Why Robert Pattinson Was Scared While Working On David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis

"Cosmopolis" is an odd movie. Most of the film is spent in 28-year-old Wall Street wizard Eric Packer's (Robert Pattinson) stretch limousine on his way to an unnecessary haircut. As he sits in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he is losing millions of dollars on the stock market, but he doesn't seem to care. In fact, throughout the entire film, Packer doesn't care about anything.

We spend the entire film with him. We watch as he has sex, discusses his impending financial ruin, and even gets a prostate exam, all inside his stretch limo. But the world continues outside his fancy ride. The U.S. President is threatened and anarchists protest in the streets, but Packer is numb to all of it. At one point, his limo is surrounded by protestors, who begin rocking the car with him in it, but he continues his conversation and sips his drink without acknowledging it.

Eric Packer is so flat and cold that he barely seems human, nothing about him is likable, but the entire film rests on his apathetic shoulders. Understandably, Pattinson had major fears about taking on such a role.

The shadow of Twilight

Pattinson first achieved true fame in 2008 when he portrayed Edward Cullen in "Twilight," though he already had a pivotal role before that as Cedric Diggory in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." His sparkling talents as the century-old vampire quickened the pulse of many adolescents, and middle-aged women, but all that attention would be a double-edged sword for Pattinson.

While the vampire romance wooed a lot of teens, it didn't steal the hearts of many critics, which led to the movie being widely panned. The franchise had a lot of weak points, the most famous being Kristen Stewart's stone-faced portrayal of Bella Swan, but Pattinson's performance drew some criticism also. He was often ridiculed for his brooding facial expressions, and his inability to find chemistry with his leading lady.

None of these criticisms stopped "The Twilight Saga" from making major bank or being a pop culture phenomenon, but Pattinson had his sights set much higher than teen fantasy. In a 2011 Vanity Fair article, Pattinson expressed his concerns about his ability to branch out from the popular series:

"Being in such a specific pigeonhole right now, it's very strange. Having a persona people recognize, it's the thing that probably gets you paid the most, but it's also the thing that virtually every actor in the world doesn't want. 'Cause, like, no one would believe me if I wanted to play something ultra-realistic, like a gangster or something."

Over a decade later, Pattinson has proven himself wrong. While he hasn't played a gangster yet, I totally believe his portrayal of Eric Packer, and what's more realistic than a self-absorbed billionaire?

'Destroy the past, make the future'

"Cosmopolis" was released the same year as "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2," but Pattinson's performances in the two films couldn't be further apart. The eternally sulking teenage vampire looks like a badass hero next to the apathetic, stone-cold Eric Packer. Yet, somehow, Pattinson managed to make the billionaire interesting. However, he had to overcome massive self-doubt and fear to do it. 

Pattinson admitted that he freaked out when director David Cronenberg offered him the role:

"I suddenly realized I had no idea how to do it at all. I knew it was really good but I was terrified of even calling [David.] Actors are always trained to bull****, even if you hate something. And I had nothing to say, at all. Because David did the script he obviously knows what it's about. As soon as I said, 'I don't know what it's about,' he said, 'Me neither.' Then I spent a week trying to figure out how to get out of it, where I got to the point where I was going to have to call up and say, 'I'm too scared because I don't think I'm a good enough actor.' I didn't want to have that conversation."

Pattinson was right about the part needing to be filled by a really good actor, because there is nothing redeeming about the character. Traditionally, lead characters learn and grow during the film, which usually makes the audience connect with them on a personal level. Packer starts the film the same way he ends it, as a narcissistic empty suit that speaks in endless rhetorical questions, and he should bore me to tears.

Like Packer, I should be utterly uninterested in his world, but something about Pattinson's portrayal makes it hard to turn away. I spent the whole film expecting the character to change, to feel something, because it is hard to believe someone as beautiful as Pattinson could be so empty, but it never comes.

At the end of the movie, a gun is held to Packer's head and a single tear falls down his cheek. Even though we know he is an empty, self-centered character, Pattinson makes it impossible not to care about him.

While the actor doubted himself and struggled with his "Twilight" past, Cronenberg never did.

'Forget all that other stuff'

Cronenberg told The Hollywood Reporter he had no interest in the "Twilight" films when he offered Pattinson the lead role in "Cosmopolis," and the filmmaker assured the actor he was "absolutely the right person" for the job. The director approaches each of his projects as a new beginning, even refusing to consider his own previous films, so he wasn't bothered by Pattinson's time as a vampire. In fact, he was quick to dismiss it:

"This is a real person, with a history and a past, and his past is not "Twilight," it's "Cosmopolis." You are creating a new thing, an original thing, and you have to forget all that other stuff."

I think Cronenberg is right. Pattinson has long surpassed his days as Edward Cullen, and "Cosmopolis" offered him a new beginning, which proved he could do more than sparkle. Over the years, Pattinson has continued to build on this new foundation, appearing in critically acclaimed films like, "Good Time," "The Lighthouse," and "Tenet." Most recently, he stepped back into the spotlight as "The Batman," which earned over $366 million domestically.

With that kind of success, the only thing Pattinson should have left to fear is his ability to make our hearts bleed for terrible people.