David Michod talked at length to The Sydney Morning Herald about how Animal Kingdom is a bleaker story than The Rover, how he knows there will be high expectations for it and about the editing process.
And Robert Pattinson talks about his character Rey, how The Rover was such a startlingly original script and about auditioning for David.
Below is an excerpt from the interview.
The Rover is an often-brutal vision of the future, but Michod does not like to think of it as bleak. ‘‘To me … the movie is about how the pilot lights of love and human intimacy can remain lit in extremely dark and dangerous circumstances. I don’t know what other people are going to think, but I actually believe that Animal Kingdom is a far bleaker movie than this one.
”Animal Kingdom. in a way, is devoid of love. It’s about a kid discovering, quite brutally, that no one ever really loves anyone other than themselves and so just deciding to arrange the chess pieces around him, in a way that suits him. It’s him discovering self-interest.
“But for me, The Rover is about the weird way that people, even in trying circumstances, and even if they don’t necessarily recognise it themselves, want to find some way of connecting to other human beings. Because really, beyond that, there is no point in being alive.’’
The story began as an exploration of the relationship between characters – only gradually did Michod begin to delineate their world. ‘‘This is … a version of Australia – perhaps representative of a larger Western world – that has broken down,” he says. “There’s still an infrastructure, there’s still a society, but everything’s a bit broken, a bit loose. There are still families, people trying to make a living, but you get the feeling there is violence bubbling under the surface, in a way that’s far more palpable.’’
Within that environment, two contrasting characters meet and join forces – for reasons that only gradually become clear. Michod wrote one of the roles with one of his Animal Kingdom stars in mind: Guy Pearce. Pattinson, however, was far from his thoughts until they had an unrelated meeting in Los Angeles.
‘‘I like to meet actors, and I like to meet actors whose work I’m not necessarily familiar with,’’ Michod says. He had never seen any of the Twilight films, the hugely successful vampire romance franchise that made Pattinson a household name and a paparazzi target. ‘‘But I heard a couple of people say that he’s interesting.’’ When they met, he found Pattinson ‘‘very smart and not the sort of pretty boy I was expecting’’.
Talking to Pattinson, in the final stages of the shoot, it is clear he was more than enthusiastic. He was already aware of the members of Blue-Tongue and had seen several of the films. ‘‘I like the way they work together and keep it quite tight. It reminded me of me and my friends, and I knew it was the kind of environment I wanted to work in – with a bunch of young people who were ambitious.”
What’s more, he loved Animal Kingdom.When The Rover came his way, he was in.
‘‘It was such a startlingly original script. When I read it, I thought, this is one of those parts where you think, ‘I’d love to do this, but I know I’m not going to get it.’’’ He did a couple of tests in Michod’s Los Angeles house. ‘‘They were exhausting, they were about three hours long, but it was kind of fun. I liked the way he worked in the audition. Normally, they’re such horrible experiences.’’
Pattinson’s character, Rey, is an American. He and his brother have come to Australia to work, but have fallen on hard times. He is naive and trusting ‘‘in a really strange way. He was brought up to believe he’s not capable of being independent. [He is] someone who has always been looked after and he has taken it with him into adulthood.’’
So when he loses contact with his brother at the beginning of the film, he is stranded. ‘‘He grabs onto the first person who comes along’’ – and this happens to be Pearce’s character, who has an ulterior motive for joining forces. ‘‘No matter how he gets treated, Rey just wants to please him. There’s something so strange and disturbing about the whole relationship.’’
The Rover was filmed in South Australia last year, in heat and dust and under a burnt-out sky. Much of the time, the locations were quite remote. Logistics and infrastructure were demanding, in everything from mobile coverage and supplies, to the risk of hitting emus or kangaroos on the drive home from night shoots. It was shot on film, partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly because film cameras would be less sensitive to the heat.
One important location was Marree, a small town in the north of South Australia, whose population is generally about 90 – the film production team more than doubled it. Producer Liz Watts, who worked with Michod on Animal Kingdom, says the town had so many appropriate buildings and places to shoot that ‘‘it almost felt like a Paramount lot’’.
Although the conditions were different from those on the set of Animal Kingdom, Michod says the experiences felt similar in some ways. ‘‘I felt the same level of anxiety, the same thrill. I felt the same feeling of complete surrender to a process and a machine for a few months. Obviously there were physical differences. We were out in the middle of nowhere, it was hot and filthy. [We were] living a kind of half-crazed school camp experience. But sitting there at a monitor every day, looking at the work that we were doing, it felt very similar to the first time. You’re building a big, unwieldy work of art and you’re desperately afraid that you might be getting it wrong.’’
Editing was a little easier ‘‘because I knew in part what to expect”.
“The way a movie feels changes so much while you’re cutting them. I was more prepared this time for the emotional roller-coaster of that experience, but in other ways it is very much the same. I come out the back-end of it feeling like we’ve done something special, but really having no way of knowing if somebody else is going to agree.’’
He knows there will be high expectations upon The Rover in the wake of Animal Kingdom. ‘‘But it’s one of the great unknowns for me. I would be lying to say it was something I hadn’t thought about, but then realised that I didn’t know how to think about it, so I should just try to ignore it. I certainly knew I wanted this movie to be a consolidation of whatever it is that my voice is, and yet to feel like a different beast from the first movie. It’s a much leaner story, in a vast landscape.”
The Rover will screen as part of the Sydney Film Festival, which runs from June 4-15. David Michod will discuss the film with Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and producer Liz Watts at Sydney Town Hall on June 8.
Make sure to read the resr of the interview over HERE