ROBERT PATTINSON ERIC PACKER COSMOPOLIS – In Cosmopolis, Eric Packer is a selfish young member of the ruling class, at the top of the super-rich 1%. He is an anti-hero whose privileged reality is decadent and isolated. Casting Robert Pattinson in this unsympathetic role wasn’t obvious. Robert’s super-stardom perhaps gives him some insight to the pressures of success, but his pressures include the attention of a zealous fan base that might expect him in a different role. And he is younger than Eric Packer was envisioned, an age difference that influences the rest of the casting process. On the other hand, young billionaires and tech-savvy traders are not unusual in today’s society. Plus, casting Robert presents an opportunity to attract a new generation to David Cronenberg’s work.
Ultimately, the choice rested on Pattinson’s talent and experience, with or without celebrity. Cronenberg found Robert mature and willing to challenge himself: “…Rob is not deluded about his fame; he understands that popularity is not the essence of being a good actor, and recognizes the danger of taking projects to please others rather than himself.” Bringing the egomaniacal Eric Packer to life required Pattinson to forget being a sympathetic character.
Cronenberg observes, “Some actors worry about not being appealing or sensitive, but that was never an issue for Rob; it was always about finding the often unlikeable truth of who Eric is and what it means to be a 25-year-old billionaire…. Rob is incredibly likeable, but he doesn’t need to be liked.” So Eric Packer, a financial god, perhaps soulless but with feet of clay, is realized by the charismatic, modest Robert Pattinson.
Robert was surprised and excited by the Cosmopolis offer. He recounts receiving the screenplay about a year earlier and thinking it was “one of the most original scripts” he’d read. However, he doubted he’d get the part: “Then the offer came out of the blue and I was amazed!” Praising David’s consistently “thought-provoking” and innovative work, Robert says he was certain about taking the part; however, he admits, “I had no idea how I was going to play it…. I was scared at first, mainly because I could interpret the script and play it so many different ways….” He didn’t have much time with David before shooting, but he knew he was in good hands. His trust in the director, as well as David’s in Robert, was wellfounded. “I could feel David moulding it as we shot, and that made me really comfortable because it meant there was no specific right or wrong way. Eventually, I was very relaxed, especially for it being such an intense piece.”
Pattinson wanted a project that would take him to the edges of himself, and Cosmopolis provides the character to do it. Eric Parker is inscrutable and contradictory, both calculating and reckless. Robert had to find the emotional core of a man who is desensitized, a man who interprets the world in terms of numbers and acquisitions. Robert notes, “I think Eric has an all-consuming ego.” He lives an artificial existence, and Eric’s success seems a product of detachment and cold rationality. Yet his odd quest for a haircut is risky, irrational. He normally makes people come to him, including a physician for a daily exam, but he insists on seeing an old-fashioned barber on the opposite side of town, despite the risk to his personal safety.
Rob notes his character’s grasp of contemporary events, business and politics. Eric Packer’s knowledge of the world, however, comes primarily through technology, and he sees most things as mere information, “some kind of list or matrix,” Rob suggests, about which he is dispassionate. Rob describes Eric “Watching screens informing him of current data all the time. I think he ends up taking drastic measures just to feel something because he’s become so desensitized.” He knows, and somewhat owns, many people but seems to have no friends. Even his new wife feels distant, an acquisition, someone to use or ignore. He is the master of his cosmos, but is he lonely at the top? Does he care? The enigma of Eric’s character is central to the film, and his interaction with secondary characters both shapes that puzzle and perhaps gives clues to solving it.