We chatted with one half of the Safdie brothers, older sibling Josh, about directing Robert Pattinson, Good Time’s influences and the poignant final scene

A lot of people have made comparisons to Drive, was Winding Refn an influence or is it just conjecture?

No, not really. The Driver by Walter Hill was a reference and always is, but no not Drive specifically. I think because of neon and Ryan Gosling with the blonde hair, and the electronic soundtrack people make the connection. But, as a side note, the opening of drive is incredible.

Are there any other specific influences you drew on?

I heard a lot of people say the movie is like Dog Day Afternoon meets Rain Man and I love Rain Man so that makes sense.

I thought Robert Pattinson was amazing and channelled Vincent Gallo, was he a figure in mind when constructing the character?

That’s funny, I’ve heard a lot of people say that. I used to be close with Vincent – he’s a genius. One of the smartest people I’ve ever met and known – funniest too. The short answer is no, I think he would have done a great job as Connie as well though. I think something must be happening in the cosmos…. I did get to know him quite well and it was a very educational relationship, so I guess a part of him could have bled into it. But the character was more inspired by Gary Gilmore and Jack Abbott and some of the characters from people I’ve met in real life, so maybe Gallo subconsciously too.

What was Robert Pattinson like to work with as a collaborator?

He was unbelievably committed and didn’t complain once which was very admirable because Buddy Duress complained a lot [laughs]. I had to say to him “look, Rob hasn’t complained once and he’s working twice the hours you are!” and he was like “I don’t give a shit about Rob! He has millions of dollars in his bank account why the fuck would I care about what he has to say!”. Yeah but, he was committed right from the very beginning and when I started to share early drafts and also subsequently the character biography when he was on set doing The Lost City of Z, we were talking a lot and he was so involved. I remember before I sent him the first draft and was just sending him the character biography, he would send me script notes from that movie and there were a lot of them, so I was expecting a lot of notes but that was exciting to me. The big thing was how do we give the impression that Connie was street casted and it’s not Robert Pattinson playing the role, but more Connie Nikas just playing himself.

Did you enjoy making Robert Pattinson grittier and greasing him up a bit?

I mean, I would send him screen grabs from the show Cops often and I was interested in him being one of these kind of every day stars, like the stars in their own movie – this pockmarking was something I was very interested in with him. Yeah, and I mean my girlfriend even said this was the sexiest he has ever looked and I kind of agree, so I think he actually looks great and sort of beautiful in the film.

Did you die his hair on set?

Yeah it was done on set but not by himself, we had someone come by and do it – we tried a peach colour at first, but it looked too kind of designer-y. So we wanted a shittier bleach effect, but the problem was that we’d already dyed his hair black for the movie and permed it – his hair was falling out like crazy in lumps! And he was nervous about it because his hair was just like fucking falling out! He looked like a nuclear fallout victim. There was this moment, the first day of shooting with his dyed hair, when we were shooting with him, Buddy and Taliah and it was them leaving the house to go into the car and everyone was taking a picture, everyone with their 35mm cameras, it was that moment we knew we’d created something iconic.

Yeah – the costume design was perfect.

Yeah the costume department, Miyako Bellizzi and Mordechai Rubinstein, were incredible, but Mordechai had never worked on a movie before. He worked for Marc Jacobs and his job was to stand outside and just stare at people and take pictures and just report on every day fashion.

Are there any similarities between your relationship with your co-director and brother Benny and Connie and Nick’s on screen?

I guess that growing up our Dad would say “the only thing you have is each other” and that will remain the constant until the day we die, long after our folks pass. He would always use the phrase “you’re partners in crime” and we were. Y’know I remember one time where I got arrested and they didn’t arrest Benny and he was just there like what should I do, and I said, “call mum, tell her I was arrested and I’ll call her from the precinct” and he looked at the cop and was like “He didn’t do anything wrong!”. I think with Benny I see him as an extension of myself and likewise with him and me, like he has a kid and I see Cosmo almost like my own son. I can relate to Connie in the sense, that he’s this person who has been outcast from society and his brother is also an outcast as a disabled person, but he doesn’t want him to be labelled disabled because he sees that as accepting the societal label and he sees that as a reflection of his own insecurities.

How do you two split the directorial responsibilities?

I find it hard to answer that question, I work with the camera a lot and benny works with the sound. Y’know I worked a lot more with rob behind the camera, but Benny was obviously involved more with in front of the camera as an actor himself. Y’know it’s kind of a vibe based thing, I write the film and Benny edits the film. I do a lot more research and then come back and use him as a bouncing board for my research.

With the final scene, obviously the credits roll over it, I was wondering is that a stylistic choice or is it designed so people don’t leave and acknowledge everyone involved in making the movie?

It’s more of a conceptual idea, when credits roll in a movie it’s telling you it’s over. So, it’s great if you can use that emotionally. If we put a scene that is the emotional peak of the movie – to not be precious about that moment and its emotional intensity – and to say it’s disposable and be like “you can leave if you want!” is incredible. It’s saying something about how America treats the disabled: you can either get up and leave or acknowledge the problem, it’s up to you. EJ

Good Time is in cinemas now

Words and interview by Tom Williams | Josh Safdie headshot by John Phillips