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Why David Michôd Steered Clear of Hollywood to Shoot 'The Rover' with Pearce and Pattinson (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 13, 2014 at 5:27PM

After Oscar-nominated "Animal Kingdom" hit Hollywood, Australian director David Michod was the talk of the town, doing rounds of meetings and reading stacks of scripts. One day he told his agents: "I want to stop reading, I'm not getting any work done." That film, which debuted at Cannes as a midnight movie, is the stark and violent suspense thriller "The Rover," shot with Guy Pearce and Rob Pattinson in the searing heat of the Australian outback.
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Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover'
Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover'

Did you think of other Australian dystopian movies like "The Road Warrior"?

I knew I wanted "The Rover" to be very much its own beast. I knew the ways in which that might happen…but there's no getting around the fact soon as you step into this world you are participating in the legacy of a particular genre of film, it's the Australian genre. 

And the Guy Pearce genre: "The Proposition"...

"Priscilla: Queen of the Desert"! You know you're stepping into tradition. I found it easy to push it aside. It's not an action film, and all this stuff I was describing, it was important that it not be a post-apocalyptic movie, I didn't want to allow people the safety net of an unforeseeable cataclysmic event. It's a version of the world that actually exists. There are third world countries that exist like this today, they have wealth and resources exploited by the elite few, oligarchs and executive levels, and underneath, an infrastructure serving the protection of that wealth. Under that is a massively neglected underclass that is being left to fend for itself. 

You were also tapping into western tropes. 

In some ways this lent itself to what I wanted to do after "Animal Kingdom." It took me a few years to figure out what kind of movie I wanted to make and how I wanted to make it. One of the reasons I liked the idea of redrafting and working more on "The Rover" was that it would allow me to work in a tonally similar world to "Animal Kingdom" and yet be formally very different. As opposed to the brutal social realism of "Animal Kingdom," "The Rover" almost exists as a dark fable. I could embrace the tropes of the western. If "Animal Kingdom" was a dense urban fabric, this could be intensely intimate, this movie would explore the intense intimate elemental relationship of a small number of characters in a vast terrifying empty landscape.

How much is the Pattinson character derived from John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"?

You set up a relationship like this, somewhere in the back of your mind you're thinking it's Steinbeck. But one thing that appealed to me was being able to make something lean and muscular and elemental. And that basic relationship between a seemingly loveless murderously embittered man and an open naive simple boy was for me the perfect prism for that elemental story. 

Why was Pattinson the right casting?

One thing that was clear to me when I was testing people, and Rob already knew it, was that there were 100 different ways you could play this character, differing degrees of mental problems-- just uneducated, developmentally slow.

He's a good gunslinger.

One of the key reasons for that scene telling Guy when he was a kid on the farm and his neighbors was to make it clear that he has a rich imaginative life, he's not an idiot, he's looking for someone to love. Guy realizes too late that's what he's looking for too. Rob gave me a character who felt plausibly simple without having to push it too far into the mentally disabled world. He was totally open and engaged. That's why I had a feeing he was going to be my favorite, when I met him. Even thinking about the bubble Pattinson is forced to live in, I was taken aback by how wonderfully open and engaged he was when I met him as a stranger.

How tough were your shooting conditions?

The desert was brutally tough, the heat. When we [scouted the location] it was 122 degrees, that was scary, I knew we couldn't work in that heat. When it was 113, as long as you stand in the shade and drink plenty of water, it's kind of OK. We really loved it, we became this dirty traveling carnival, filthy all the time, no mobile reception out there, living in a big dirty school camp, getting drunk all the time. It was tough , but the day it was over I missed it.

When did you realize that Hollywood wasn't the road you wanted to take?

I had sneaking a suspicion from the outset that I was going to write my own movies. I had to feel like I had built them from the ground up and feel like I owned them wholly. After "Animal Kingdom" my life turned upside down. I went from zero options to having a thousand, which I wanted to take seriously, to take a look at them and read what was out there, and get a sense of what this town was wanting to make. But it wasn't just trying to figure out what my next movie was. I needed to figure out how I wanted to work. I wanted to be in control. 

It was simple. I actively invited the world in: "what's out there? I want to know." I spent a couple years doing lots of reading and meetings and looking at ways that projects might happen, and hit a point when my job had become to read scripts I wasn't going to make. I called my agents and said, "I want to stop reading, I'm not getting any work done." They understood, they could see where it was going or not going. As soon as I stopped reading scripts I started writing again. 

Where does Lava Bear come in?

David Linde was one of those many people I met on a blind date. He was smart obviously and very experienced. At every part of the process I felt he loves filmmakers and wants to find ways of helping us. 

What's next for you?

I have a couple things bubbling. One is a deal with Plan B on the book "The Operators," which I haven't started writing yet. I love the material. There's another thing Joel and I will write for Warner Bros. that I'd love to get rolling. It's me dipping my toe in the Hollywood waters. I want to make sure the next one happens soon. I have good things to do. There are cautionary tales out there too. One motivating factor all along has been that the most important thing is my emotional state, my happiness. I know these movies are so big. I know the emotional rollercoaster I go on when making one. I felt that losing control or not being in love with it to begin with, I'd be upset. I can endure a couple weeks or months, but 18 months or two years from the start to here, the stuff I'm doing now, I don't want to be trying to do that filled with anger or resentment. It's so important for my movies to feel like my babies.

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, David Michôd, David Michôd, The Rover, Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews , Festivals


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