Animal Kingdom director David Michod's new film creates a believable post-apocalyptic world, he and leading man Guy Pearce tell Dominic Corry
Seeing as it takes place in a broken-down civilisation where desperate, lawless men drive beaten-up cars through desolate Outback locations, you could be forgiven for initially linking The Rover with a certain well-known trilogy of post-apocalyptic Aussie films. But writer/director David Michod's eagerly anticipated follow-up to his 2010 smash, Animal Kingdom, paints a much more chillingly plausible picture.
"This is a world that's directly connected to the world we're living in today," Michod tells TimeOut. "If certain pernicious forces that are bubbling around us right now were left unchecked for a few more decades, it's not inconceivable that many of us could find ourselves in a really dangerous underclass that is incredibly dog-eat-dog."
"I think it's extremely realistic," adds leading man Guy Pearce. "We all know that the civilised life that we take for granted is not too many steps away from the uncivilised life that we came from. I think it's a cautionary tale."
The Rover is set 10 years after a global financial collapse. Pearce plays Eric, a man with unknown motivations who reacts with extreme determination when some Americans crash their car and steal his. In attempting to retrieve his automobile, Eric encounters Rey (Robert Pattinson), injured brother to one of the thieves. Their uneasy partnership forms the core of the often grim film.
When Michod and actor Joel Edgerton were conceiving the story together, they never intended to riff on Mad Max.
"But what we came to realise very quickly is that as soon as you do something involving cars in the desert, people immediately think of Mad Max."
The first thing that makes you realise you're not watching Mad Max is the fact that Pearce is wearing shorts, a rare sight for a leading man in any film. Think about it.
"I know the producer was very concerned about having one of the lead characters in shorts." laughs Pearce. "There's a great level of honesty about it, and there's also something vulnerable about it, exposing one's legs in dire circumstances. It could be construed as comical, but the reality is lots of us wear shorts in hot weather, so why would we put our long pants on because of an economic collapse?"
Fair enough. While 2010's Animal Kingdom wasn't exactly a huge box office hit, it was red hot within Hollywood. But despite the lucrative offers it generated, Michod chose to make his follow-up film in Australia.
"I spent a couple of years looking at all the possibilities available to me, and I realised I didn't wanna be somebody else's employee, which is what I was contemplating when I was looking at the offers being made. I wanted the movie to be mine and I wanted to feel totally in control of it. So that in a way made the decision very simple for me."
The exposure gained from Animal Kingdom propelled practically the entire cast to successful Hollywood careers (See: Sullivan Stapleton; Jacki Weaver; Ben Mendelsohn) -- did this result in actors crawling over themselves to work with Michod on his follow-up film?
"I never actually saw them crawling over themselves, but yeah, it felt like doors were opening kind of easily. When I decided what I wanted my next movie to be, and started approaching people to talk about it in all different departments, the project was being taken very seriously. It was good."
He ended up choosing one of his Animal Kingdom actors for the lead role, but not as a default.
Robert Pattinson in The Rover.
"We enjoyed working together on Animal Kingdom and obviously what happened with that film was a good thing for everyone involved. But every film is a new set of circumstances and a new risk an actor is being asked to take. And certainly there were risks involved in this character. When Guy and I started talking about it, we realised what we were proposing in his character was a way more monstrous creature than he had originally anticipated."
Pearce's motivation was all about Michod.
"He was the biggest part of it to be honest. Had this script come from any less of a director, I might not have pursued it," the actor admits. "It even took David and I some time to understand really who the guy was. But because it was David, I kept pushing to make it work."
Pattinson's performance in the film is revelatory, and sure to lend credence to his many recent attempts to distance himself from That Vampire Role.
What sparked in the actor for Michod?
"I had a meeting with Robert before I knew I was even gonna make The Rover. I hadn't seen the Twilight films, so to me he was a very famous unknown. And I just immediately liked him -- his physical energy and his smarts and his totally compelling face, it was beguiling to me from the outset. When I decided to make The Rover, I knew I wanted to see what he could do. He came in and within five minutes I knew I'd found my guy. I made him audition for about four hours, which was kinda torture for him. But that three hours and 55 minutes was for me just the thrill of discovering the character, seeing it live and breathe for the first time."
What: The Rover, the new film by Animal Kingdom director David Michod, starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson
When: Screening Sunday, July 20; Wednesday, July 23; Friday, July 25