Fear can either paralyze you or propel you forward. Those were actor Robert Pattinson’s two options when he was gripped with terror on the set of indie filmmakers, the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. In fact, the Twilight Saga actor likened his first day of shooting the suspenseful crime thriller about a troubled man named Connie (Pattinson) willing to do just about anything to save his developmentally delayed brother, Nick (Ben Safdie) from a life of boredom or incarceration, to jumping off a cliff or riding a runaway train.
Pushing through the anxiety, however, Pattinson has delivered one of the most profound performances of his career in a film that’s both inspired by and as good as beloved 1980s crime films 48 Hrs., After Hours, and One Year in a Life of Crime.
SF Weekly spoke to Pattinson and directors Josh and Ben Safdie (The Pleasure of Being Robbed, Daddy Longlegs, Heaven Knows What) about the fateful experience that brought them together, Pattinson’s commitment to the film, and why the actor’s first day of shooting was so disturbing.
Rob, you’ve said that you wanted to work with the Safdie brothers, ever since you saw the poster for their previous film, Heaven Knows What. That must have been some poster?
Rob Pattinson: It was an incredibly beautiful photo of [actress] Arielle Holmes, and I just loved the energy. It was just kind of vague and romantic enough, but at the same time, it didn’t look like they took a cool-looking picture. And if that was the image they chose to publicize that movie and that’s the image that’ll come out from it, then I knew I liked their sensibility. You only come across things that really connect you every so often in your life, and I just knew.
Josh and Ben, before Rob was cast in this film, he was originally considered for a starring role in your yet-to-be-released film Uncut Gems, but you decided against it. Why was he not right for that role?
Josh Safdie: When Rob first reached out to us, we were dead set on making Uncut Gems, and we really had tunnel vision with that project. But when Rob reached out to us, we knew he wasn’t right for any of those roles. Why wasn’t he right? Rob told me all the time, “I am right.” Just superficially, the character’s a loud-mouthed Jew of Bukharian descent, and I don’t think that people would look at Rob and immediately think a loud-mouthed Jew of Bukharian descent. He’s a chameleon.
Ben Safdie: But there are only so many colors he can take on. [laughs]
But if I were casting for the role of psychopathic criminal Constantine “Connie” Nikas, from Queens, N.Y., Robert Pattinson wouldn’t be my first choice, either.
RP: Exactly. That’s exactly what I’ve been telling them. [laughs] I think you’re right.
JS: So we wrote the movie for him, and one of the things that immediately jumped out to me when we first met with Rob was this manic energy that I had never seen anyone really explore with him before. Second was this weird, PTSD kind of wounded-soldier vibe that he carried, that he was constantly like a covert operative — like a guy who was on the run and just didn’t want to be seen. And we wanted to bring that energy to the character. Also, there is an interesting long lineage and tradition of the good-looking criminal — the criminal who is good-looking in an off way. Rob’s face spoke to me in that regard, and we wanted to mess with this idea that someone who is clearly born with an amount of charm because of their looks can use that.
Rob’s role was so complex, in fact, that you gave the actor a rich character biography to help him inhabit Connie. Rob, can you talk about the preparation that went into this character?
RP: Yeah, I had loved Heaven Knows What, and it just seemed so seamless between the people who were essentially playing a version of themselves and then the actors who were performing themselves, and I really wanted to do something like that. I think Josh and [Ronald Bronstein] wrote this enormous amount of backstory to the character, which is amazing to pull from. But I think, as well, because there wasn’t a fully formed story or script in the beginning, we were talking so much as it was being created that I felt very, very invested, as more and more time went on.
So by the time we were shooting, it was a combination of knowing a character but also knowing the kind of film they wanted to make. So I don’t think I was necessarily looking for total realism in it, but just to have enough to be constantly inspired by. For an actor, the more heartfelt information that you are given, the more invaluable.
Josh and Ben, you make films about antiheroes. Why are these unconventional characters so compelling to you?
JS: These are the characters I was attracted to since I was a kid, running around and doing graffiti. There’s a certain element of independence where these characters are not formed or moulded by the mainstream, so they don’t live like everyone else, and that’s always inspiring.
BS: Also, on the surface, someone could be presenting themselves in one way, but once you crack below that and go hyperfocused on their being, they become completely unique and individual. I’m thinking mainly of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Corey Ellman, in the film. If you passed her on the street, you might think she’s just someone from the city. But when you focus in on what’s going on, there’s a lot of complications there that you might not necessarily know.
Rob, the film had a lot of intense scenes. Which was the most challenging to film?
RP: Just the very first scene between me and Benny, but mainly because I just knew we’d talked about the movie and the story and the characters for so long, that that initial jumping off point felt like a very precarious and dangerous moment. And so I remember I was terrified on the first day of shooting. It’s one of those things with the movie — you don’t really know where it’s going to go. I really felt like that as a performer on the first day, so it’s a scary thing to jump off a cliff, basically, or tie yourself to the front of a train where you have no idea where it’s going, and you have no breaks.
But after that, I realized that with the amount of thought and preparation put into it, I had a lot of trust in the story and characters, so it was very easy once you realized what felt authentic and what didn’t to trust in the process.
There was a lot of throwing caution to the wind, though, and being comfortable in that.
RP: Yeah, it felt like a lot of the rules had been taken away. In so many movies, you do things and then go, ‘What about the ratings and what about the commerciality with certain decisions?’ But none of that was part of this movie, whatsoever. It was like pirates making a movie.