In David Michôd's second full length feature film, 'The Rover' (his first was the surprise Australian hit 'Animal Kingdom,' which garnered Jacki Waver an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress), Guy Pearce is a khaki shorts-wearing misanthrope living in post-financial apocalypse Australia. While mourning something (we find out what later) at a local dystopian watering hole, Eric (Pearce) has his car stolen, which sets off a movie-length hunt for the said stolen car. Along the way, Eric meets Reynolds (Robert Pattinson), a violent lost soul who holds the key to finding the all-important stolen car.
I met Michôd in the swanky lobby of the Bowery Hotel, a far cry from the world he creates in 'The Rover.' It was a surreal experience, discussing the economic collapse of the entire world while, unrelated to anything, comedian Aziz Ansari sits directly across from us for some type of business meeting. A lot of laughs were coming from that side of the hotel lobby. I can only assume Ansari was not talking about 'The Rover.'
And it's interesting to listen to Michôd discuss Robert Pattinson, an actor who Michôd had never seen in his most famous work, the 'Twilight' series. Pattinson does bring a bit of a wild card to this production. He's still immensely popular with his 'Twilight' fans, but Pattinson is openly pursuing projects that distances himself -- like this one and two David Cronenberg films -- from the movies that made him famous. And, for what it's worth, Michôd has no clue how that will affect the attention received for 'The Rover.'
In this dystopian future, murder seems like a nonchalant afterthought at times.
Well, at the same time, I wanted that first killing to be the thing that sort of catapults the movie into a kind of different and dangerously unpredictable place. You know that this guy has something going on that is unusual, but it's not until that moment that he becomes frighteningly volatile. For me and for Guy, we talked quite a bit about what that murder meant. Was this just something he did every day? Or was this something he hadn't done in ten years?
It's also shocking because it's not like he's walking around in 'Road Warrior' clothes. He's wearing a sensible pair of shorts.
Yeah, I didn't want the movie to exist in that kind of world -- the sort of 'Road Warrior,' post-apocalyptic high camp. You know, leathers and chains. I wanted whatever this dystopia is to feel like a direct product of the forces of evil that are at work around us today. And I wanted the people in the movie to feel like versions of us.
It's shocking to watch this happen in Australia, but there are places in the world where it's like this.
Yeah, that was what was important to me. I feel it quite acutely when I'm roaming around America, however the last how many years of the widening of the income equality gap -- a relative crippling of the middle class in this country. You have the incredibly wealthy elite and a massive underclass that's looking after itself and you can very easily picture the situation in which a couple of things go wrong and chaos ensues. In New York, especially, this city is regularly having to deal with a massive blackout or a hurricane or whatever. If you have a couple of these things coinciding and hell could break loose really easily and quickly.
The 2003 blackout wasn't too bad.
But imagine a brutal winter and, you know what I mean. They say they don't really know how the Roman Empire collapsed, but the speculation is that it was a confluence of a few different things at once. And that society couldn't cope.
In the film, everyone wants American money as opposed to Australian money. Why?
I wanted that to be entirely arbitrary. You're out there in the middle of nowhere...
And it's just paper.
But on some level, it's hanging onto a kind of vestige of a fallen empire.
I do have to say, thank you for making Jacki Weaver into a star in the United States.
She is one of my favorite humans.
And you got her an Oscar nomination with 'Animal Kingdom.'
It's so weird. I never thought that movie would land there. Because, I mean, Australian actors get Oscar nominations on a pretty regular basis, but they don't get them for their performances in Australian films. And the last time it happened, it was Geoffrey Rush in 'Shine.' And before that, I can't think of another one.
Did the success of 'Animal Kingdom' make it easier this time around to get 'The Rover' made?
I think so, but I don't really know. Having said that, working on what the next movie should be and how to make it felt really difficult. It took me four years. So, nothing about it felt easy ... but it certainly didn't take me as long as the first one did. And once I had decided definitively what the second movie should be, it did feel like it happened reasonably smoothly.
I know you hadn't seen the 'Twilight' movies before casting Robert Pattinson, but what does his fame bring to this movie? Does that help? Can it possibly hurt?
I don't know, it's all a great unknown to me. You know, I love the idea of being able to take a person who I can only imagine his talents have been grossly underestimated.
This is a good movie for him, along with the Cronenberg films.
He's a really smart guy with great taste. And he knows the filmmakers that he wants to work with. But, who knows what it will mean for the movie in the public consciousness, you know? I have no idea whether or not it will work for us or against us. But, I don't really care -- because I love the surprise and the revelation of it. And I would hope that people embrace it, because I think he's really good in it. It was never going to be enough for me that he gave just a good, solid performance. It was always important for me that he give an extraordinary one -- and I think he does it. He and Guy both.
Whose idea was it for Robert Pattinson's character to have tics?
That was his. They felt organic. I don't know how conscious and deliberate they were for him, but when I was watching them, they felt like this nice little organic manifestations of the character.
And you dirtied him up.
[Laughs] It had to happen. For me, Rob's character is like a lost puppy dog. He's lost his owner and he just kind of latches on to the first person he finds. It happens to be a particularly bad choice.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.