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‘The Batman’ Star Robert Pattinson on Working With Matt Reeves and Testing Positive for COVID-19: ‘It Was Lucky’

THE BATMAN, from left: director Matt
Jonathan Olley / Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

When the world first learned that Robert Pattinson was in the running to headline “The Batman,” it was in May 2019, and Pattinson hadn’t even auditioned yet.

“When that thing leaked, I was fucking furious,” Pattinson told Variety for a September 2019 cover story about the release of his film “The Lighthouse.” “Everyone was so upset. Everyone was panicking from my team. I sort of thought that had blown up the whole thing.”

Fortunately for Pattinson, the film’s director, Matt Reeves, was undeterred by the premature press, and cast the now-35-year-old as the latest version of the Caped Crusader. But the hits kept on coming: COVID hit roughly one quarter of the way into filming and the production shut down for six months. When it came back in September 2020, Pattinson tested positive for COVID just one day into filming.

“All we did was shoot a day, and already it wasn’t just someone got COVID — Batman got COVID,” Reeves recently told Variety.

Fortunately, the actor recovered quickly and he found a surprising connection with his director while embodying one of the most well-known and successful superheroes in cinema history. In February, Pattinson explained to Variety why he was interested in working with Reeves — hint: all that motion capture filmmaking on Reeves’ “Planet of the Apes” movies played a big role — and what it was like to get used to Reeves’ uncommon filmmaking style.

What did you think of Matt Reeves as a filmmaker before your involvement with “The Batman”? What made you decide you wanted to work with him?

I love those “Apes” movies so much. There’s only been two movies — well, three now — where I wanted to do a sequel: the “Apes” movies, “Sicario” and “Dune.” I saw both of the “Apes” movies in the cinema and I just thought what he could do with mo-cap was just so unbelievable. If he could do that with a monkey’s face, then he can get a performance out of me as well.

Talk me through the day that you first met to discuss the role of Batman.

I’d met Dylan Clark, the producer, probably eight months beforehand. I noticed that he had an involvement with “The Batman.” It was a general meeting with him, and at the end of the meeting, I just kind of casually mentioned, “What’s going on with ‘The Batman?'” He’s like, “Oh, there’s no script right now or anything.” I kept checking in on it and then kind of out of the blue, he said, “Do you want to meet Matt for this project?” Hadn’t seen a script or anything. He was just so lovely and showed me some of the art. There was incredible artwork already done for it, how he’s envisioning Gotham. He had a really interesting take. It was Kurt Cobain, Nirvana references, which as soon as he said it, I’m like, “Oh! Okay.” That’s definitely a different angle on Bruce than we’ve ever really seen before. He’s just an incredibly kind, sensitive, articulate person and it just seemed like the kind of person I want to work with.

Did he talk at all about a larger possible arc to the character beyond this movie, should there be more?

I don’t think so. We’ve kind of had conversations about it since. But, I mean, he spent five years from conception to completion of this. He’s very, very, very, one-track-minded — well, one-project-minded, I guess. And so I think until this comes out, I doubt he’s thought about the next steps yet. Or maybe he has and he hasn’t told me.

So what was his style of directing before and after the COVID shutdown?

Hmm. To be honest, it’s pretty similar. When we came back after the shutdown, we kind of just tried to keep everyone apart as much as possible. I would have an earpiece in which I communicated with Matt, in between takes. It took a second to get used to, but it’s actually kind of nice. I can kind of just keep pestering him all the time rather than trying to find him somewhere in the studio.

But he’s very methodical. Does a lot of takes. At first, when someone [asks for] a lot of takes, you think you’re doing something wrong. But once you realize his rhythm, [you understand] he’s editing the entire movie during every single take. Even the tiniest minutia in the scene, he’s incredibly aware of it. He doesn’t really do an enormous amount of coverage. Very specific angles, but a lot of takes. It’s funny — it takes a while to get on his rhythm, but then when you find it, it’s very, very, very particular. It took me a while to realize it was happening. The movie really, really reflects the exact tone he’s written. He’d seen the movie in his head before we’d even started shooting. It was very impressive.

You mentioned that you had him in your ear while you’re making the movie — what was that like?

Occasionally, they’d leave the mic on. It was slightly disconcerting, but you could hear his little reactions. If it was a tense scene, you’d suddenly hear his breathing accelerate. Sometimes, it would be very, very distracting, but sometimes I’ve actually quite enjoyed hearing his real time reaction. I’ve never been so close to a director’s perception of what I was doing before. It’s a strangely intimate experience.

How personal did he get with you about his connection to this material?

I knew how much he cared about the characters. I think he has a very good understanding of fear. I think a lot of people try to bullshit themselves that they’re not afraid of anything. But Matt really acknowledges things that have scared him in his life and things that scare him presently, and really can project those into his movies.

How did Matt react on the day that you found out you’d tested positive for COVID? What was that conversation like?

It was right at the peak of people not really knowing what exactly was going on. We’d set up a protocol to make the project work, and it just so happened I think I was the first person who had to use the protocol. I mean, I was just kind of embarrassed by the whole thing, to be honest. It was so early on after we started shooting and everyone was just so sweet. Andy Serkis, who I was working with at the time, was absolutely lovely about it. I was terrified of what was gonna happen to production. But it all actually was kind of a good proof of concept for how to proceed, and after that point, nothing really happened anyway. It was lucky.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Ramin Setoodeh contributed to this story.