits in the scheme of it all, both on-screen and off.
“Hmmmm,” considers the 28-year-old English sensation, low, slow and a bit mumbly in this audience before the wide release of Cosmopolis, on Friday (June 8). “I don’t know. It’s so easy to just kind of say the most ridiculous answers about this movie. I’m not entirely sure where I would fall, in terms of someone trying to save me.
“How I was thinking about that scene was: Eric was looking to be saved, as well, by Benno, but at no point he wanted to be saved by someone other than himself. Benno’s just a cipher type of thing. I mean—and I can kind of relate to that—I just want people to be catalysts.” Pattinson stalls for a second, and half-laughs to himself. “Yeah. I’m sort of revealing myself very sociopathic as I do more and more of these interviews.”
Cosmopolis is, one might say, the bold-risk phase of the young actor’s career. Having come away from Cannes with mixed reviews—just as DeLillo received when his book was published—Cosmopolis moves through North America as a bit of an unknown quantity for Pattinson fans. This is a gamble he hadn’t quite been expecting to take.
“I’m not so afraid of failure,” he says, unbranded black baseball cap forward on his head, short-sleeve beige button-up shirt revealing a black Bad Religion T-shirt underneath. “I’m a little bit more ambitious in my parts that I choose now. I’m doing a movie in Iraq which is quite ambitious.”
Pattinson stops: “God—I feel like I’ve just woken up. This is crazy.”
“He hasn’t had his injections yet,” Cronenberg prods, helpfully.
“Yeah, no,” Pattinson picks up. “I guess I never really took myself seriously as an actor before. As soon as you kind of get cast like this and it gets to Cannes and it’s not a total disaster, and I haven’t brought down David’s career…”
“We’ll see,” Cronenberg cautions. “We’ll see. There’s still the future.”
“Yeah,” Pattinson says. “Before I did this movie, I was really intending on hiding for the next couple of years. But this has really reinvigorated my ideas about acting. And I kind of like just—I like being slightly on the fringe, as well, rather than trying to get movies that are sort of vehicles. So, yeah. I’m kind of going more in that direction.”
Cosmopolis forges a route that has confounded some critics (you can hear it in the buzz of their debate huddles after screenings), not so much for Pattinson as Packer, but for the whole enterprise. Packer just wants a haircut, and he has no qualms about cutting through massive funeral processions or presidential motorcades to get it. He doesn’t so much reach a destination as he is the destination for so many others: for itchy and cornered Benno; for his game-obsessed young talents (Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka); for pie-throwing, rat-dangling protestors in the streets; for his older, carefully questioning sexual partner (Juliette Binoche); for his cool security chief Torval (Kevin Durand); for his far more grounded and smart estranged wife (rising Canadian actress Sarah Gadon), whom Packer has no more concern about taking down with him than he does anyone else in his limo ride away from a clean and ordered world almost blithely going to hell around him.
Blitheness is the scariest commodity in Cosmopolis. Like others who have populated the centre of Cronenberg’s various universes—James Woods as the rebirthing television pioneer in 1983’s Videodrome, or Jeff Goldblum’s geek-gone-overtaken in 1986’s The Fly—Eric Packer is so consumed with self and, in this case, ennui that it’s as if the world so influenced and influential around him might just as well not exist.
“It’s exactly like what people were talking about with the London Whale—not the one that went up the Thames, but the hidden one in the financial district in London,” Cronenberg says, invoking the nickname given to the trader recently responsible for a catastrophic $2 billion loss at JPMorgan Chase. “I have a feeling he’s really not aware of the damage that he’s doing. He’s not thinking about it, because it’s all abstraction to him. It’s all in his head. It’s all numbers, it’s all computer, and he’s very competitive, and he wants to keep a low profile. He wants to be invisible, because that gives him power. And I don’t think he’s thinking about bringing down the economies of various countries and stuff, even though that’s what he’s doing when his trades go wrong.
“So,” the director continues, “these guys are not really necessarily psychopathic, or sociopathic, even. But they have just been playing that game for so long that that has become the reality. And it’s a very dehumanized, disconnected reality. And I think Eric is kind of like that. ”
Watch the trailer for Cosmopolis.